One-third of IDF suicides in 2021 were of Ethiopian descent

Suicide remained the leading cause of death in the IDF in 2021, with at least 11 soldiers believed to have taken their own lives.

 SOLDIERS RECEIVE a briefing from a commander during an IDF exercise. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
SOLDIERS RECEIVE a briefing from a commander during an IDF exercise.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

A third of the soldiers who committed suicide last year were of Ethiopian descent, according to a document released by the IDF on Tuesday.

Thirty-one soldiers died of various causes in 2021, including 11 by suicide, the IDF said. Twenty-eight soldiers lost their lives in 2020.

Suicide remained the leading cause of death in 2021, with at least 11 soldiers believed to have taken their own lives. Another two are currently recorded as accidents but may have also been suicides.

Three of the suicides were members of the Ethiopian community, and one of the two soldiers suspected of dying by suicide was also Ethiopian, OC Manpower Directorate Brig.-Gen. Yoram Knafo said.

Soldiers who commit suicide are officially defined as suspected suicides until the Military Police finish investigating their cases. The number of suicides in the military has been decreasing from its peak in 2005, when 36 soldiers took their own lives.

 An Ethiopian soldier salutes the fresh grave of Golani soldier, Moshe Malko, at the Har Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, on July 21, 2014.  (credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90) An Ethiopian soldier salutes the fresh grave of Golani soldier, Moshe Malko, at the Har Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, on July 21, 2014. (credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

Nine soldiers committed suicide in 2020, 12 in 2019, nine in 2018 and 16 in 2017, the IDF reported. Twenty-one soldiers committed suicide in 2011, the highest total in the decade.

Even though there was an increase in the number of suicides in 2021, the number of suicides in the military overall has been around 10 each year for the past four years, Knafo said.

On the one hand, the military credited the general downward trend in suicides to restricted access to weapons, he said. On the other hand, it emphasized suicide prevention with numerous programs designed to better train commanders to identify soldiers who may have suicidal thoughts.

About 400 suicides were prevented over the past year, Knafo said.

Of the fatalities in 2021, 10 soldiers died in car accidents while on furlough; six died from illness, though none of them from the coronavirus; Omar Tabib was killed during Operation Guardian of the Walls; Yonatan Granot died after he was shot in the head by another soldier who had allegedly fired a weapon on their base in violation of orders.

The death of OC Nahal Brigade Col. Sharon Asman, who collapsed and died while running, was attributed to an undiagnosed heart condition.

No soldiers died due to training accidents.

Two deaths that were not included in the figures by the military were St.-Sgt. Barel Hadaria Shmueli, who was killed after he was shot in the head by a Palestinian gunman during a riot along the Gaza border, and an intelligence officer who died in a military prison while awaiting trial for grave security offenses.

Shmueli was not recorded in the figures, because he was a Border Police officer, Knafo said. The intelligence officer had been discharged from the military before he died and therefore was not included in the figures, he said.

The leading cause of death of soldiers in 2019 was suicide (12). That year saw the lowest number of casualties since the founding of the IDF, with 27 soldiers losing their lives.

In comparison, of the 43 soldiers who died in 2018, eight were suspected of committing suicide, two died in training accidents, eight were killed in combat, 10 died from medical reasons and 14 died in traffic accidents. Another 41 soldiers were severely injured.

Of the 41 soldiers who died in 2016, 15 were suspected of committing suicide, nine were killed in military accidents, seven in civilian traffic accidents, six died due to medical reasons, and four were killed in action. In addition, 43 soldiers were severely injured over the course of the year.