As its summer draft has ended, there is a growing concern in the IDF over the fact that for the third draft in a row there has been decline in the demand from recruits to serve in combat units, Yedioth Aharonot reported Wednesday. Speculations about the reasons for this decline include the erosion of the IDF warrior ethos when soldiers are facing mostly a civilian population; and the Army’s own preference for recruits with technological skills, whose service often culminates in successful careers in the field. At the same time, in contradiction to both ideas, demand for service in the Border Guard is on the rise.
Data collected about the July draft, traditionally the IDF’s biggest combat recruitment cycle, shows a decreasing trend in motivation for combat service compared to the parallel recruitment last year: 68.8% of those enlisted in July 2016 wanted to serve in combat units, compared to only 67% in July 2017.
The last time IDF combat recruitment was this low was recorded immediately after the 2006 Second Lebanon War.The trend was eventually corrected in 2010, when demand for combat service surged to an 80% peak. But it has since been declining consistently.
The same trend was recorded in the other two annual drafts: in the March 2017 draft, only 71.5% of recruits wanted to serve in combat units, compared to 72.5% in March 2016; and in November 2016 the rate was 69%, compared with 71% in November 2015.
“The recruits for Pilot School have not been close to what we were used to in the past,” Air Force officials told Yedioth. They describe a new reality in which recruits with a combat medical profile, who in the past would sell their souls to be admitted to the pilots’ track, are now choosing the IDF cyber combat network instead, which admits recruits with combat profiles (from 72 to 97 points).
Following the July draft, the IDF leadership understands that this is not a one-time phenomenon, but rather an overall trend. In searching for a solution, the military appears to cast aside ideas such as the effect of the Elor Azaria trial, which some on Israel’s right have suggested. Azaria, a combat medic, was punished for violating the rules of engagement, and the notoriety of his case—which split the country into leftist detractors and rightist defenders—may have influenced the motivation of fresh recruits to end up like him.
But the IDF HR denies any correlation between the trial and the decline in combat recruits motivation, pointing out that demand to serve in Azaria’s Kfir Brigade has skyrocketed, and demand to serve in the Border Guard—which deals with Elor Azaria-like challenges every day—is also on the rise.
The Army also belittles charges that the sexually mixed combat service in some units has a negative effect on motivation.
As far as the IDF is concerned, the decline in motivation stems from social changes in Israel. For one thing, a decade after the last time Israel was facing a real, do-or-die war, as Hezbollah rockets were hitting civilian populations across the north, there has been a decline in the social status of combat soldiers. At the same time, cyber warriors have been gaining status like gangbusters, and the IDF, for its part, has been pushing enlistment in technological units such as 8200, cyber combat units and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) units.
This preference for virtual warriors has been recorded gradually over the past five years. An analysis of recruitment trends shows that more and more soldiers are interested in service close to home, which would also give them an advantage later in life. Without a doubt, serving in a technological unit meets both needs.
The IDF is working to change the five-year trend, and Chief of Staff Lieutenant general Gadi Eizenkot has launched a work plan to strengthen the status of the combat soldier. The plan gives significant priorities to combatants: combat salaries were raised from $225 to $280 a month, compared with non-combatant who receive $205; each combat soldier receives a points card for goods and benefits; and the IDF pays for the college tuition of discharged combat soldiers until they complete their BA.