Israel Defense Forces

Israel Defense Forces
Military of Israel
Idf logo4.png
Israel Defense Forces logo
Founded 1948
Service branches Israeli Army (Land Arm) Flag.svg Israeli Army
Israel Air Force Flag.svg Israeli Air Force
Naval Ensign of Israel.svg Israeli Navy
Defense Minister Rav Aluf (ret.) Ehud Barak
Chief of General Staff Rav Aluf Benny Gantz
Military age 18
Conscription 18
Available for
military service
1,499,186 males, age 17–49 (2000 est.),
1,462,063 females, age 17–49 (2000 est.)
Fit for
military service
1,226,903 males, age 17–49 (2000 est.),
1,192,319 females, age 17–49 (2000 est.)
Reaching military
age annually
50,348 males (2000 est.),
47,996 females (2000 est.)
Active personnel 187,000[1] (ranked 34th)
Reserve personnel 565,000[1]
Budget $16 billion (Israeli defence budget 2011)[2]
Percent of GDP 6.9% (2011)[3]
Domestic suppliers Israel Aerospace Industries
Israel Military Industries
Israel Weapon Industries
Elbit Systems
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems
Soltam Systems
Automotive Industries
Israel Shipyards
BUL Transmark
Aeronautics Defense Systems
Israel Ordnance Corps
Foreign suppliers  United States[4]
 United Kingdom[6]
 South Korea[9]
 Czech Republic[9]
 Bosnia and Herzegovina[7]
Related articles
History War of Independence (1948–1949)
Retribution operations (1950s–1960s)
Sinai War (1956)
War over Water (1964–1967)
Six-Day War (1967)
War of Attrition (1967–1970)
Yom Kippur War (1973)
Litani (1978)
First Lebanon War (1982)
South Lebanon conflict (1982–2000)
First Intifada (1987–1993)
Second Intifada (2000–2005)
Second Lebanon War (2006)
Gaza War (2008–2009)

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) (Hebrew: צְבָא הַהֲגָנָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל‎‎ About this sound Tzva Hahagana LeYisra'el , lit. "Defensive Army for Israel"; Arabic: جيش الدفاع الإسرائيلي‎), commonly known in Israel by the Hebrew acronym Tzahal (צה"ל), are the military forces of the State of Israel. They consist of the ground forces, air force and navy. It is the sole military wing of the Israeli security forces, and has no civilian jurisdiction within Israel. The IDF is headed by its Chief of General Staff, the Ramatkal, subordinate to the Defense Minister of Israel; Rav Aluf Benny Gantz has served as Chief of Staff since 2011.

An order of Defense Minister David Ben-Gurion on May 26, 1948, officially set up the Israel Defense Forces as a conscript army formed out of the paramilitary group Haganah, incorporating the militant groups Irgun and Lehi. The IDF served as Israel's armed forces in all the country's major military operations—including the 1948 War of Independence, 1951–1956 Retribution operations, 1956 Sinai War, 1964–1967 War over Water, 1967 Six-Day War, 1967–1970 War of Attrition, 1973 Yom Kippur War, 1976 Operation Entebbe, 1978 Operation Litani, 1982 Lebanon War, 1982–2000 South Lebanon conflict, 1987–1993 First Intifada, 2000–2005 Second Intifada, 2002 Operation Defensive Shield, 2006 Lebanon War, 2008–2009 Gaza War and others. The number of wars and border conflicts in which IDF was involved in its short history, makes it one of the most battle-trained armed forces in the world.[10][11] While originally the IDF operated on three fronts—against Lebanon and Syria in the north, Jordan and Iraq in the east, and Egypt in the south—after the 1979 Egyptian–Israeli Peace Treaty, it has concentrated its activities in southern Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, including the First and the Second Intifada.

The Israel Defense Forces differs from most armed forces in the world in many ways. Differences include the conscription of women and its structure, which emphasizes close relations between the army, navy and air force. Since its founding, the IDF has been specifically designed to match Israel's unique security situation. The IDF is one of Israeli society's most prominent institutions, influencing the country's economy, culture and political scene. In 1965, the Israel Defense Forces was awarded the Israel Prize for its contribution to education.[12] The IDF uses several technologies developed in Israel, many of them made specifically to match the IDF's needs, such as the Merkava main battle tank, high tech weapons systems, the Iron Dome, Trophy countermeasure, and the Galil and Tavor assault rifles. The Uzi submachine gun was invented in Israel and used by the IDF until December 2003, ending a service that began in 1954. Following 1967, the IDF has had close military relations with the United States,[13] including development cooperation, such as on the F-15I jet, THEL laser defense system, and the Arrow missile defense system.



The Ink Flag, a symbol of the IDF's victory in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War
Israel Independence Day military parade in 1956

The IDF traces its roots to Jewish paramilitary organizations in the New Yishuv, starting with the Second Aliyah (1904 to 1914). The first such organization was Bar-Giora, founded in September 1907. It was converted to Hashomer in April 1909, which operated until the British Mandate of Palestine came into being in 1920. Hashomer was an elitist organization with narrow scope, and was mainly created to protect against criminal gangs seeking to steal property. During World War I the forerunners of the Haganah/IDF were the Zion Mule Corps and the Jewish Legion, both of which were part of the British Army. After the Arab riots against Jews in April 1920, the Yishuv's leadership saw the need to create a nationwide underground defense organization, and the Haganah was founded in June of the same year. The Haganah became a full-scale defense force after the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine with an organized structure, consisting of three main units—the Field Corps, Guard Corps and the Palmach. During World War II the successor to the Jewish Legion of World War I was the Jewish Brigade.

The IDF was founded following the establishment of the State of Israel, after Defense Minister and Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion issued an order on May 26, 1948. The order called for the establishment of the Israel Defense Forces, and the abolishment of all other Jewish armed forces. Although Ben-Gurion had no legal authority to issue such an order, the order was made legal by the cabinet on May 31.[14]

Israeli special forces preparing for an operation

The two other Jewish underground organizations, Irgun and Lehi, agreed to join the IDF if they would be able to form independent units and agreed not to make independent arms purchases. This was the background for the dispute which led to the Altalena Affair, when following a confrontation regarding the weapons it brought resulted in a battle between Irgun members and the newly created IDF. It ended when the ship was shelled. Following the affair, all independent Irgun and Lehi units were either disbanded or merged into the IDF. The Palmach, a strong lobby within the Haganah, also joined the IDF with provisions, and Ben Gurion responded by disbanding its staff in 1949, after which many senior Palmach officers retired, notably its first commander, Yitzhak Sadeh.

