Israel's 'Socially-minded' Soldiers to Stop Guarding Nuclear Reactor as Service Extended

Soldiers in Nahal unit will serve two months more than regular soldiers and will stop guarding nuclear reactor near Dimona to free them up for ‘more important’ missions

IDF Nahal Brigade soldiers in training.
IDF Spokesman's Office

Soldiers serving in the army’s Nahal program, which combines community and other service with military duty, will now serve an additional two months, after the Israel Defense Forces shortened the length of compulsory service for men from three full years to two years and eight months.

In addition, these Nahal soldiers will stop doing certain missions, such as guarding the nuclear reactor complex near Dimona, to free up time for frontline duty.

Male combat soldiers in the Nahal program, members of the “core” groups that combine social and community volunteering or agriculture with their military duty, do their service in the Nahal infantry brigade or in the coed light-infantry units, while those whose physical condition keeps them from combat usually serve in the education and youth corps. Other soldiers may serve in the Nahal infantry brigade for the full 32 months, without being part of the Nahal volunteer service program.

Until now, these soldiers served for 18 months in their active military service, then spend one year doing their community service – officially as soldiers on voluntary unpaid leave outside the military framework – and then returned to the army for six more months of active duty. Now the IDF is adding two months to the final part of their service.

One of the main tasks given to the combat soldiers in their final period of military service is guarding the nuclear reactor complex near Dimona, but now when they return for their final eight months on active duty they will no longer serve as the guard force at the reactor complex. Instead they will be given “more significant” operational duties, said a senior officer. This change is scheduled to take effect only in 2019. The IDF has yet to decide which forces will do the guard duty at Dimona instead of the Nahal. In any case, soldiers will carry out this function and not civilians.

Men who were drafted starting in the summer of 2015 serve only 32 months, down from 36 previously. The Knesset has already approved a further reduction for male draftees, down to 30 months, but this will not take effect for another three years and is scheduled to be reexamined by the Knesset in 2019 before it goes into effect.

Army short of combat soldiers

The IDF is preparing for a shortage of thousands of soldiers in combat roles and therefore has been searching for a number of new solutions. One is establishing more mixed-gender light infantry battalions, such as Caracal . The fourth such unit was officially inaugurated just this week. In addition, such tasks as guard duty or “kitchen patrol” will be reduced, as well as extending the service of some soldiers – such as Nahal.

The Nahal program has drawn criticism from senior officers in recent years, as has the Hesder yeshiva service program, because of the shorter period of time the soldiers spend on active duty – even though the IDF considers these to be high-quality soldiers. In 2014, the Hesder service was extended by only one month to 17 months on active duty. But the Hesder program has a number of different tracks, some of which require much longer active service. Attempts to lengthen the Hesder service for all have met with fierce opposition from outside the military.

In 2015, about 120 men enlisted in the Nahal community service program, while the Hesder yeshiva program has about 1,500 participants.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office confirmed that Nahal soldiers will serve for the additional two months during which they will be on active operational duty, and this step is part of the IDF’s response to the shortening of compulsory service for all male draftees. The changes in guard duty for such soldiers is expected to take effect only in 2019 and will continued to be examined as part of staff work between the Manpower and Operations directorates.