One Out of Seven Israeli Recruits Fail to Complete Military Service

Army loses over 7,000 soldiers a year, most of whom receive a medical discharge on psychological grounds

A group of young men hoist their friend up in the air on his enlistment day, in Tel Hashomer, July 2015.
Gil Cohen-Magen

Every year the Israeli military loses more than 7,000 soldiers, men and women who fail to complete their service. Nearly one out of seven draftees is discharged before fulfilling his or her mandatory service obligation, and despite attempts to change the situation the numbers have remain unchanged in recent years.

In 2016, the attrition rate was 14.6 percent for men and 7.4 percent for women, similar to the numbers for 2015. In 2013, the rates were 16 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively.

A defense establishment source who was speaking on condition of anonymity said that while most of the soldiers who did not complete service received a medical discharge, most often on psychological grounds, for many of them its just their way of getting out of military service. About two years ago a proposal was drafted to stiffen the requirements for obtaining a discharge on psychological grounds, but apparently it has not been implemented.

Military officials say the soldiers who are most likely not to complete their service are recruits who have not been assigned to a unit or a regular service track. Many have been in military jail or are deserters.

Attrition rates for Israeli Jews of Ethiopian descent are now the same as for other recruits, after several years of being twice the average. The reversal is attributed to special preparatory courses as well as activities for these soldiers during their army service.

Compulsory service for men is now 32 months, reduced from 36 months, and as a result the army is trying to increase enlistment in communities where rates are low, including among populations in which military service is voluntary. The army is stepping up recruitment efforts among Bedouin and initiating programs to persuade larger numbers of religious women and ultra-Orthodox men to sign up.

That is why the loss every year of thousands of soldiers, some of whom could do meaningful service, is disturbing to senior officers. In 2020, mandatory service is supposed to be shortened to 30 months. Many in the defense establishment are skeptical about that possibility. Were in the process of continuing to recruit religious girls and Haredim, but mainly, we have to handle the attrition rate, said a high-ranking officer.