IDF Chief of Staff Hertzi Halevi on Thursday praised the People’s Army model, describing it as “the secret of the IDF’s strength, and the secret of the nation’s strength.” Halevi also called on Israelis to leave the disputes outside the army and continue to serve “so that the dispute can exist here for the sake of heaven, and we remain protected from our enemies.”
Considering the fact that the IDF enlistment figures hover around 45%, the Chief of Staff’s idea of the people’s army is more like a less-than-half-the-people’s army. About 20 years ago, those enlistment stats hit 50% and they have been dropping ever since.
General (Ret.) Jack Keane in 2003 told a Senate committee that he believes the professional volunteer army is the most significant change in US defense since World War II. The tremendous success of the US military, in his opinion, is largely due to the fact that the people who serve are in it because they want to be, and they “came to us smart, confident, and dedicated to serving their country. And that literally changed our force.”
As to the claim that only poor young men and women will join a professional army, this is proven wrong by the US military, where the data show that the poorest 20% make up only 10% of enlistments. The professional US military has a significant representation of the middle class and the wealthy class, and the average income data show that soldiers’ families earn more, and the rate of education among the military is better or at least equal to the rest of the population.
Ziv Zeldin, one of the more renowned advocates of a professional IDF, who used to serve in the IDF International Cooperation Division, pointed out that in the current people’s army model, we actually see a very good representation of the weaker sectors of Israeli society––in the military prisons. One out of every six military prisoners is of Ethiopian origin, and 1 out of every 3 is a new oleh. “Why are you surprised?” asks Zeldin. “We pay a few measly hundreds of shekels a month to soldiers from hardcore poverty, which forces them to go AWOL to support their families.”
But Chief of Staff Halevi would hear none of that, as he put it on Thursday: “We are marching together today, serving as enlisted soldiers and in the reserves, we come from all the parts of the IDF and from the entire spectrum of roles, including the many shades of opinions and beliefs, to emphasize that together we are stronger. The People’s Army model has proven beyond any doubt for 75 years that there is no other model, and it mustn’t be replaced. This is the secret of the IDF’s strength, this is the secret of a nation’s strength.”
Much like the royal Bourbon family, who learned nothing and forgot nothing, Herzi Halevi continues to spout claims that have just been belied by the autocratic behavior of IDF reservists and others from the privileged cast––pilots, intelligence experts, even Mossad agents. If the Chief of Staff’s idea of a people’s army is an army that preserves the rule of the wealthy over the poor, the old regime over the disenfranchised periphery, then, for sure, stick with the model that has been delivering these results for 75 years.
Zeldin believes Israelis from all walks of life would want to join the professional IDF, provided the pay and benefits match market value, because a professional army, unlike today’s IDF with its 45% recruitment rate, would entice people who do care about their country.
The defense budget is expected to increase from NIS 110.2 billion ($30.17 billion) in 2022 to NIS 125.1 billion ($34.25 billion) in 2024. As is the case in every Western military, a huge chunk of this money goes to pensions and salaries. But the operational part of this budget is spent on double the number of enlisted men and women the IDF requires, many of whom serve in the rear.
In the end, the more privileged young men and women who have honed their skills in the IDF prefer to work for the hi-tech industry at a starting monthly salary of NIS 15,000, than sign up with the IDF for NIS 6,000 a month. There, at the negotiating table over how much to pay its skilled labor in every area or service, is where the new, war-ready IDF will be born. Not from tired clichés about a people’s army.