The new army organized itself during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War when neighbouring Arab states fought Israel. Twelve infantry and armored brigades formed: Golani, Carmeli, Alexandroni, Kiryati, Givati, Etzioni, the 7th and 8th armored brigades, Oded, Harel, Yiftach and Negev.[15] After the war, some of the brigades were converted to reserve units, and others were disbanded. Directorates and corps were created from corps and services in the Haganah, and this basic structure in the IDF still exists today.

Israeli "Netzah Yehuda" recon company in full combat gear prepare for a night raid in the West Bank

Immediately after the 1948 war, the Israel Defense Forces shifted to low intensity conflict against Arab Palestinian guerrillas. In the 1956 Suez Crisis, the IDF's first test of strength after 1949, the new army proved itself by capturing the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, which was later returned. In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel conquered the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Golan Heights from the surrounding Arab states, changing the balance of power in the region as well as the role of the IDF. In the following years leading up to the Yom Kippur War, the IDF fought a war of attrition against Egypt in the Sinai and a border war against the PLO in Jordan, culminating in the Battle of Karameh.

The surprise of the Yom Kippur War and its aftermath completely changed the IDF's procedures and approach to warfare. Organizational changes were made[by whom?] and more time was dedicated to training for conventional warfare. However, in the following years the army's role slowly shifted again to low-intensity conflict, urban warfare and counter-terrorism. It was involved in the Lebanese Civil War, initiating Operation Litani and later the 1982 Lebanon War, where the IDF ousted Palestinian guerilla organizations from Lebanon. Palestinian militancy has been the main focus of the IDF ever since, especially during the First and Second Intifadas, Operation Defensive Shield and the Gaza War, causing the IDF to change many of its values and publish the IDF Spirit. The Shia organization Hezbollah has also been a growing threat, against which the IDF fought an asymmetric conflict since 1982 until 2000, as well as a full-scale war in 2006.


The Israeli cabinet ratified the name "Israel Defense Forces" (Hebrew: צְבָא הַהֲגָנָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל‎‎), Tzva HaHagana LeYisra'el, literally "army for the defense of Israel," on May 26, 1948. The other main contender was Tzva Yisra'el (Hebrew: צְבָא יִשְׂרָאֵל‎‎). The name was chosen because it conveyed the idea that the army's role was defense, and because it incorporated the name Haganah, upon which the new army was based.[16] Among the primary opponents of the name were Minister Haim-Moshe Shapira and the Hatzohar party, both in favor of Tzva Yisra'el.[16]


All branches of the IDF answer to a single General Staff. The Chief of the General Staff is the only serving officer having the rank of Lieutenant General (Rav Aluf). He reports directly to the Defense Minister and indirectly to the Prime Minister of Israel and the cabinet. Chiefs of Staff are formally appointed by the cabinet, based on the Defense Minister's recommendation, for three years, but the government can vote to extend their service to four (and in rare occasions even five) years. The current chief of staff is Benny Gantz. He replaced Gabi Ashkenazi in 2011.


The IDF includes the following bodies (those whose respective heads are members of the General Staff are in bold):

Structure of the Israel Defense Forces. (click to enlarge)

Regional commands

  • Northern Command
  • Central Command
  • Southern Command
  • Home Front Command


Ground Arm

Air and Space Arm

Sea Arm

  • Sea Corps

Other bodies




General Staff

Related bodies

The following bodies work closely with the IDF, but do not (or only partially) belong to its formal structure.

Security forces

  • Israeli police


Ranks, uniforms and insignia


Soldiers of the Combat Engineering Corps being awarded with Grey berets

Unlike most world armies, the IDF uses the same rank names in all corps, including the air force and navy. All enlisted ranks, as well as some of the officer and NCO ranks, may be given as a result of time spent in service, and not for accomplishment or merit.

For ground forces' officers, rank insignia were brass on a red background; for the air force, silver on a blue background; and for the navy, the standard gold worn on the sleeve. Officer insignia were worn on epaulets on top of both shoulders. Insignia distinctive to each service were worn on the cap (see fig. 15).

Soldiers returning to Israel after the Second Lebanon War

Enlisted grades wore rank insignia on the sleeve, halfway between the shoulder and the elbow. For the army and air force, the insignia were white with blue interwoven threads backed with the appropriate corps color. Navy personnel wore gold-colored rank insignia sewn on navy blue material.

Israeli soldiers coming back from the Second Lebanon war, armed with the M4 Carbine and the IMI Negev light machinegun.

From the formation of the IDF until the late 1980s, sergeant major was a particularly important warrant officer rank, in line with usage in other armies. However, in the 1980s and 1990s the proliferating ranks of sergeant major became devalued, and now all professional NCO ranks are a variation on sergeant major (rav samal) with the exception of rav nagad. All translations here are the official translations of the IDF's website.[17]

Conscripts (Hogrim) (Conscript ranks may be gained purely on time served)

Warrant Officers (Nagadim) (All volunteers)

  • Sergeant First Class (Rav Samal)
  • Master Sergeant (Rav Samal Rishon)
  • Sergeant Major (Rav Samal Mitkadem)
  • Warrant Officer (Rav Samal Bakhir)
  • Master Warrant Officer (Rav Nagad Mishneh)
  • Chief Warrant Officer (Rav Nagad)

Academic officers (Ktzinim Akadema'im)

  • Professional Academic Officer (Katzin Miktzo'i Akadema'i)
  • Senior Academic Officer (Katzin Akadema'i Bakhir)

Officer (Ktzinim)


IDF uniform colours

The Israel Defense Forces has several types of uniforms:

  • Service dress (aleph) – the everyday uniform, worn by enlisted soldiers.
  • Field dress (bet) – worn into combat, training, work on base.
  • Officers / Ceremonial dress – worn by officers, or during special events/ceremonies.
  • Dress uniform and Mess dress – worn only abroad. There are several dress uniforms depending on the season and the branch.

