The IDF’s latest project for new olim

The IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate was largely beyond reach for most new immigrants – but not anymore

By
July 13, 2019 16:07
The IDF’s latest project for new olim

IDF OFFICERS examine a map of the Middle East.. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

New immigrants to Israel who have dreamed of serving in the Israel Defense Force’s Intelligence Directorate now have the chance with a new project developed by a senior IDF officer who herself made aliyah over two decades ago.


The IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate is one of the oldest directorates, established shortly after the State of Israel was founded. Its main mission is to supply the government and military with accurate and timely alerts to protect the country from any threat it may face.

The directorate has three main units – 8200, 9900 and 504 – with the IDF’s Unit 8200 as the main information gathering unit, with troops developing tools to analyze, process and share the intelligence to all relevant authorities.

Regarded as Israel’s equivalent of the NSA in the United States, Unit 8200 is responsible for much of Israel’s breakthrough technology and is the go-to unit for high-tech companies seeking top talent. Once soldiers finish their service, many members of Unit 8200 eventually move on to Israel’s high-tech and cyber security industries, founding large and successful companies.

In recent years, the IDF has been placing special attention on cyber warfare, increasing funding and placing special emphasis on training the next generation of online soldiers.

Called Li-am, the six-month-old project is the next step for the military, allowing new immigrants to serve in the Intelligence Directorate on a level never seen before.

Li-am is the brainchild of Lt.-Col. M of the IDF’s intelligence research analysis division, and it’s a project that has personal significance for her, she told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview.

“It’s my project that I have been thinking about for years,” she said, explaining that when she was drafted into the Israeli military 25 years ago “it was very hard and “I wasn’t able to stay in my role. I remained in the army because I’m a Zionist and I always thought we had to change this… that olim [new immigrants] can serve in the Intelligence Directorate and succeed…

There are so many immigrants who can serve in these positions.”

LI-AM CURRENTLY has seven olim, including two from France, one from Ecuador, one from the Ukraine and three from the United States. The recruits, who drafted in February, first spent time at the Michve Alon training base like other lone soldiers in order to improve their Hebrew.

But, even after spending several months learning the language, they weren’t able to get into the Intelligence Directorate, mostly due to their level of Hebrew and lack of security clearance.

“I get so many phone calls from people whose children serve in places where they don’t feel like they are giving their all,” she said. “Many of the phone calls are new immigrants who told me that they are serving in places that they didn’t want to serve.
But intelligence was closed to them. Now they have the opportunity to serve in an intelligence position.”

So, Lt.-Col. M said, she approached the IDF’s Manpower Directorate and Michve Alon so that they could put their heads together to think of new roles that don’t need high-level Hebrew – like a data analyst, which is more technological, or operational/tactical research positions.

Both Michve Alon and the Manpower Directorate were “looking for this kind of project,” she said, adding that senior officers in both places have voiced their support for the project.

Lt.-Col. M told the Post that she accompanies every single soldier in the project, a significant positive of having such a boutique track with a maximum of 10 recruits each draft.

One of the recruits into Li-am, Private E, moved to Israel in 2014 from France with his family and was drafted into the IDF last December.

“I felt that every Israeli has to serve, all my friends enlisted and so it was just obvious that I also had to serve,” he said, adding that he “really wanted to do something with computers, because I have a lot of experience with them.”

But E told the Post that he didn’t think he would get a role in technology, “I understood it would be hard,” he said. 

“I was sure that because I didn’t grow up here, everything would be much harder. There are so many things that you learn in school – and I learned in a French school – that are different... for example, even math is taught differently.”

But, during the Hebrew language course at Michve Alon, he had an interview with Lt.-Col. M and the rest, as they say, is history.

“In the end, I got what I wanted,” he said, adding that “I’m sure that if I didn’t have this project, I wouldn’t serve as a data analyst now.” 

In his role he doesn’t need to read or write a lot of Hebrew, rather more coding and helping other researchers with the applications that he builds.

“I know how to read and write, but I can’t write long documents of 100 pages,” E said, adding nonetheless “while it’s hard because the Hebrew is still a very high level with words that we don’t usually use, it’s nice and I’m learning.”

And it’s not only his fellow soldiers or commanders that help him, Lt.-Col. M is very involved with every single one of the recruits.

“When we joined the brigade, Lt.-Col. M told us that if we have any problems, any issues, she would really help us. She’s really friendly.”

LT.-COL. M, the woman behind Li-Am, the Military Intelligence Directorate’s boutique track for new immigrants. (Credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)


 
ANOTHER RECRUIT, N, moved to Israel from Ecuador alone four years ago. While she had always dreamed about serving in the Intelligence Directorate, “she didn’t know how. Now with this project, she is serving in a very significant role,” Lt.-Col. M said. “And while it’s still very hard for her because of the language, her officers are helping her a lot and supporting her. She’s succeeding.”

While there have been only two drafts of Li-am, “I worry about every single soldier, personally, because I want this project to succeed. If the first drafts succeed, then it will grow. And there will be those who will help others who join,” she said.

There are more than 6,500 lone soldiers serving in the IDF with no family to support them and provide for them. They are highly motivated to serve the country, and despite the hardships over 60% serve in combat units. 

Lt.-Col. Limor Mizrahi, head of the Personal Welfare Branch, told The Jerusalem Post, “Being a lone soldier should never stop someone from getting ahead in his or her military career. It’s not even a question.”

According to her, there are lone soldiers who have risen to the rank of colonel or lieutenant colonel like M, but, she said, language and security clearances could have an impact on what role one gets in the army.

But when asked whether or not she saw a lone soldier one day becoming chief of staff, Mizrahi didn’t hesitate.
“I don’t see any reason why a lone soldier can’t be chief of staff.”

Nevertheless, lone soldiers, even those who struggle with the language, are helped by the military throughout their service.

During their service, lone soldiers are entitled to assistance from the state, including monthly living stipends (NIS 1,300 for living and NIS 150 per month for food), discounts on electricity bills, exemption from municipal taxes, rental assistance or lodging provided by the Aguda Lemaan Hahayal (Soldier’s Welfare Association) and an extra NIS 1,000 of financial support for combat soldiers. 

Once they complete their military service, lone soldiers receive NIS 12,000 over the course of one year from the army, the option to live for three months in a Beit Hahayal and preparation and financial help to complete their matriculation and psychometric exams.

“Even after they are released from service, the army is there for them,” Mizrahi said.

“The IDF and commanders do everything they can do so that lone soldiers have a good and meaningful service without having to worry about what’s happening at home,” she said. “A good soldier is a soldier who has it good. We try from the bottom of our hearts to give soldiers so that they don’t need to worry.”

And it’s important for Lt.-Col. M that this project continues and grows, giving the chance to future immigrants who want to serve in the IDF’s intelligence research analysis division.

“We really invest in them because it’s important to us that it succeeds,” she said. “If you succeed in the army, you succeed in your aliyah; you feel that you gave back and you have a common past with other Israelis."


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