Reflections on my IDF service

Mine is a military that shines because its soldiers are brilliant. And when this generation emerges from this bubble, my country will shine with blinding radiance.

idf soldiers at computer 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
idf soldiers at computer 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When a spokesperson is speechless, you’re in uncharted territory.
Today, nine years since I wandered, shell-shocked, through the halls of the IDF recruitment center, the officer bars came off and I joined the ranks of Israel’s eight million civilians.
During the daily grind, the extraordinary becomes routine and the scenery blurs. But now, looking back, I can so clearly see the battles that every day brought.
Every soldier in the IDF fights their own individual battle. It may be a battle of restraint, facing a killer combination of cinderblocks and camera lenses. It can be a battle of vigilance, as a tired 21-year-old stares at a screen in an intelligence facility along the Syrian border. It can be a battle of solitude, as a driver transports a tank to a base so godforsaken that even Chabad doesn’t deliver donuts there on Hanukkah.
But what keeps them going, what kept me going, is the burning faith that my military is one that shines. My military glows.
It is an unrecognized beacon, a predictor of better times and the ultimate insurance for a battered nation.
The complexity of the issues with which the IDF deals is tremendous. The political issues in the region may be unresolved and the quagmire of the political event horizon may shift like a sandstorm. We have our share of problems, the outliers that may generate the news or show up on the top of a diplomat’s desk. But I have been on the inside, and I know that these exceptions are not my military.
And while it is of critical importance, international law holds a different meaning for us. My military is one that does not need international law because the moral standards we hold ourselves to extend farther than that law ever could. It is a military extending medical aid to a sworn enemy or harbor to a persecuted refugee. It is a military that will hold its fire, putting itself in mortal peril, because the person crouching by a rocket launcher may be, just may be, a farmer rather than a terrorist.
It is a military put in a hard place but prepared to rise to the task.
And while drafting a nation may bring in some who deviate from policy, our conduct, our behavior, our brave men and women, represent the best of the best. We get the best and they emerge better, leaving the military stronger, more moral, more capable of dealing with the prodigious challenges – be they security, demographic or ethical challenges.
I end my service with two refrains playing in my head. Some complain about an alleged international double standard toward Israel. I say bring it. Demand that we adhere to impossible standards. Dictate moral conduct unprecedented in military history. Ask more of us.
We will rise to it. Not because of the demand but because of our internal drive for professionalism. For self-respect. To represent our traditions, our history, our culture in a way that behooves a nation that has been on the other side of the blade for centuries. Time and time again, this is what I have seen. And my heart if filled with pride.
The other counter-refrain playing in my head is one of hope. I have seen what the young men and women of this country have to offer. While the world taps out a staccato drumbeat of post-modernism, the generation I have witnessed herald the change, harnessing ideology to perform the impossible, that is coming. Today they man outposts, fly airplanes, program scripts, grease barrels and write words.
But tomorrow, next week, next month and next year, the fountain of light that has given so much in the military will hit Israel full force. Mine is a military that shines because its soldiers are brilliant. And when this generation emerges from this bubble, my country will shine with blinding radiance.
Just like it has for 65 years. Just like it has for 5,000 years. They are coming. And the magnitude of what they will accomplish, well, it leaves me without words.
The author recently concluded his military service as the IDF spokesperson to North American media. He has also served in a number of positions in the IDF’s Strategic Planning Division. A Chicago-born immigrant, Eytan holds a BA in international relations and psychology from Hebrew University and is completing a MA in government studies at IDC.