The service uniform for all ground forces personnel is olive green; navy and air force uniforms are beige (tan). The uniforms consist of a shirt, trousers, sweater, jacket or blouse, and shoes or boots. The navy has an all white dress uniform. Green fatigues are the same for winter and summer and heavy winter gear is issued as needed. Women's dress parallels the men's but may substitute a skirt for the trousers.

IDF female infantry recruits

Headgear included a service cap for dress and semi-dress and a field cap worn with fatigues. Army and air force personnel also had berets, usually worn in lieu of the service cap. The color of the air force beret was blue-gray; it is black for armored corps, Grey for mechanized infantry and turquoise artillery personnel; olive drab for infantry; red for paratroopers; grey for combat engineers; and purple for the Givati Brigade and brown for the Golani Brigade. For all other army personnel, except combat units, the beret for men was green and for women, black. Women in the navy wore a black beret with gold insignia. Males in the navy once wore a blue/black beret but replaced it with the US Navy's sailor hat.

Some corps or units have small variations in their uniforms – for instance, military policemen wear a white belt and police hat. Similarly, while most IDF soldiers are issued black leather boots, some units issue reddish-brown leather boots for historical reasons — the paratroopers, combat medics, Nahal and Kfir brigades, as well as some SF units (Sayeret Matkal, Oketz, Duvdevan, Maglan, Counter-Terror School). Women are also issued sandals.


Israeli soldier in dress uniforms (Madey Aleph)
IAF Flight school graduates receive their new rankings as Air Force officers

IDF soldiers have three types of insignia (other than rank insignia) which identify their corps, specific unit, and position.

A pin attached to the beret identifies a soldier's corps. Soldiers serving in staffs above corps level are often identified by the General Corps pin, despite not officially belonging to it, or the pin of a related corps. New recruits undergoing basic training (tironut) do not have a pin. Beret colors are also often indicative of the soldier's corps, although most non-combat corps do not have their own beret, and sometimes wear the color of the corps to which the post they're stationed in belongs. Individual units are identified by a shoulder tag attached to the left shoulder strap. Most units in the IDF have their own tags, although those that do not, generally use tags identical to their command's tag (corps, directorate, or regional command).

While one cannot always identify the position/job of a soldier, two optional factors help make this identification: an aiguillette attached to the left shoulder strap and shirt pocket, and a pin indicating the soldier's work type (usually given by a professional course). Other pins may indicate the corps or additional courses taken. Finally, an optional battle pin indicates a war that a soldier has fought in.


Military service routes

The military service is held in three different tracks:

  • Regular service (שירות חובה) – mandatory military service which is held according to the Israeli security service law.
  • Permanent Service (שירות קבע) – military service which is held as part of a contractual agreement between the IDF and the permanent position holder.
  • Reserve service (שירות מילואים) – a military service in which citizens are called for active duty of at most a month every year, for training activities and ongoing defense activities and especially for the purpose of increasing the military forces in case of a war.

Sometimes the IDF would also hold pre-military courses (קורס קדם צבאי or קד"צ) for soon to be regular service soldiers.

The Israeli Manpower Directorate (אגף משאבי אנוש) at the Israeli General Staff is the body which coordinates and assembles activities related to the control over human resources and its placement.

Regular service

IDF Nahal Brigade soldiers on their regular service

National military service is mandatory for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18, although Arab (but not Druze) citizens are exempted if they so please, and other exceptions may be made on religious, physical or psychological grounds (see Profile 21).

Men serve three years in the IDF, while women serve two. The IDF women who volunteer for several combat positions often serve for three years, due to the longer period of training. Women in other positions, such as programmers, who also require lengthy training time, may also serve three years. Women in most combat positions are also required to serve in the reserve for several years after they leave regular service.

Some distinguished recruits are selected to be trained in order to eventually become members of special forces units. Every brigade in the IDF has its own special force branch.

Career soldiers are paid on average NIS 23,000 a month, fifty times the NIS 460 paid to conscripts.[18]

Permanent service

Permanent service is designed for soldiers who choose to continue serving in the army after their regular service, for a short or long period, and in many cases making the military their career. Permanent service usually begins immediately after the mandatory Regular service period, but there are also soldiers who get released from military at the end of the mandatory Regular service period and who get recruited back to the military as Permanent service soldiers in a later period.

Permanent service is based on a contractual agreement between the IDF and the permanent position holder. The service contract defines how long the soldier's service would be, and towards the end of the contract period a discussion may rise on the extension of the soldier's service duration. Many times, regular service soldiers are required to commit to a permanent service after the mandatory Regular service period, in exchange for assigning them in military positions which require a long training period.

In exchange for the Permanent service, the Permanent service soldiers receive full wages, and when serving for a long period as a permanent service soldier, they are also entitled for a pension from the army. This right is given to the Permanent service soldiers in a relatively early stage of their life in comparison to the rest of the Israeli retirees.

Reserve service

Officers in reserve duty before parachuting exercise

After personnel complete their regular service, the IDF may call up men for:

  • reserve service of up to one month annually, until the age of 43–45 (reservists may volunteer after this age)
  • active duty immediately in times of crisis

In most cases, the reserve duty is carried out in the same unit for years, in many cases the same unit as the active service and by the same people. Many soldiers who have served together in active service continue to meet in reserve duty for years after their discharge, causing reserve duty to become a strong male bonding experience in Israeli society.

Although still available for call-up in times of crisis, most Israeli men, and virtually all women, do not actually perform reserve service in any given year. Units do not always call up all of their reservists every year, and a variety of exemptions are available if called for regular reserve service. Virtually no exemptions exist for reservists called up in a time of crisis, but experience has shown that in such cases (most recently, the 2006 Lebanon War) exemptions are rarely requested or exercised; units generally achieve recruitment rates above those considered fully manned.

