The IDF was not surprised on Monday when a Knesset committee voted in favor of shortening mandatory military service for men from 36 months to 32, but it is viewing the development with concern.
In the not too distant past, the IDF Manpower Directorate asked the government whether military service could be extended by a number of months.
The reply by the government – which is interested in freeing up four months of service time to benefit the economy and give ex-soldiers more time to integrate themselves into higher education or the job market – was that in the current reality of Israeli society, not only would this request be rejected, but the army should brace itself for a reduction.
When viewed in combination with defense budget cuts and the systematic evasion of service by some sectors of society, the concerns among senior ranks of the IDF become more acute. The military recognizes that Israeli society is undergoing natural and rapid changes. But it is keen on preserving the model of a people’s army and is worried that this concept is under threat, with a gradual erosion eventually making the task of defending Israel in a chaotic region extremely challenging.
Next week, the Knesset committee headed by MK Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) is to debate a clause in the Equal Sharing of the Burden Bill that proposes extending IDF service for women.
From the perspective of the army, such an extension would be welcome, with the brass favoring an extension of four months, something that could increase the sense of solidarity within units where men and women serve together. In addition, the Personnel Directorate remains troubled by the fact that in 2013, 43 percent of young women evaded military service altogether. Many women cited religious reasons, although a large number of these claims appeared to be dubious.
The IDF sees itself as a lever for creating national solidarity and wishes to preserve this role. In the name of this social cohesion, it also favors drafting haredi men while creating the necessary conditions that would allow them to preserve their way of life while serving.
From the IDF’s perspective, extending the draft and ensuring that the burden is carried by more, rather than fewer, shoulders would prevent a long-term shift toward a professional military – one that would be restricted in resources and personnel, struggling to cope with rapidly emerging, multiple threats.