IDF Considers New Category of Soldier for Cyber Warriors, Drone Operators

Army asks can soldiers not exposed to danger be considered combatants?

Israel Defense Forces officers are currently asking themselves, "Who is really a combat soldier?"

In recent years, due to technological developments and changing security challenges, new roles have been created for both male and female soldiers. That, however, has caused an explosion in the number of soldiers who consider themselves combatants, with all the attendant benefits and prestige. The change, predictably, has also made for some grumbling on the part of traditional combat soldiers, who feel that those who aren't exposed to any danger shouldn't be considered fighters.

The General Staff has recently discussed the topic in two forums: the Operations Directorate's combat doctrine and training division, and the Personnel Directorate.

The debate revolves around several relatively new positions. Can soldiers operating the Iron Dome anti-missile batteries be considered combatants? And how about rescue battalions serving on the home front, military policemen serving at checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel, or technology geeks who operate drones and wage cyber war?

Iron Dome system operators, for example, are viewed favorably by the public due to their successes in intercepting rockets targeting Ashkelon and Be'er Sheva, which has saved lives. But though the soldiers in the batteries do carry arms, the system operates almost independently, and human involvement in the interception process is extremely limited. There's also the anomaly of considering a soldier to be a combatant when his position actually exposes him to exactly the same risk as any civilian living nearby, who hasn't chosen to risk his life.

Describing Iron Dome operators and others in similar positions as combat soldiers causes outrage among the "traditional" fighting units, the infantry and the armored corps. Officers in those units point out the both the qualifications and the risks demanded of their soldiers are very different from those demanded of the new fighters.

On the other hand, units such as the aerial defense corps and the Home Front Command have an interest in defining their soldiers as combatants, thus increasing motivation to serve in such positions.

A senior General Staff officer told Haaretz that in his opinion, "a combat soldier is one who risks death doing his duty and might also kill the enemy in battle. We must preserve the status of combatants in the IDF. With all due respect to Iron Dome or drone operators, being part of an operational fighting unit is something completely different."

The IDF journal "Bamahane" recently reported on a change proposed by the army under which a fourth category - "attacker" - would be added to the existing three categories: combat soldiers, combat support soldiers (such as members of ordinance and logistics units stationed in forward posts ), and home front soldiers.

The attacker category will include soldiers who aren't exposed to physical risk, but can still inflict considerable damage on the enemy, or protect Israel from various threats, just by pressing a button.

In terms of benefits, the new category would rank third on the list, between combat support soldiers and home front soldiers.