The Israel Border Police (Magav) is responsible for security in urban or rural areas

Legislation (set to take effect by March 13, 2008) has proposed reform in the reserve service, lowering the maximum service age to 40, designating it as a purely emergency force, as well as many other changes to the structure (although the Defence Minister can suspend any portion of it at any time for security reasons). The age threshold for many reservists whose positions are not listed, though, will be fixed at 49.

Non-IDF service

Other than the National Service (Sherut Leumi), IDF conscripts may serve in bodies other than the IDF in a number of ways.

The combat option is Israel Border Police (Magav – the exact translation from Hebrew means "border guard") service, part of the Israel Police. Some soldiers complete their IDF combat training and later undergo additional counter terror and Border Police training. These are assigned to Border Police units. The Border Police units fight side by side with the regular IDF combat units though to a lower capacity. They are also responsible for security in heavy urban areas such as Jerusalem and security and crime fighting in rural areas.

Non-combat services include the Mandatory Police Service (Shaham) program, where youth serve in the Israeli Police, Israel Prison Service, or other wings of the Israeli Security Forces instead of the regular army service.


The unisex Caracal Battalion, which serves in a full combat capacity

Israel is the only nation to conscript women and assign some of them to infantry combatant service which places them directly in the line of enemy fire.[19]

Civilian pilot and aeronautical engineer Alice Miller successfully petitioned the High Court of Justice to take the Israeli Air Force pilot training exams, after being rejected on grounds of gender. Though president Ezer Weizman, a former IAF commander, told Miller that she'd be better off staying home and darning socks, the court eventually ruled in 1996 that the IAF could not exclude qualified women from pilot training. Even though Miller would not pass the exams, the ruling was a watershed, opening doors for women in new IDF roles. Female legislators took advantage of the momentum to draft a bill allowing women to volunteer for any position, if they could qualify.[20]

In 2000, the Equality amendment to the Military Service law stated that the right of women to serve in any role in the IDF is equal to the right of men.[21] Women have taken part in Israel’s military before and since the founding of the state in 1948,[22] Women started to enter combat support and light combat roles in a few areas, including the Artillery Corps, infantry units and armored divisions. A few platoons named Karakal were formed for men and women to serve together in light infantry. By 2000 Karakal became a full-fledged battalion. Many women would also join the Border Police.[20]

Minorities in the IDF

Non-Jewish minorities tended to serve in one of several special units: the Minorities Unit, also known as Unit 300; the Druze Reconnaissance Unit; and the Trackers Unit, which comprised mostly Bedouins. In 1982 the IDF general staff decided to integrate the armed forces by opening up other units to minorities, while placing some Jewish conscripts in the Minorities Unit. Until 1988 the intelligence corps and the air force remained closed to minorities.

Druze and Circassians

Druze commander of the IDF Herev battalion

Israel, being a Jewish state, has a majority of Jewish soldiers. Druze and Circassian men are subject to mandatory conscription to the IDF just like Israeli Jews.[23] Originally, they served in the framework of a special unit called "The Minorities' Unit", which still exists today, in the form of the independent Herev ("Sword") battalion. However, since the 1980s Druze soldiers have increasingly protested this practice, which they considered a means of segregating them and denying them access to elite units (like sayeret units). The army has increasingly admitted Druze soldiers to regular combat units and promoted them to higher ranks from which they had been previously excluded. In recent years, several Druze officers have reached ranks as high as Major General and many have received commendations for distinguished service. It is important to note that, proportionally to their numbers, the Druze people achieve much higher—documented—levels in the Israeli army than other soldiers. Nevertheless, some Druze still charge that discrimination continues, such as exclusion from the Air Force, although the official low security classification for Druze has been abolished for some time. The first Druze aircraft navigator completed his training course in 2005; his identity is protected as are those of all air force pilots. After the battle of Ramat Yohanan during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, approximately 1,000 Syrian Druze soldiers and officers deserted and joined Israel.[citation needed]

Since the late 1970s the Druze Initiative Committee, centered at the village of Beit Jan and linked to the Israeli Communist Party, has campaigned to abolish Druze conscription.

Military service is a tradition among some of the Druze population, with most opposition in Druze communities of the Golan Heights; 83 percent of Druze boys serve in the army, according to the IDF's statistics.[24] According to the Israeli army, 369 Druze soldiers have been killed in combat operations since 1948.[25]

Bedouins and Israeli Arabs

Bedouin soldiers in 1949

By law, all Israeli citizens are subject to conscription. The Defense Minister has complete discretion to grant exemption to individual citizens or classes of citizens. A long-standing policy dating to Israel's early years extends an exemption to all other Israeli minorities (most notably Israeli Arabs). However, there is a long-standing government policy of encouraging Bedouins to volunteer and of offering them various inducements, and in some impoverished Bedouin communities a military career seems one of the few means of (relative) social mobility available. Also, Muslims and Christians are accepted as volunteers, even at an age greater than 18.[26]

From among non-Bedouin Arab citizens, the number of volunteers for military service—some Christian Arabs and even a few Muslim Arabs—is minute, and the government makes no special effort to increase it. Six Israeli Arabs have received orders of distinction as a result of their military service; of them the most famous is a Bedouin officer, Lieutenant Colonel Abd el-Majid Hidr (also known as Amos Yarkoni), who received the Order of Distinction. Recently, a Bedouin officer was promoted to the rank of Colonel.[citation needed]

Until the second term of Yitzhak Rabin as Prime Minister (1992–1995), social benefits given to families in which at least one member (including a grandfather, uncle or cousin) had served at some time in the armed forces were significantly higher than to "non-military" families, which was considered a means of blatant discrimination between Jews and Arabs. Rabin had led the abolition of the measure, in the teeth of strong opposition from the Right. At present, the only official advantage from military service is the attaining of security clearance and serving in some types of government positions (in most cases, security-related), as well as some indirect benefits. In practice, however, a large number of Israeli employers placing "wanted" ads include the requirement "after military service" even when the job is in no way security-related, which is considered as a euphemism for "no Arab/Haredim need apply". The test of former military service is also frequently applied in admittance to various newly founded communities, effectively barring Arabs from living there. Also, the Israeli national airline El Al hires only pilots who had served in the Air Force, which in practice excludes Arabs from the job.[citation needed]

