Organization helps immigrants to Israel join IDF intelligence units

Getting into intelligence units is not only a way to implement some of the Israeli youth’s most unique talents, but in recent years, it became also a ticket to success after their military service.

Lt.-Col. M. founded LIAM, an organization to help immigrants make it into IDF intelligence units. (photo credit: IDF)
Lt.-Col. M. founded LIAM, an organization to help immigrants make it into IDF intelligence units.
(photo credit: IDF)
For many years it has been almost impossible for new immigrants to gain a posting in the IDF’s much-sought intelligence units.
The language barrier and the strict exams held before conscription at high school usually presented a clear advantage to Israeli-born recruits, who also tend to view these roles as some of the most desirable in the IDF.
Joining an intelligence unit is not only a way for Israeli youth to contribute some of their unique talents. In recent years it has also become a ticket to success in the civilian world after military service.
Many alumni of intelligence units are prime candidates for hi-tech or other companies, and they can command high pay and a path to a bright future.
But many olim, some of whom have come to Israel with an academic degree, have felt that they are blocked from joining intelligence units and are forced to choose another avenue they feel does not fit their qualities and qualifications.
But for one olah who came from France when she was 18 and nevertheless managed to join the IDF’s prestigious Intelligence Research Department and is now a retiring lieutenant-colonel, bringing more olim to the unit has become her aim.
Lt.-Col. M. began her path as an intelligence officer, then became a human-resources officer, and in her last position she returned to her first unit and served as head of its human-resources department.
During her service, she pioneered a program called LIAM, the Hebrew acronym for Guiding Olim in Intelligence Units.
LIAM locates immigrants who are considered to have potential to serve in intelligence units and then helps settle them in pure intelligence roles and not in less cutting-edge supporting roles.
During training, the program provides those soldiers with constant help, especially with their Hebrew-language skills, so they can reach the level of their Israeli-born comrades.
Her personal experience and comments she received from families with older children who made aliyah from France in recent years and are concerned about the issue of their children going to the military brought her to pave the way for olim into the IDF’s intelligence units, M. told The Jerusalem Post in an interview last Thursday.
“They are scared because they don’t understand the process,” she said. “I think that this is stressful for all the parents in Israel. But it is even more so for olim because both the parents and the children did not grow up in an environment in which going into the military is a natural thing.”
Two years ago, M. turned to the chief intelligence officer and to the research department head and asked to start looking for intelligence roles that do not require high language skills, such as technological roles or data-science-related roles.
“We started with finding positions for 30 olim in the Intelligence Research Department, and now we’re expanding to other intelligence units,” M. said, adding that the program locates only male soldiers who cannot serve in combat units and all women.
Among them are olim from Russia, Ukraine, Canada, France, Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina and the US.
Until the program was launched, many immigrant soldiers who could not join combat units found meaningful roles, and by opening this path to intelligence positions, she has raised their desirability, M. said.
“When I launched the project, I thought that this was a way to provide olim with fair and equal opportunities,” she said. “The lack of proper Hebrew skills prevented them from taking the intelligence units’ tests, and I wanted to give them the chance to get into the Intelligence Corps so they could serve in meaningful roles.”
But M. made it clear that the purpose of the program is not only to promote individual olim but to take advantage of the benefits they can bring to the intelligence service.
“Olim bring a different perspective on many matters,” she said. “Someone who grew up in France or in Ukraine and made aliyah when he was 17-18 brings a different culture and a different way of thinking, and he can bring it to his work.
“This is exactly what they teach us here [in the intelligence units], to always think out of the box and to constantly reexamine what we think is right.”
LAST WEEK, two alumni of the project graduated as intelligence officers.
One of them is Sec.-Lt. E., who made aliyah two and a half years ago from Ukraine, where he studied economics and demography.
E. first heard of Israel through his grandfather, who had a great affinity with the country despite never visiting, he told the Post.
“He told me about the wars and about Israeli society,” he said. “I was impressed with the idea that a group of people can have such strong feelings about their homeland. It made me want to learn more about Zionism and appreciate the fact that Jews have their own independent state. I wanted to be part of it too.”
However, due to a sports injury that prevented him from joining a combat unit, E. knew it would be hard for him to find what he considered a meaningful role.
“LIAM helped me find a suitable position in the Intelligence Corps, and it changed my life,” he said. “Thanks to them, I feel that I have someone looking out for me. Before LIAM was established, there was no mechanism that would help a soldier who can’t go to combat units… When an oleh knows that there are options besides becoming a cook, and better options are open for you, it gives you hope.”