Israel Table of Contents
Military service in Israel was mandatory, beginning at age eighteen, for male and female citizens and resident aliens. The length of compulsory military service has varied according to IDF personnel needs. In 1988 male conscripts served three years and females twenty months. New immigrants, if younger than eighteen years of age upon arrival, were subject to the same terms of conscription when they reached eighteen. Male immigrants aged nineteen to twenty-three served for progressively reduced periods, and those twenty-four or older were conscripted for only 120 days. Female immigrants over the age of nineteen were exempted from compulsory service. Immigrants who had served in the armed forces of their countries of origin had the length of their compulsory service in Israel reduced.
Exemptions for Jewish males were rare, and about 90 percent of the approximately 30,000 men who reached age eighteen each year were drafted. Several hundred ultra-Orthodox students studying at religious schools, yeshivot (sing., yeshiva--see Glossary) followed a special four-year program combining studies and military duty. The Ministry of Defense estimated, however, that in 1988 about 20,000 of the most rigidly Orthodox yeshiva students, who felt little allegiance to Zionism and the Israeli state, were escaping the draft through an endless series of deferments. From a strictly military point of view, their value to the IDF would be limited because of restrictions on the jobs they would be able or willing to perform. Although the military served kosher food and adhered to laws of the Jewish sabbath and holidays, secular soldiers were lax in their observance.
An academic reserve enabled students to earn a bachelor's degree before service, usually in a specialized capacity, following basic training; such students reported for reserve duty during summer vacations. Conscientious objectors were not excused from service, although an effort was made to find a noncombatant role for them. The minimum physical and educational standards for induction were very low to insure that a maximum number of Jewish males performed some form of service in the IDF. Conscripts were screened on the basis of careful medical and psychological tests. Those with better education and physical condition were more likely to be assigned to combat units. Sons and brothers of soldiers who had died in service were not accepted for service in combat units unless a parental waiver was obtained.
Several elite units were composed exclusively of volunteers. They included air force pilots, paratroops, the submarine service, naval commandos, and certain army reconnaissance units. Because of the large number of candidates, these units were able to impose their own demanding selection procedures. The air force enjoyed first priority, enabling it to select for its pilot candidates the prime volunteers of each conscript class. Conscripts also could express preferences for service in one of the regular combat units. The Golani Infantry Brigade, which had acquired an image as a gallant frontline force in the 1973 and 1982 conflicts, and the armored corps were among the preferred regular units.
Data as of December 1988