On the other hand, non-Arab Israelis argue that the mandatory three-year (two years for women) military service puts them at a disadvantage, as they effectively lose three years of their life through their service in the IDF, while the Arab Israelis can start right into their jobs after school, or study at a university. In fact, the most frequently heard argument whenever the subject of the discrimination of Arabs comes up—whether on the Knesset floor, in the media or among ordinary citizens—is that the Arabs' "non fulfillment of military duty" justifies their exclusion from some or all the benefits of citizenship. The late former general Rafael Eitan, when he went into politics in the 1980s, proposed that the right to vote be linked to military service. The idea occasionally crops up again among right-wing groups and parties.[citation needed]

According to the 2004 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the occupied territories, "Israeli Arabs were not required to perform mandatory military service and, in practice, only a small percentage of Israeli Arabs served in the military. Those who did not serve in the army had less access than other citizens to social and economic benefits for which military service was a prerequisite or an advantage, such as housing, new-household subsidies, and employment, especially government or security-related industrial employment. Regarding the latter, for security reasons, Israeli Arabs generally were restricted from working in companies with defense contracts or in security-related fields."[citation needed]

Rather than perform army service, Israeli Arab youths have the option to volunteer to national service and receive benefits similar to those received by discharged soldiers. The volunteers are generally allocated to Arab populations, where they assist with social and community matters. As of 2010 there are 1,473 Arabs volunteering for national service. According to sources in the national service administration, Arab leaders are counseling youths to refrain from performing services to the state. According to a National Service official, "For years the Arab leadership has demanded, justifiably, benefits for Arab youths similar to those received by discharged soldiers. Now, when this opportunity is available, it is precisely these leaders who reject the state's call to come and do the service, and receive these benefits".[27]

Although Arabs are not obligated to serve in IDF, any Arab can volunteer. A Muslim Arab woman is currently serving as a medic with unit 669.[28]

Cpl. Elinor Joseph from Haifa has become a first Arab combat soldier for IDF. Elinor says:

...there was a Katyusha [rocket] that fell near my house and also hurt Arabs. If someone would tell me that serving in the IDF means killing Arabs, I remind them that Arabs also kill Arabs.[29]

Hisham Abu Varia is the first[dubious ] Israeli Arab Muslim Officer in the IDF and is currently a Second Lieutenant.[30]

Ethiopian Jews

An Ethiopian-Jewish soldier

The IDF carried out extended missions in Ethiopia and neighboring states, whose purpose was to protect Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) and to help their immigration to Israel.[31] The IDF adopted policies and special activities for absorption and integration of Ethiopian immigrant soldiers, which resulted in great positive impact on the achievements and integration of those soldiers in the army as well as Israeli society in general.[32][33] Statistical research showed that the Ethiopian soldiers are esteemed as excellent soldiers and many aspire to be recruited to combat units.[34]


IDF soldiers of the religious 97th "Netzah Yehuda" Infantry Battalion

Men in the Haredi community may choose to defer service while enrolled in yeshivot (see Tal committee), a practice that has given rise to tension between the Israeli religious and secular communities. While options exist for Haredim to serve in the IDF in an atmosphere conducive to their religious convictions, most Haredim do not choose to serve in the IDF.

The Haredi public has the option of serving in the 97th "Netzah Yehuda" Infantry Battalion. This unit is a standard IDF infantry battalion focused on the Jenin region. To allow Haredi soldiers to serve, the Netzah Yehuda bases follow the highest standards of Jewish dietary laws and the only women permitted on these bases are wives of soldiers and officers. Additionally, some Haredim serve in the IDF via the Hesder system of a 5 year program which includes 2 years of religious studies, 1½ years of military service and 1½ years of religious studies during which the soldiers can be recalled to active duty immediately. They are permitted to join the other units of the IDF as well.

LGBT people

Israel is one of 24 nations that allow openly gay individuals to serve in the military. Since the early 1990s, sexual identity presents no formal barrier in terms of soldiers' military specialization or eligibility for promotion.[35]

Up until the 1980s, the IDF tended to discharge soldiers who were openly gay. In 1983, the IDF permitted homosexuals to serve, but banned them from intelligence and top-secret positions. A decade later, Professor Uzi Even,[36] an IDF reserves officer and chairman of Tel Aviv University’s Chemistry Department revealed that his rank had been revoked and that he had been barred from researching sensitive topics in military intelligence, solely because of his sexual identity. His testimony to the Knesset in 1993 raised a political storm, forcing the IDF to remove such restrictions against gays.[35]

The chief of staff's policy states that it is strictly forbidden to harm or hurt anyone's dignity or feeling based on their gender or sexual orientation in any way, including signs, slogans, pictures, poems, lectures, any means of guidance, propaganda, publishing, voicing, and utterance. Moreover, gays in the IDF have additional rights, such as the right to take a shower alone if they want to. According to a University of California, Santa Barbara study,[36] a brigadier general stated that Israelis show a "great tolerance" for gay soldiers. Consul David Saranga at the Israeli Consulate in New York, who was interviewed by the St. Petersburg Times, said, “It's a non-issue. You can be a very good officer, a creative one, a brave one, and be gay at the same time.”[35]

Overseas volunteers

Non-immigrating foreign volunteers typically serve with the IDF in one of three ways:

  • The Mahal program targets young non-Israeli Jews (men younger than 24 and women younger than 21). The program consists typically of 14.5–18 months of IDF service, including a lengthy training for those in combat units or (for 18 months) one month of non-combat training and additional two months of learning Hebrew after enlisting, if necessary. Volunteering for longer service is possible. There are two additional subcategories of Mahal, both geared solely for religious men: Mahal Nahal Haredi (16 months), and Mahal Hesder, which combines yeshiva study of 6.5 months with IDF service of 14.5 months, for a total of 21 months. Similar IDF programs exist for Israeli overseas residents.
  • Sar-El, an organisation subordinate to the Israeli Logistics Corps, provides a volunteer program for non-Israeli citizens who are 17 years or older (or 15 if accompanied by a parent). The program is also aimed at Israeli citizens, aged 30 years or older, living abroad who did not serve in the Israeli Army and who now wish to finalize their status with the military. The program usually consists of three weeks of volunteer service on different rear army bases, doing non-combative work.
  • Garin Tzabar offers a program mainly for Israelis who emigrated with their parents to the United States at a young age. Although a basic knowledge of the Hebrew language is not mandatory, it is helpful. Of all the programs listed, only Garin Tzabar requires full-length service in the IDF. The program is set up in stages: first the participants go through five seminars in their country of origin, then have an absorption period in Israel at a kibbutz. Each delegation is adopted by a kibbutz in Israel and has living quarters designated for it. The delegation shares responsibilities in the kibbutz when on military leave. Participants start the program three months before being enlisted in the army at the beginning of August.
  • Marva is short-term basic training for two months.


