Knesset Considers Cutting Military Service for Men to 2.5 Years

One way to cover reduction would be to increase amount of time yeshiva students on so-called hesder program spend on active duty.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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File photo: IDF soldiers near the Kirya in Tel Aviv.
File photo: IDF soldiers near the Kirya in Tel Aviv.Credit: Eyal Toueg
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

A Knesset committee will discuss a bill this week that would shorten military service for men to 2.5 years (30 months), starting in 2020.

The proposed law states that men drafted into the Israel Defense Forces from June 2020 would do 30 months’ compulsory service.

The sponsors of the bill, which has received government backing, explain that compulsory service is expensive for the economy because veterans enter the workforce later.

The bill will be discussed in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and, if it passes, will eventually replace the 2015 decision in which men drafted into the army serve 32 months, instead of the previous three years.

This shortening of military service is part of an agreement between the finance and defense ministries over the defense budget. The deal was reached during the term of the previous defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon. Present Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said previously that this reduction in military service is a mistake, but that he will “honor the agreements reached.”

It is expected that the final decision on shortening military service to 30 months will be brought before the Knesset once again in 2019, after the implications of the 2015 reduction are examined.

One solution proposed by the IDF’s Manpower Directorate for shortening service to 30 months includes increasing the amount of time yeshiva students on the so-called hesder program spend on active duty. These students combine religious studies in a yeshiva with their military service.

A similar initiative was raised two years ago, during the previous debate over reforming the draft, which proposed raising the amount of time hesder students spend on active duty to 24 months, up from 16 months.

Ultimately, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation opposed this due to political pressure, though service was increased to 17 months on active military duty.

The army and many politicians have criticized the decision not to extend the service of hesder yeshiva students, who now serve less time on active duty than ultra-Orthodox soldiers who enlist.

In the typical hesder program, soldiers have up to one year of yeshiva study – considered as “unpaid service” – followed by 17 months of active military duty in combat units, albeit in separate platoons for yeshiva students. This is followed by another 15 months’ study in the yeshiva.

The hesder track is defined by law as lasting no less than the legally determined period of compulsory service, plus another 12 months. Extending the service of hesder students could help enable the shortening of service for everyone else by supplying more manpower for the army.

Another proposed solution, which could be implemented in addition to other changes, is increasing the number of women serving in combat units.

Another possibility is working to reduce the number of soldiers who “drop out” of combat units during their service.

Military sources say no decision has yet been made on the matter, and the IDF is examining a number of directions concerning its policies after the 2015 decision to shorten military service.

Lengthening the period of service for hesder students would require the approval of the Knesset, and this has been opposed previously by parts of the religious public.

As of May 2015, some 77 hesder programs existed, with about 1,500 hesder students drafted every year, according to data from the Defense Ministry.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office said the IDF will outline its position on the issue at this week’s committee session.

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