Inside the IDF: 'We don't have enough soldiers'

According to the deputy head of the IDF’s Human Resources Branch, military success depends on one factor: Ending draft-dodging.

IDF troops 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
IDF troops 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
‘Demographic challenges” are leaving the IDF with fewer soldiers than it needs to defend the country against the threats it faces, and that forces the state to take a strong stance against draft-dodging, Brig.-Gen. Orna Barbivai, deputy head of the IDF’s Human Resources Branch, told The Jerusalem Post this week.
According to Barbivai, one of only three women brigadier-generals in the IDF, the notion that a growing population means that there are already enough soldiers to fill the army’s manpower needs is mistaken.
“We don’t have enough soldiers,” she said simply.
When asked what demographic issues are threatening the army’s enlistment pool, Barbivai said it was in part the haredi community which, along with most of the Arab population, does not serve in the army and has a much higher birth rate than the secular population.
Such demographic issues, coupled with the lack of significant immigration, are additional reasons why the state must do more to cut down on the rising wave of draft-dodging, Barbivai said.
“We cannot lend our hand to draft-dodging in any way whatsoever,” she continued. “We must work to enlist everybody who is eligible, not only in keeping with Israeli law, but also with our national morals.”
According to Barbivai, the shifting demographics are more serious when one considers the constant security threats facing the nation and its need to always be prepared to fight.
“The army can’t wait for something to happen and then say we didn’t prepare; we need to be ready at all times for all situations,” she said. “Our chief of General Staff says we must be prepared at all times to fight the next war. We must be ready and be able to win in war to an extent that there will be no question that we were victorious.”
DAYS BEFORE International Women’s Day on March 8, the female General Staff officer said she understands the desire of many women to perform quality service in the army, and not just give over two years of their young lives to work in a clerical position.
“Up until recent years, some 25 percent of women served as clerks in the army. Nowadays its only 12%, which illustrates the way in which we have created opportunities for women to find roles in the army where they can contribute more and get more out of their service,” she said. 
Barbivai, who has served in the Human Resources Branch since she was drafted in 1981, said nowadays some 90% of roles in the army are open to women, as opposed to only 73% just 15 years ago.
“We see women in the army at every place, at every rank, in professional roles and combat roles all over, and we believe that we must launch every effort to broaden and deepen the service of women in the army,” Barbivai said.
She said that not only do women become fighter pilots and combat troops these days, they are making a greater and greater impact on the officer corps. Barbivai said in noncombat units women make up some 40% of captains, and by this summer, there will be 23 women holding the rank of colonel.
Barbivai also praised army efforts to counter the phenomenon of pre-draft age young women saying they are religious to avoid being drafted. Barbivai said that since investigations of such claims were launched in late 2008, hundreds of young women have been caught saying they’re religious under false pretenses, and a total of 1,200 have recanted on their claims.
The women do not face legal charges, rather the army meets with them and tries to find an optimal way for them to serve, Barbivai said, adding that the manpower issues facing the IDF and the constant security threats against the country mean the army can’t simply write off these potential soldiers.
“Because we have fewer soldiers than we need, we believe it’s not right to give up on someone for trying to dodge the draft, or for posing as religious. Our situation won’t allow us to give up on 37% of Israeli women,” Barbivai said, citing the current percentage of young women who do not serve in the army for one reason or another.
Though manpower issues are of crucial importance to the combatreadiness of the IDF, for Barbivai, a 48-year-old mother of three, theissue of draft-dodging goes beyond security needs and reaches her on apersonal level.
“There is no reason that my daughters are required to do nationalservice and someone else’s aren’t,” said Barbivai, who has a daughterserving in the navy while another serves in the Border Police. “At onepoint one of my daughters was serving in Jenin, while the other wasdeployed at the Machpela Cave. Of course, like every mother, I worriedabout them, but there’s no question, it’s the army, everyone mustserve.”