Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday came out against a proposal to shorten the mandatory army service for men from 32 to 30 months.
The proposal was approved by the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee earlier in December, and is now awaiting second and third readings before it can become law. If passed, the shortened service time would go into effect beginning in 2020.
It would be the second cut to male soldiers’ service in the Israel Defense Forces in recent years. Beginning in July 2015, men had their required service time decreased from 36 to 32 months.
But Liberman said a shortened IDF service was not an acceptable alternative.
“I hope that we are able to dialogue and reach an understanding with the Treasury regarding the duration of army service,” he said. “After a careful review, a two-year service is unacceptable.”
“In my opinion, we should return to the 36-month service,” Liberman added.
The proposed amendment is part of what’s known as the Arrangements Law, a piece of legislation presented by the government each year that contains the bills and measures needed to ensure it can maintain the budget.
According to army forecasts, both the recent drop to 32 months and the further decrease to 30 will result in a noticeable reduction in the number of male soldiers serving in the IDF in the coming years.
Figures presented by the IDF’s Manpower Directorate last month showed a drop in many crucial positions as a result of the new 32-month service, including in the number of combat soldiers, drivers, soldiers in cyber units and officers.
Yet Brig. Gen. Eran Shani, head of human resources in the Manpower Directorate, assured the committee members that Israel’s security would not be affected by the decrease in the overall number of conscripted soldiers, as the army’s total fighting force is more than two-thirds reservists.
“Wars are decided by the reserves, not by the standing army,” Shani told the committee last month.
“The army would be happy to have soldiers… but there are other things the country needs,” he said.
Committee members Amir Ohana and Rachel Azaria, from Likud and Kulanu, respectively, praised the measure, noting its potentially positive influence on the Israeli economy as more people would join the workforce, as well as its immediate impact on individual soldiers.
However, though the legislation has advanced, it was not without criticism.
Throughout the debate on the topic, committee member MK Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union), a former IDF general, expressed reservations at approving such a bill when the army’s General Staff has yet to conduct a thorough investigation into its full ramifications.
“Without proper staff-level work by the IDF that defines what it wants and what it needs for the years in question, it’s not right to pass this law now,” Ben-Reuven said during a discussion on the issue last month.