Hoping to Keep Promising Officers in the Ranks, IDF Hands Out Lump Sums

'In recent years, it's been harder for us to keep the good ones,' high-ranking officer admits. Bonuses are worth 4,000-8,000 shekels, at discretion of young officers' commanders.

Israel's military chief Gadi Eisenkot at an officer cadet course ceremony, 2015.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Over the past several months, the Israeli army has begun giving grants to young officers who are beginning their career service in the military. The bonuses payments, ranging between 4,000 and 8,000 shekels ($1,000 to $2,000), are granted once a year at the discretion of the officers' commanders.

Similar to the dynamic in the commercial sector, the army is interested in compensating outstanding young officers. A senior officer in the Israel Defense Forces Personnel Directorate said that the salaries of these soldiers are relatively low, and therefore it was decided to allow their commanders to make the grants, in the hopes that the program will encourage the young soldiers to remain in the army.

Up to now, the salaries of those serving in the standing army were determined by their rank, and they were usually only eligible for monetary grants on the condition that they signed up for additional years of service.  In the new program, which is already up and running, commanders can provide the grants to young officers up to the rank of captain, and to non-commissioned officers up to the rank of sergeant major.

"This has an impact on up to 30 percent of the beginning standing army soldiers in a unit, in cases in which the commander sees fit, for example in appreciation for a suggested efficiency measure that saved money, or a non-commissioned officer who does more than his job requires," the officer told Haaretz.

"I trust the commanders to exercise judgment with the grants. We send them to the battlefield, so why wouldn't we rely on them on this?" he added. "Of course there is oversight, but I'm confident that the grants will be given to the right people, to provide them encouragement."

This is an internal initiative of the army that is part of a wider attempt to improve the service conditions of young officers and NCOs. IDF statistics reveal that in 2015, there was an increase in the percentage of officers, mainly in technological positions, who left the army even though they were singled out as being outstanding and of high quality.

An officer on the IDF General Staff admitted in the past that "in recent years, it's been harder for us to keep the good ones." The army has therefore carried out reforms relating to young officers up to the age of 28. The program goes beyond the commanders' grants with an expanded number of incentives.

It was decided, for example, that any officer who joins the standing army does so at the salary level of a captain, and that there will be no restrictions on the number of standing army soldiers requesting academic studies during their service. The army is also planning on reducing the minimum period of time required to attain the rank of major. Today, the transition from captain to major is up to four years, but the IDF is planning on reducing that to three.

This also has financial implications. Based on 2014 IDF salary data, the average gross salary of officers with the rank of major was 20,282 shekels, compared to 11,525 shekels for captains.