It is common knowledge that all 18-year-old Israeli males serve in the Israel Defense Forces for three years, and all females for two years. Only that common knowledge is wrong.
Israel’s Channel 2 News reports that in an interview with Israel Defense magazine, the IDF’s top human resources commander, Brigadier General Amir Rogovsky, said that the majority of Israeli youth are not being drafted into the army, and that just as many are not joining as are joining. The numbers are expected to decline even more, so that by 2020 only 46% of Israeli 18-year-olds will be putting on a uniform for the first time that year. All this is translating into a big human resources crisis for the IDF.
The 50% statistic for this year’s draft includes Israeli Arabs, who constitute 20% of the population and who almost never serve in the IDF. Among the Jewish population, the draft statistic is 67% (75% of men and 60% of women). The Druze population has the highest percentage of youth serving in the army, at 80% (men only).
Rogovsky attributes the declining numbers to demographic and social trends. The huge influx of immigrants from the FSU greatly boosted the number of recruits in the late 1990s through much of the past decade. However, now it is too early for the children of that wave of immigrants to be old enough to serve, so there is no baby boom yet to be tapped.
In addition, there is the ever-rising number of religious youth who are excused from service because they are studying Torah in Yeshivas. Also, the percentage of young people who are exempted due to medical or mental health issues is now at 6%.
The silver lining to this military human resources crisis is that those who do serve are highly motivated. Rogovsky cites today’s young soldiers’ having lived as young teens in bomb shelters through the Second Lebanon War as a factor in this increased desire to defend the homeland. “The youth are less concerned about Iran,” he said. “In their point of view, the threat of Hezbollah and Hamas’ missiles is much more relevant. Since this has stopped being a theoretical threat, and has turned into a practical one, people are saying that they are coming to fight for their homes and to defend their families.”
So, your eyes are not deceiving you if, as you travel around Israel, you see less olive green and khaki. But these declining draft statistics are making those who have to deal with the IDF’s human resources headache see red.