Finance officials look to dramatically cut men’s military draft to two years

Finance officials look to dramatically cut men’s military draft to two years

Shortened 32-month service in effect since 2015 seen as a success; Treasury planners say cutting 8 more months could mean NIS 12 billion annual boon to the economy

Soldiers in the IDF's Desert Reconnaissance Battalion (Israel Defense Forces)
Soldiers in the IDF's Desert Reconnaissance Battalion (Israel Defense Forces)

Military and Finance Ministry officials are reportedly examining dramatically cutting the mandatory military draft service for men by as much as eight months, from the current length of 32 months to just 24.

The move would mean that for the first time in Israel’s history, men and women drafted into the IDF would serve the same amount of time, the Haaretz daily reported on Wednesday.

The main concern in the military over shortening men’s service involves elite combat and intelligence units that require lengthy training periods of a year or more before a soldier is deployed operationally. The new plan would require such soldiers to sign on for an additional six to 12 months if they wish to enlist in those units.

As a cost-cutting measure, and because Israel’s growing population has seen the army’s ranks swell due to the mandatory draft imposed on large parts of the population, the military has sought in recent years to shorten the draft service for men.

In March 2014, for the first time since the army’s founding in 1948, the Knesset passed a law shortening men’s mandatory service from 36 months to 32. The law went into effect in July 2015. Under that law, a second cut of two additional months, bringing men’s service to 30 months in all, will go into effect in 2020.

Yet even with that cut, officials say, the number of soldiers drafted in 2020 will be the same as the number drafted in 2014, before the shorter service period went into effect, because of population growth.

Illustrative: IDF soldiers (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

According to Haaretz, Finance Ministry officials are now pushing for a steeper cut in service time, estimating that a 24-month service for most male soldiers would allow earlier enrollment in academic studies and more young people joining the workforce, and would add an estimated NIS 10-12 billion ($2.7-$3.2 billion) per year to the economy.

Finance Ministry officials eager to cut costs are hoping to enact a 28-month service immediately, by the start of 2019, and want to start preparations for a further cut to 24 months after that.

IDF planning officials, meanwhile, are said to be satisfied with the results of the cuts to date. Three years into the shortened service period, officials have found no decline in soldiers’ operational capabilities or motivation to serve.

But while the army is itself pushing for further service cuts, it is said to be seeking to move more cautiously, urging a shortening from the current 32 months to 28 only in 2020.

The service cuts since 2015 have included a new enlistment regime for the army’s most elite units, including Sayeret Matkal, the 669 search-and-rescue unit, the Air Force’s Shaldag, the Navy’s Flotilla 13 commando force, whose soldiers are now required to sign on for eight years that include a two-year bachelor’s degree program as part of the service period. Other units, including the infantry’s elite reconnaissance companies, already require their soldiers to sign on for an additional year as a condition for joining the unit.

The IDF wants to carefully examine the effects on morale and preparedness after each cut, including how the expansion of such longer service options affect soldiers in specialized and elite units.

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