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Zev Chafets

Israel’s Military Can Afford to Be Choosier

Universal conscription is part of Israel’s founding mythology. But changes in the security landscape mean it’s no longer necessary.

No longer Dad’s army.

No longer Dad’s army.

Source: Bloomberg

From its birth in the War of Independence of 1948, the Israel Defense Forces has carefully cultivated its reputation as a people’s army, unique in the world both as a fighting force and for the commitment of the population to its service. But while there is still mandatory conscription, the IDF’s place in Israeli society is changing along with the nature of modern warfare. That's something neither the military nor the government should resist.

When the new nation was attacked by surrounding Arab armies, Israel had no real army. Every able-bodied man and woman enlisted. At least that was the story. A senior officer who had been in charge of recruitment during the war once confided to me that many thousands of citizens applied for exemptions. Some were recent arrivals from the Holocaust who were psychologically unable to face combat. Others were parents trying to keep their children safe. Some were simply shirkers. It was thanks to highly trained pre-state militia that Israel survived, he said.