A live interoperability drill in southern Israel. IDF infantry, artillery, tank and air forces simulated taking control of an enemy village.


The IDF mission is to "defend the existence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state of Israel. To protect the inhabitants of Israel and to combat all forms of terrorism which threaten the daily life."[37]

Main doctrine

The main doctrine consists of the following principles:[38]

Basic points

  • Israel cannot afford to lose a single war
  • Defensive on the strategic level, no territorial ambitions
  • Desire to avoid war by political means and a credible deterrent posture
  • Preventing escalation
  • Determine the outcome of war quickly and decisively
  • Combating terrorism
  • Very low casualty ratio

Prepare for defense

  • A small standing army with an early warning capability, regular air force and navy
  • An efficient reserve mobilization and transportation system

Move to counterattack

  • Multi-arm coordination
  • Transferring the battle to enemy territory quickly
  • Quick attainment of war objectives

Code of conduct

In 1992, the IDF drafted a Code of Conduct that combines international law, Israeli law, Jewish heritage and the IDF's own traditional ethical code—the IDF Spirit (Hebrew: רוח צה"ל‎, Ru'ah Tzahal).[39]

Stated values of the IDF

Female infantry instructors prepare for a combat exercise

The document defines three core values for all IDF soldiers to follow, as well as ten secondary values (the first being most important, and the others appearing sorted in Hebrew alphabetical order):[39]

Core values
  • Defense of the State, its Citizens and its Residents – "The IDF's goal is to defend the existence of the State of Israel, its independence and the security of the citizens and residents of the state."
  • Love of the Homeland and Loyalty to the Country – "At the core of service in the IDF stand the love of the homeland and the commitment and devotion to the State of Israel-a democratic state that serves as a national home for the Jewish People-its citizens and residents."
  • Human Dignity – "The IDF and its soldiers are obligated to protect human dignity. Every human being is of value regardless of his or her origin, religion, nationality, gender, status or position."
Other values
Israeli female soldier
  • Tenacity of Purpose in Performing Missions and Drive to Victory – "The IDF servicemen and women will fight and conduct themselves with courage in the face of all dangers and obstacles; They will persevere in their missions resolutely and thoughtfully even to the point of endangering their lives."
  • Responsibility – "The IDF servicemen or women will see themselves as active participants in the defense of the state, its citizens and residents. They will carry out their duties at all times with initiative, involvement and diligence with common sense and within the framework of their authority, while prepared to bear responsibility for their conduct."
  • Credibility – "The IDF servicemen and women shall present things objectively, completely and precisely, in planning, performing and reporting. They will act in such a manner that their peers and commanders can rely upon them in performing their tasks."
  • Personal Example – "The IDF servicemen and women will comport themselves as required of them, and will demand of themselves as they demand of others, out of recognition of their ability and responsibility within the military and without to serve as a deserving role model."
  • Human Life – "The IDF servicemen and women will act in a judicious and safe manner in all they do, out of recognition of the supreme value of human life. During combat they will endanger themselves and their comrades only to the extent required to carry out their mission."
  • Purity of Arms – "The soldier shall make use of his weaponry and power only for the fulfillment of the mission and solely to the extent required; he will maintain his humanity even in combat. The soldier shall not employ his weaponry and power in order to harm non-combatants or prisoners of war, and shall do all he can to avoid harming their lives, body, honor and property."
  • Professionalism – "The IDF servicemen and women will acquire the professional knowledge and skills required to perform their tasks, and will implement them while striving continuously to perfect their personal and collective achievements."
  • Discipline – "The IDF servicemen and women will strive to the best of their ability to fully and successfully complete all that is required of them according to orders and their spirit. IDF soldiers will be meticulous in giving only lawful orders, and shall refrain from obeying blatantly illegal orders."
  • Comradeship – "The IDF servicemen and women will act out of fraternity and devotion to their comrades, and will always go to their assistance when they need their help or depend on them, despite any danger or difficulty, even to the point of risking their lives."
  • Sense of Mission – "The IDF soldiers view their service in the IDF as a mission; They will be ready to give their all in order to defend the state, its citizens and residents. This is due to the fact that they are representatives of the IDF who act on the basis and in the framework of the authority given to them in accordance with IDF orders."

Military ethics of fighting terror

Two Israeli soldiers on a street in Hebron
An Israeli soldier buys from Palestinians selling drinks at an Israeli check point
IDF soldiers rescued an eighty year old Lebanese woman, after she got tangled in the security fence on the norther border, on the Lebanese side.

