Knesset passes emergency bill delaying retirement for reservists

Meant to maintain IDF’s manpower during war against Hamas, the measure raises exemption age for reserve service from 40 to 41 for enlisted soldiers and from 45 to 46 for officers

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

IDF troops seen operating in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo released December 23, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF troops seen operating in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo released December 23, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Knesset approved a bill extending the length of time IDF reservists are subject to mandatory service on Wednesday, passing through its second and third readings in the Knesset plenum only days after it had appeared to have become stuck in committee.

The bill, a temporary measure set to last for two months, raises the exemption age for reserve military service from 40 to 41 for enlisted soldiers and from 45 to 46 for officers. Specialists such as doctors and air crews will be required to continue serving until they reach 50, instead of 49.

It is intended as a stopgap solution intended to prevent a mass release from the reserves of those soldiers reaching the exemption age in the midst of ongoing combat operations in Gaza.

“We asked to extend the exemption age by a year for the reason that not every soldier can be replaced and it is also not right for this replacement to happen during wartime,” Brig. Gen. Shai Tayeb, commander of the IDF’s Human Resources Planning and Management Division, argued earlier this week while the bill was being debated.

Over 360,000 Israelis were called up for reserve duty in the wake of Hamas’s unprecedented assault on October 7, which left over 1,200 people dead and more than 240 in captivity in the Gaza Strip.

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee voted to allow the bill to go back to the plenum for its final readings earlier on Wednesday, two days after Likud MK Yuli Edelstein blocked a vote on the measure, arguing that it would harm Israel’s troops.

Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman MK Yuli Edelstein, center, during a debate on extending IDF reservists’ service in the Knesset on December 25, 2023. (Noam Moshkowitz/Knesset Spokesperson)

Edelstein, who chairs the powerful panel, finally okayed the vote after the finance and defense ministries unveiled Tuesday night a NIS 9 billion ($2.5 billion) wartime assistance program for IDF reserve soldiers, some of whom have suffered significant financial damage during the war.

Edelstein had initially refused to okay a vote on the measure because he said it must be part of a comprehensive plan that would address all needs of reservists, including proper compensation for their extended time away from home.

“The committee and I cannot bear a situation in which there will be any harm to the reservists,” Edelstein had said during Monday’s hearing.

Once the ministries’ plan was made public, however, the committee voted unanimously to approve the service extension legislation, although it was amended to limit the emergency measure to two months rather than a year as initially proposed.

“Following our proposal that the bill be coupled with a benefits package for reservists, and in light of what happened here two days ago, things started to move,” Edelstein stated.

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