IDF to Draft More ultra-Orthodox in Bid to Counter Decline in Recruits

Number of new Israel Defense Forces conscripts expected to hit a new low this year.

he Israel Defense Forces is planning to draft more ultra-Orthodox recruits as part of a plan to counter the steady decline in the number of conscripts since 2005, according to IDF personnel directorate officials

They expect this year to represent a new low in the number of new recruits − 8,000 less than in 2005, which saw a record high.

IDF induction - February 2012

Some 1,600 Haredim are expected to join the army later this year, a number the IDF hopes will rise to 4,500 by 2015.

The IDF is planning to recruit many yeshiva dropouts this year, who are expected to study in the army’s technical schools.

Only those actively studying in yeshiva are supposed to receive exemptions from military service.

There are already some 2,500 ultra-Orthodox men in uniform, many of whom serve in technical positions in the Israel Air Force, Israel Navy, Military Intelligence and personnel directorate.

The units most harmed by the shortage of troops are the technical ones, since IDF officials attributed the drop in the number of recruits to the decline in the number of children of immigrants.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, “we enjoyed huge waves of aliyah that increased the number of new recruits,” a personnel directorate official said. “This year saw a decline in the number of new immigrants, and that is the one factor that immediately influences the number of conscripts. Today’s situation − no aliyah and many ultra-Orthodox youths − can be directly felt.”

Personnel directorate officials say the two main factors influencing the number of new conscripts are the drop in new immigrants and the rise in the population groups that don’t, as a rule, serve in the IDF: the ultra-Orthodox and Israeli Arabs.

Nineteen percent of first graders were part of the ultra-Orthodox educational system in 2000, and the proportion is expected to reach 30 percent in 2014, according to the IDF.
The plan to recruit more ultra-Orthodox soldiers is one part of a multipronged effort to resolve a manpower shortage, which could become more acute if the army follows through on proposals to create Iron Dome missile interception units and change the deployment pattern of soldiers along the Israel-Egypt border.

Other possibilities include encouraging Israeli and international volunteers.

In Israel, recruits who receive medical exemptions could be asked to volunteer for non-combat positions.

IDF officials are also expecting a 15 percent increase this year in new recruits from abroad. If that happens, the army will have 500 non-Israeli volunteers.

The army is also considering cutting the number of the pre-military academies whose graduates serve for less than the standard three years for male soldiers, as well as encouraging more hesder students, who combine Torah study with shortened military service, to serve in the army for longer.

Some 1,500 hesder students are recruited annually.
The IDF also hopes to provide more job training to the at-risk youth enrolled in an army program aimed at helping them integrate into the military and, ultimately, into Israeli society.

This year 1,500 people enrolled in the program, 15 percent of whom received job training.