IDF to recruit soldiers early from pre-military academy and service tracks

Some 1,400 are set to be drafted to combat units in March, months before their pre-army programs are completed

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

Young Israeli men line up as they arrive at the IDF recruitment center at Tel Hashomer on July 26, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Young Israeli men line up as they arrive at the IDF recruitment center at Tel Hashomer on July 26, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces intends to recruit an additional 1,400 combat soldiers in March, in large part by advancing the mandatory enlistment date for students currently enrolled in pre-army programs.

“Mechina” pre-army academies and “shnat sherut” service programs have become increasingly popular in recent years. Both are gap year programs after high school and before mandatory IDF service.

Army officials told program leaders that to reach their recruitment goal of 1,400 combat soldiers, they would have to move forward with the enlistment of some 1,200 currently enrolled students from various pre-army tracks, most of whom would have concluded their programs at the end of the academic year in June and enlisted sometime in the summer, Haaretz reported Tuesday.

First-year students in so-called “hesder” yeshiva programs, which combine Torah study with IDF service in a five-year combined track, would be exempt from early enlistment due to legal concerns, the army said.

Several heads of pre-army academies expressed opposition to the early recruitment and also asked that hesder yeshiva students be included, the report said.

“We are still in consultations with the Defense Ministry about this issue,” Joint Council of Pre-Military Academies (JCM) head Avishai Berman said Wednesday, declining to comment further. The JCM is the umbrella organization that oversees all the mechina pre-army academies.

Several current mechina students told The Times of Israel that they had received word from staff that the early recruitment was going forward, and more details would be released in the coming days.

“During the war, the IDF is required to continually implement procedures to build forces to preserve its strength over time and to respond to challenges that arise from the fighting. For this purpose, as needed, the IDF advances the enlistment of those whose service was previously deferred at their request… including for the purpose of pre-military training, a service year, yeshiva studies and more,” the IDF said in a Wednesday statement to The Times of Israel.

This process is done via dialogue with the relevant organizations, focusing on trainees who have already left their program, volunteered to be recruited early, entered their program due to quotas or had already completed a certain amount of time in their program, the IDF said.

In November, the IDF requested some 400 new trainees, a quota that was largely filled by volunteers who were already doing their shnat sherut.

There are hundreds of mechina pre-army academies in Israel with various levels of religiosity. The programs in total have 4,500 students enrolled during the 2023-2024 year, according to the JCM. Acceptance is highly competitive and can involve a lengthy application process.

Many pre-army academy students go on to join elite commando units, undergo officer training, or fill other high-level roles in the army. Some 25 percent of IDF officers’ school graduates are mechina alumni, according to JCM data.

High school graduates who join shnat sherut service programs engage in volunteer work of various kinds, in some cases with Jewish communities abroad.

Because of the Israel-Hamas war, which started with the terror group’s surprise incursion into Israeli territory on October 7, many of these pre-army programs have had their year disrupted in various ways due to called-up staff members and other issues relating to the conflict.

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