Just a quarter of all eligible reservists serve in the IDF
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Just a quarter of all eligible reservists serve in the IDF

Army says it has ‘reduced excesses’ in a bid to streamline the military; Tel Aviv provides the most reserve soldiers, officers

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An Israeli reserve soldier packs his bag before leaving a deployment area near the Gaza border, in November 2012. (Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
An Israeli reserve soldier packs his bag before leaving a deployment area near the Gaza border, in November 2012. (Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

In the past year, the number of reserve soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces has gone down, while the amount of training for those soldiers has gone up, according to a senior army official.

As the threats against Israel have shifted — from large national armies to smaller non-state actors — the IDF has similarly changed the way it looks at its reserve soldiers, focusing its attention on more intensively training a smaller number of reservists, Col. Amir Chai, head of the IDF Ground Forces’ Reserves Department, told The Times of Israel last week.

Though the army has painted this change in terms of operational needs, budgetary constraints have also played a key role in the decision to scale back the number of reserve soldiers. Throughout the IDF, “do more with less” has become an oft-heard slogan, and the reserves are not immune to it.

In 2013, some 34 percent of Israelis eligible for the reserves (people under the age of 40 who served in the IDF) held an “active” status, meaning they’d actually completed a total of 20 days of reserve service in the previous three years, according to IDF statistics.

In 2015, that number dropped to 26 percent.

Illustrative photo of an IDF reserve-duty soldier in the Negev Desert in southern Israel (Matanya Tausig/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of an IDF reserve-duty soldier in the Negev Desert in southern Israel (Matanya Tausig/Flash90)

According to the IDF, that eight percentage point cutback is the result of “reducing excess,” exempting reservists whose positions are either no longer needed or already met by existing soldiers.

“We have units that are bigger than they need to be. We need to keep what we actually need — plus a little flexibility — and to do away with the people who don’t do their part or aren’t necessary,” Chai said.

In 2015, reservists collectively served for 1,850,000 days, nearly 700,000 days fewer than in 2014. However, as there was a large-scale operation in 2014, the statistics are not necessarily comparable with the war-less 2015. (No such statistic is available for 2013.)

Following the failures of the Second Lebanon War, the IDF realized it had to change its policies towards its reservists, who were found to have been ill-equipped and poorly trained for the conflict.

One of the outcomes of that change was a shift away from having reservists carry out day-to-day military activities — guarding West Bank settlements, patrolling borders, etc. — in favor of training exercises, according to Chai, who oversees the Ground Forces’ reserve units, which account for approximately half of all reservists in the IDF.

According to the army, the positions for men that were called up the most in 2015 were truck drivers, squad leaders, combat medics, infantrymen and “general purpose soldiers.”

IDF soldiers monitor the border with Gaza from a command center nearby. (Gadi Yampel/IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
IDF soldiers monitor the border with Gaza from a command center nearby. (Gadi Yampel/IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

For women, the most common positions for reserve duty were “watchers,” monitoring security footage, a infantry officers, soldiers in operation rooms, code decrypters and human resource officers.

Though the number of women serving in the reserves has increased over the years, men still account for some 84% of the reservists in Israel.

In conjunction with National Reservists Appreciation Day, a yearly celebration in Israel to thank those who serve in the reserves, the IDF released a handful of statistics showing a breakdown of who serves in the reserves.

Tel Aviv contributed the largest number of reservists in the country — 34,182 — while Jerusalem offered 26,666, despite the capital having a larger total population of people between the ages of 18 and 40. (This is likely attributable to the large number of ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem, most of whom do not often serve in the army.)

The White City also contributed the largest number of company and battalion commanders — 69 and 20, respectively.

Illustrative: IDF soldiers of the Givati Brigade during a late-night mission in the West Bank, October 7, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
IDF soldiers of the Givati Brigade during a late-night mission in the West Bank, October 7, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

Some 46 company commanders and 10 battalion commanders came from Jerusalem, while Haifa offered up 31 company commanders and 11 battalion commanders.

Less than a third (29%) of all reservists have kids. However, those who do apparently serve more than their childless comrades. Parents represent 40.5% of the total number of reservists who served for more than three days in 2015, the army found.

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