Just Say No

Israeli Military Intel Recruits Must Swear Off Drugs Until Age 40

'Not only does the army seek to control the lives of citizens many years after they’ve finished their military service, it is also seeking to do so in other countries and under other legal situations,' says lawmaker.

Illustration photo: A man smokes marijuana
Daniel Tchetchik

Young inductees who are selected to serve in covert military intelligence units in the Israel Defense Forces are required to sign a commitment not to use drugs even if those drugs become legal. In addition, they must commit to not using drugs even in countries where those drugs are legal.

In the screening process undergone by candidates for positions requiring extra security clearance, they have to promise not to use drugs in the future either.

This undertaking applies not only to the duration of their active service but continues much later, up to the age of 40 in some cases, or to the end of their reserve duty service in others.

The reasoning behind this policy is that people who are in possession of secret information may pose a security risk by using drugs. Thus, the Shin Bet security service, which is in charge of security clearance, has ruled that people in such positions are required to abstain from using drugs during their entire military service. One defense establishment source said that this rule applies only to people in sensitive positions during their active service and does not apply after they leave. However, the document young inductees have to sign is much broader, referring to a much longer term commitment.

The document includes a commitment to abstain even in countries that permit the use of certain drugs.

In the past, a junior officer was prosecuted for eating a cannabis-containing cake while on a demobilization leave in Amsterdam. At that time he was subject to a more general law forbidding drug use and was thus convicted only of unseemly conduct.

Haaretz has learned that a decade ago, inductees into the same units were required to commit to not using drugs only during their active service, but this period of prohibition has now been extended for some units. The decision to change the rules came from military units requiring security clearance, not from the security service.

“Not only does the army want to control the lives of citizens for many years after their military service, but it wishes to do so in other countries and under different legal circumstances” said MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), the chairperson of the Knesset committee on drug and alcohol abuse. “The draconian attitude to cannabis use stems from an outdated and conservative approach that is irrelevant in this day and age, in which many countries are decriminalizing it. On the positive side, the one thing we can learn from this rule is that the IDF is preparing for a time in which cannabis is legalized.”

The IDF treats drug use harshly, with military advocates arguing that such conduct “severely impacts the army’s strength and its preparedness for fulfilling its missions.” A soldier caught possessing, selling or using drugs, even on a one-time basis, can end up in jail and ejected from the army with a criminal record. The military advocate general’s website warns that enforcement will be carried out even for violations committed while on leave or overseas. In the past, military legal authorities initiated a reform which was aimed at relaxing enforcement in cases of one-time use on leave, but this reform never materialized.

The army spokesman referred questions to the security service, which stated that “candidates for sensitive positions with us or the army are required to commit to not using drugs as long as they are in the military, including the reserve army, even if not on active duty.”