Analysis: With increase of religious-Zionists and soldiers from periphery in combat forces, cosmopolitan youth opts more and more to enlist to cyber units, enjoying mind-blowing salaries in tech firms right out of military, in a sign of deteriorating state of IDF
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Aviv Kochavi
(Photo: The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)
The last decades show an increasing trend amongst Israeli youth of enlisting to prestigious military cyber units, which offer incentives and status in the future.
In last week’s ceremony marking the anniversary of the 1997 helicopter disaster, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Aviv Kochavi addressed the widening gap between periphery and population from central Israel when it comes to carrying the burden of army service.
Kochavi said there is an increase in Israeli youth’s willingness to be drafted to combat units, however, pointed to the absence of this trend among those from a higher socio-economic bracket and new immigrants residing in central Israel.
For some reason, his words did not gain traction in the media, but he is also not entirely accurate. According to professionals, there is no convincing data that supports the claim of increase in motivation to be drafted to combat units at all.
Kochavi has been called out several times and asked to back this claim with evidence instead of making void statements, to which he hasn’t responded.
Nonetheless, Kochavi is right in stating that there are gaps between the periphery and central Israel when it comes to military service. It is vital to understand what happened in Israeli societies and in the IDF throughout the past two decades. Israel must ask how status gained such prominence in the IDF, especially considering soldiers from geographic periphery pay a higher price during their army service.
According to recent data obtained by Ynet, 78% of casualties in routine combat missions throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip consist of soldiers periphery or low socio-economic status. These numbers are concerning, and amplify a worrying trend.
A year ago, data revealed that the draft to Israeli Intelligence Corps’ elite Unit 8200 is on the rise, yet it is made up almost entirely of soldiers from the center and those with high socioeconomic status.
This presents a complex debate. On one hand, ground forces that require its soldiers to risk their lives and pay high prices throughout their service and sometimes years after, are made up of mostly religious-Zionist and soldiers from the periphery. On the other hand, soldiers who get drafted to cyber units safely and conveniently construct a prestigious financial future for themselves (even though their service is still crucial, especially considering the rise in cyber warfare).
The widening gaps emphasize and strengthen the lack of incentives in being a combat soldier. Politicians pushed for the increase in salaries for combat troops, but these individuals not only need the salary, they are also in dire need of an incentive – given some don’t have supportive homes. The units must employ all the resources they have to improve conditions for these soldiers, and aim to expand the groups of soldiers who are eligible for support.
A high-ranking reserve soldier, Dr. Ze’ev Lerer, who is known for devotion and research in this field, has a more extreme opinion regarding the responsibility of the IDF on this issue. Lerer claims the IDF is responsible for guiding the peripheral soldiers to combat units by utilizing culture-based intelligence tests, hence limiting their ability to reach prestigious cyber units. While the IDF rejects this claim, they decided to cancel these tests and replace them with more accurate indicators of intelligence.
While academic education is usually used as the most significant indicator of social gaps, army service has arguably replaced it. Those who start their adult lives after being released from a cyber unit have a much better starting point in society, including social status, intellectual skills and finance. In order to maintain the support of Israelis for military service, change must be initiated, or else a roaring protest and deterioration of the system will be on the agenda.
Talks with combat soldiers, pre-army youth, and parents, all conclude that Israel is “on-edge” in their desire to continue joining the IDF voluntarily. The more exposure there is to the growing financial gaps influenced by army service, the blurrier the incentive to volunteer to combat units becomes. Israeli society is in dire need of new policies that underline the importance of volunteering to combat units and increase the incentives.