With a month left, 2010 appears to be winding down into one of the quietest
years Israel has ever experienced from a security perspective.
10 people – soldiers and civilians – have been killed in terror attacks since
the beginning of the year, down from 15 in 2009. In addition, rocket fire from
the Gaza Strip dramatically dropped from 570 projectiles in 2009 to fewer than
The quiet along the borders is understood within the IDF to be the
result of the Second Lebanon War with Hizbullah in 2006 and Operation Cast Lead
against Hamas in the Gaza Strip two years ago. While both Hamas and Hizbullah
have used the years since the conflicts to dramatically boost their military
capabilities – Hizbullah, which had around 15,000 rockets during the 2006 war,
is now believed to possess more than 40,000 – both terror organizations are
believed to be deterred, at least for the time being.
That is why it was
no surprise when, at the Sderot Conference several weeks ago, a study showing
that suicide is currently the leading cause of death within the IDF was
In a paper entitled “A Professional Military for Israel,” Boaz
Arad of the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies claimed that one of the
prices the country pays for a compulsory draft and a “people’s army” is that a
significant number of soldiers will commit suicide during their service. Arad
brought statistics showing that on average 35 soldiers kill themselves every
This was indeed the case – up until 2006, when the IDF began
implementing a new plan aimed at limiting the number of suicides. In 2009, only
21 soldiers killed themselves, in comparison to 35 in 2005. So far this year
there have been around 25 suicides.
This is also not a problem that only
exists in the IDF.
The US military, for example, has been grappling with
increasing numbers of suicides since the beginning of the last decade as a
direct result of wars it is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The main problem
is the social divide a soldier encounters when returning from the battlefield to
This is less of a problem here, because unless there
is a war, all soldiers get home at least once every 20 days or
ACCORDING TO studies conducted by the IDF Medical Corps’s Mental
Health Division, most of the suicides are the result of external elements – a
breakup with a girlfriend, challenges at home or a mental problem that existed
before the soldier was drafted.
But as Arad accurately pointed out, “One
of the tragic prices Israel will pay due to the ‘people’s army’ ethos is that it
will be accompanied by suicides.” He highlighted two major internal factors –
access to a weapon and the natural difficulty in acclimating to a strict
“There is a lot that needs to be done like increasing
a commander’s awareness of the problem and working to identify which soldiers
need help,” a senior Mental Health Division officer said this week, noting,
however, that general public statistics are one suicide for every 10,000 youths
aged 15 to 25.
Due to the increasing number of draft dodgers, in 2008 the
IDF began allowing youths who previously would have received an exemption from
service due to mental health problems to enlist.
“People who have serious
problems still receive exemptions,” the officer explained. “But youths who have
problems that are treatable, such as difficulty in acclimating to a new
framework, do not need to automatically be denied their right to serve in the
This new policy has led to the annual enlistment of hundreds
who previously would not have been drafted.
On the surface, this should
have led to an increase in the number of suicides, but the number is
Behind this ostensible contradiction is a program started by
the Mental Health Division and the Manpower Branch, under which the Medical
Corps has raised awareness among officers, holding regular seminars and
workshops for them so they can identify subordinates who are
The plan also created a special mechanism for investigating
suicides by a committee, led by a colonel, which includes representatives from
the unit in which the suicide occurred and from the Medical Corps and the
The IDF has also added more mental health
Last year, 20 new psychologists were hired and deployed
throughout its various units.
“Everyone is our sensor, from the soldier
and his or her comrades, to the commanders and the family,” the officer
Lastly, in a revolutionary move, the Mental Health Division
succeeded in convincing the military to limit the number of soldiers who take
weapons home with them during leaves, mostly over the weekend.
the problem is the accessibility of weapons and by taking their gun away from
soldiers who don’t need it when they are home, we can cut the number,” the
officer said, stressing, however, that if someone really wants to commit suicide
he will ultimately find a way.
While this program will not completely
eradicate suicides within the IDF, it can keep the number down to a minimum, and
allow the IDF to recruit more soldiers while assisting them in dealing with
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>