In 2005, Asa Kasher and Amos Yadlin co-authored a noticed article published in the Journal of Military Ethics under the title : "Military Ethics of Fighting Terror: An Israeli Perspective". The article was meant as an "extension of the classical Just War Theory", and as a "[needed] third model" or missing paradigm besides which of "classical war (army) and law enforcement (police).", resulting in a "doctrine (...) on the background of the IDF fight against acts and activities of terror performed by Palestinian individuals and organizations."[40]

In this article, Kasher and Yadlin came to the conclusion that targeted killings of terrorists were justifiable, even at the cost of hitting nearby civilians. In a 2009 interview to Haaretz, Asa Kasher later confirmed, pointing to the fact that in an area in which the IDF does not have effective security control (e.g., Gaza, vs. Est-Jerusalem), soldiers' lives protection takes priority over avoiding injury to enemy civilians.[41] Some, along with Avishai Margalit and Michael Walzer, have recused this argument, advancing that such position was "contrary to centuries of theorizing about the morality of war as well as international humanitarian law"[42], since drawing "a sharp line between combatants and noncombatants" would be "the only morally relevant distinction that all those involved in a war can agree on."[43]

The article was intended to (then Chief of Staff) Moshe Ya'alon, to serve as a basis for a new "code of conduct". Although Moshe Ya'alon did endorse the article's views, and is reported to have presented it numerous times before military forums, it was never actually turned into a biding IDF document or an actual "code", neither by Ya'alon nor its successors. However, the document have since reportedly been adapted to serve as educational material, designed to emphasizes the right behavior in low intensity warfare against terrorists, where soldiers must operate within a civilian population.[44]

As of today "The Spirit of the IDF" (cf. supra) is still considered the only biding moral code that formally applies to the IDF troops. In 2009, Amos Yadlin (then head of Military Intelligence) suggested that the article he co-authored with Asa Kasher be ratified as a formal binding code, arguing that "the current code ['The Spirit of the IDF'] does not sufficiently address one of the army's most pressing challenges: asymmetric warfare against terrorist organizations that operate amid a civilian population".[45]

The 11 key points highlighted in the article and educational material mentioned above :

  1. Military action can be taken only against military targets.
  2. The use of force must be proportional.
  3. Soldiers may only use weaponry they were issued by the IDF.
  4. Anyone who surrenders cannot be attacked.
  5. Only those who are properly trained can interrogate prisoners.
  6. Soldiers must accord dignity and respect to the Palestinian population and those arrested.
  7. Soldiers must give appropriate medical care, when conditions allow, to themselves and to enemies.
  8. Pillaging is absolutely and totally illegal.
  9. Soldiers must show proper respect for religious and cultural sites and artifacts.
  10. Soldiers must protect international aid workers, including their property and vehicles.
  11. Soldiers must report all violations of this code.


The IDF Achzarit armored personnel carrier

During 1950–66, Israel spent an average of 9% of its GDP on defense. Defense expenditures increased dramatically after both the 1967 and 1973 wars. They reached a high of about 24% of GDP in the 1980s, but have since come back down to about 9%,[46] about $15 billion, following the signing of peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt. In 2008, Israel spent $16.2 billion on its armed forces, making it the country with the biggest ratio of defense spending to GDP and as a percentage of the budget of all developed countries.($2,300 per person).[47][48]

On September 30, 2009 Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed an additional NIS 1.5 billion for the defense budget to help Israel address problems regarding Iran. The budget changes came two months after Israel had approved its current two-year budget. The defense budget in 2009 stands at NIS 48.6 billion and NIS 53.2 billion for 2010 – the highest amount in Israel's history. The figure constitutes 6.3% of expected gross domestic product and 15.1% of the overall budget, even before the planned NIS 1.5 billion addition.[48]

However in 2011, Netanyahu reversed course and moved to make "perilous" cuts in the defense budget in order to pay for social programs.[49] The General Staff concluded that the armed forces could not maintain their battle readiness under the proposed cuts.[50]

The Israeli Air Force F-15I Ra'am
Merkava Mark 4 with Trophy active protection system

Weapons and equipment

Military technology

The IDF possesses top-of-the-line weapons and computer systems used and recognized worldwide. Some gear comes from the US (with some equipment modified for IDF use) such as the M4A1 assault rifle, the SR-25 7.62 mm semi-automatic sniper rifle, the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon, and the AH-64D Apache and AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters. Israel also has developed its own independent weapons industry, which has developed weapons and vehicles such as the Merkava battle tank series, the Kfir fighter aircraft, and various small arms such as the Galil and Tavor assault rifles, and the Uzi submachine gun. Israel has also installed a variant of the Samson RCWS, a remote controlled weapons platform, which can include machine guns, grenade launchers, and anti-tank missiles on a remotely operated turret, in pillboxes along the Israeli Gaza Strip barrier intended to prevent Palestinian militants from entering its territory.[51][52]

The IDF also has several large internal research and development departments, and it purchases many technologies produced by the Israeli security industries including IAI, IMI, Elbit Systems, Rafael, and dozens of smaller firms. Many of these developments have been battle-tested in Israel's numerous military engagements, making the relationship mutually beneficial, the IDF getting tailor-made solutions and the industries a very high repute.[citation needed]

In response to the price overruns on the US Littoral Combat Ship program, Israel is considering producing their own warships, which would take a decade[53] and depend on diverting US financing to the project.[54]

Main developments

Israel's military technology is most famous for its firearms, armored fighting vehicles (tanks, tank-converted armored personnel carriers (APCs), armoured bulldozers, etc.), unmanned aerial vehicles, and rocketry (missiles and rockets). Israel also has manufactured aircraft including the Kfir (reserve), IAI Lavi (canceled), and the IAI Phalcon Airborne early warning System, and naval systems (patrol and missile ships). Much of the IDF's electronic systems (intelligence, communication, command and control, navigation etc.) are Israeli-developed, including many systems installed on foreign platforms (esp. aircraft, tanks and submarines), as are many of its precision-guided munitions.

Israel is the only country in the world with an operational anti-ballistic missile defense system on the national level – the Arrow system, jointly funded and produced by Israel and the United States. Israel has also worked with the US on development of a tactical high energy laser system against medium range rockets (called Nautilus or THEL).

Israel has the independent capability of launching reconnaissance satellites into orbit, a capability shared with Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, South Korea, Italy, Germany, the People's Republic of China, India, Japan, Brazil and Ukraine. Israeli security industries developed both the satellites (Ofeq) and the launchers (Shavit).

Israel is known to have developed nuclear weapons.[55] Israel does not officially acknowledge its nuclear weapons program.

From 2006 Israel deployed the Wolf Armoured Vehicle APC for use in urban warfare and to protect VIPs.

Foreign military relations


Starting the Independence day on 14 May 1948 (5 Iyar 5708), a strong military, commercial and politics relationship were established between France and Israel until 1969. The high level of the military collaboration was reach between 1956 and 1966.[56] At this time France provide almost all the aircrafts, tanks and military ships. In 1969 the French president Charles de Gaulle limited the export of weapons to Israel. This was the end of the "golden age" 20 years of relations between Israel and France.

