In ‘revolution,’ IDF boosts combat soldiers’ pay to 40% of minimum wage
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Soldiers in elite units to serve 8 years, get college degree

In ‘revolution,’ IDF boosts combat soldiers’ pay to 40% of minimum wage

Army touts extra benefits for troops to counteract shrinking motivation to serve in fighting units

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

Israeli soldiers seen returning after a training drill in the fields near the Israeli border with Gaza on July 24, 2014. (Miriam Alster/ FLASH90/ File)
Israeli soldiers seen returning after a training drill in the fields near the Israeli border with Gaza on July 24, 2014. (Miriam Alster/ FLASH90/ File)

The IDF unveiled a plan to increase combat soldiers’ salaries and benefits on Thursday that, beginning later this year, will see their pay rise during their final year of service from a 33 to 40 percent of the minimum wage.

The military described it as a “revolution.”

This slight pay increase, along with some other new measures, are the latest in a series of steps the army has taken to improve service conditions for combat soldiers, as the motivation to serve in those units has dropped in recent years.

“The status of combat soldiers in the IDF is an issue we have been dealing with for many years,” IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said in a statement. “This is a process whose base is that at the tip of the IDF’s spear — the most important thing — is the fighting force that carries out missions and endangers its life.”

The military also announced it would be changing the service conditions for soldiers in its most elite units, increasing the amount of time they have to serve to eight years, but including in that extension a college degree in the field of their choice.

Soldiers in the Sayeret Matkal, Shaldag and Shayetet 13 reconnaissance units, as well as the airborne 669 rescue unit, currently commit to sign on for four or five years of service, several years more than the basic two years and eight months, as those positions require an extended training schedule. By raising the length of their service to eight years, the army would be able to save on manpower — an increasingly precious resource — as the units would require fewer new recruits to fill their ranks.

The pay revolution

Currently, combat soldiers earn NIS 1,600 ($451) per month, while “combat support” soldiers earn NIS 1,176 ($331) and troops in administrative positions earn NIS 810 ($228). The minimum wage in Israel is NIS 5,000 ($1,410) a month.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot speaks at the Herzliya Conference in the Israeli coastal city on June 20, 2017. (Hagai Fried/Herzliya Conference)

The plan would see combat soldiers’ pay increase, but only during only their third and final year of service, to NIS 2,000 ($564), beginning in November.

In addition, starting in January 2018, combat soldiers will receive a gift card worth NIS 1,000 ($282) twice in their service that they will be able to use at various restaurants, movie theaters and attractions, or spend on athletic apparel.

Beginning in January, the army will reduce the amount of time it takes for soldiers to receive a document identifying them as a combat soldier from 20 months to 18 months. The document, known in Hebrew as a Teudat Lohem, allows soldiers to travel for free on public transportation in civilian attire, as opposed to other soldiers who must be in uniform, earns them discounts in some locations, and makes them eligible for certain scholarships after they leave the army.

The military also announced that the pins and unit insignia the combat soldiers earn will be larger, as a symbol of their importance.

As part of the benefits rollout, the IDF’s Manpower Directorate also unveiled a new system of ranking for IDF units. In place of the current three-tiered system of administrative, combat support, and combat, the army will instead recognize five separate categories: administrative, combat support, operational combat support, combat and — at the top — “spearhead,” or in Hebrew, hod.

Combat support and operational combat support will effectively be distinguished by where they serve. Operational combat support soldiers will potentially be in contact with the enemy and “endanger their lives,” under the new army definition.

Combat and “spearhead” will, to an extent, be differentiated by their level of exposure to danger.

The army has yet to announce exactly which units will receive each of the designations, but a soldier in an infantry brigade, like Golani or Nahal, or in an armored brigade, like the 188th, will likely be considered a “spearhead” soldier, as during wartime they fight behind enemy lines. Soldiers in the army’s mixed-gender battalions or in the Home Front Command will probably be designated regular combat troops, as they do not typically go beyond Israel’s borders.

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