United States

Israeli soldiers training alongside the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit on the USS Kearsarge

In 1983, the United States and Israel established a Joint Political Military Group, which convenes twice a year. Both the U.S. and Israel participate in joint military planning and combined exercises, and have collaborated on military research and weapons development. Additionally the U.S. military maintains two classified, pre-positioned War Reserve Stocks in Israel valued at $493 million.[57] Israel has the official distinction of being an American Major non-NATO ally. As a result of this, the US and Israel share the vast majority[citation needed] of their security and military technology.

Since 1976, Israel had been the largest annual recipient of U.S. foreign assistance. In 2009, Israel received $2.55 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grants from the Department of Defense.[58] All but 26% of this military aid is for the purchase of military hardware from American companies only.[58]

The United States has an anti-missile system base in the Negev region of Southern Israel, which is manned by 120 US Army personnel.[citation needed]


Sailors of the Israeli Navy

India and Israel enjoy strong military and strategic ties.[59] Some analysts[who?] have dubbed the alliance between India and Israel as the new "axis in the war on terror",[60] while Israeli authorities consider Indian citizens to be the most pro-Israel people in the world.[61][62][63][64][65][66] Apart from being Israel's second-largest economic partner in Asia,[67] India is also the largest customer of Israeli arms in the world.[68] In 2006, annual military sales between India and Israel stood at US$900 million.[69] Israeli defense firms had the largest exhibition at the 2009 Aero India show, during which Israel offered several state-of-the art weapons to India.[70] The first major military deal between the two countries was the sale of Israeli EL/M-2075 AEW radars to the Indian Air Force in 2004.[71] In March 2009, India and Israel signed a US$1.4 billion deal under which Israel would sell India an advanced air-defense system.[72] India and Israel have also embarked on extensive space cooperation. In 2008, India's ISRO launched Israel's most technologically advanced spy satellite TecSAR.[73] In 2009, India reportedly developed a high-tech spy satellite RISAT-2 with significant assistance from Israel.[74] The satellite was successfully launched by India in April 2009.[75]

Many analysts[who?] saw the 2008 Mumbai attacks as an attack on the growing India-Israel partnership.[76] In the past, India and Israel have held numerous joint anti-terror training exercises[77] and it was also reported that in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, Israel was helping India launch anti-terror raids inside Pakistani territory.


Germany developed the Dolphin submarine and supplied it to Israel. The military co-operation has been discreet but mutually profitable: Israeli intelligence, for example, sent captured Warsaw Pact armour to West Germany to be analysed. The results aided the German development of an anti-tank system.[78] The Israeli Merkava MK IV tank uses a German V12 engine produced under license, and its IMI 120 mm gun.[79]

In 2008, the website DefenseNews revealed that Germany and Israel had been jointly developing a nuclear warning system, dubbed Operation Bluebird.[80][81]

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has supplied equipment and spare parts for Sa'ar 4.5-class missile boats and F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers, components for small-caliber artillery ammunition and air-to-surface missiles, and engines for Elbit Hermes 450 Unmanned aerial vehicles. British arms sales to Israel mainly consist of light weaponry, and ammunition and components for helicopters, tanks, armored personnel carriers, and combat aircraft.[82]


Israel is the second-largest foreign supplier of arms to the People's Republic of China, only after the Russian Federation. China has purchased a wide array of military hardware from Israel, including Unmanned aerial vehicles and communications satellites. China has become an extensive market for Israel's military industries and arms manufacturers, and trade with Israel has allowed it to obtain "dual-use" technology which the United States and European Union were reluctant to provide.[83] In 2010 Yair Golan, head of IDF Home Front Command visited China to strengthen military ties.[84]


Israel has provided extensive military assistance to Turkey. Israel sold Turkey IAI Heron Unmanned aerial vehicles, and modernized Turkey's F-4 Phantom and Northrop F-5 aircraft at the cost of $900 million. Turkey's main battle tank is the Israeli-made Sabra tank, of which Turkey has 170. Israel later upgraded them for $500 million. Israel has also supplied Turkey with Israeli-made missiles, and the two nations have engaged in naval cooperation. Turkey allowed Israeli pilots to practice long-range flying over mountainous terrain in Turkey's Konya firing range, while Israel trains Turkish pilots at Israel's computerized firing range at Nevatim Airbase.[85][86] Until 2009, the Turkish military was one of Israel's largest defense customers. Israel defense companies have sold unmanned aerial vehicles and long-range targeting pods.[87]

However, relations have been strained in recent times. In the last two years, the Turkish military has declined to participate in the annual joint naval exercise with Israel and the United States. The exercise, known as "Reliant Mermaid" was started in 1998 and included the Israeli, Turkish and American navies.[88] The objective of the exercise is to practice search-and-rescue operations and to familiarize each navy with international partners who also operate in the Mediterranean Sea.[89]

Other countries

Israel has also sold or received supplies of military equipment from the Czech Republic, France, Spain, Slovakia, South Africa, Canada, Australia, Slovenia, Romania, Hungary, Belgium, Austria, Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia[7] and Colombia.[90]

See also

References and footnotes

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  89. ^ Head of Defense Ministry Meets with Colombian President, IDF Spokesperson's Unit 25-10-2010

Further reading

  • Rosenthal, Donna (2003). The Israelis. Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-7035-5. 
  • Ostfeld, Zehava (1994). Shiftel, Shoshana. ed. An Army is Born. Israel Ministry of Defense. ISBN 965-05-0695-0.  (Hebrew)
  • Gelber, Yoav (1986). Nucleus for a Standing Army. Yad Ben Tzvi.  (Hebrew)
  • Yehuda Shif, ed (1982). IDF in Its Corps: Army and Security Encyclopedia (18 volumes). Revivim Publishing.  (Hebrew)
  • Ron Tira, ed (2009). The Nature of War: Conflicting Paradigms and Israeli Military Effectiveness. Sussex Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-84519-378-2. 
  • Country Briefing: Israel, Jane's Defence Weekly, June 19, 1996

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