Israel Defense Forces
Tzvah Haganah L'Yisrael
Israel's ground, air, and naval forces, known as the Israel Defense Force (IDF), fall under the command of a single general staff. Conscription is universal for Jewish men and women over the age of 18, although exemptions may be made on religious grounds. Druze, members of a small Islamic sect living in Israel's mountains, also serve in the IDF. Israeli Arabs, with few exceptions, do not serve. During 1950-66, Israel spent an average of 9% of GDP on defense. Real defense expenditures increased dramatically after both the 1967 and 1973 wars. In 1996, the military budget reached 10.6% of GDP and represented about 21.5% of the total 1996 budget.
The highest ranking IDF officer, the only officer to hold the rank of lieutenant general, is the chief of staff, who is chairman of the general staff and is responsible to the minister of defense. The general staff is in charge of "professional" matters, such as organization, training, and the planning and execution of military operations.
The general staff has as its members the chief of general staff branch (operations), the chiefs of manpower, logistics, and intelligence; the three area commanders; and the commanding officers of the air force, navy, and ground corps. The ground corps commander was responsible for training, doctrine, and development of equipment for the four combat corps of paratroop/infantry, armor, artillery, and engineers. Operational control of the ground forces went through a separate chain of command from the chief of staff directly to the three area commanders--Northern (forces facing Syria and Lebanon); Central (forces facing Jordan); and Southern (forces facing Egypt)--who in turn exercised command over divisions and brigades.
The IDF, founded in 1948, ranks among the most battle-trained armed forces in the world, having had to defend the country in five major wars. Currently, the IDF's security objectives are to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the State of Israel, deter all enemies and curb all forms of terrorism which threaten daily life. Its main tasks include reinforcing the peace arrangements; ensuring overall security in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in coordination with the Palestinian Authority; spearheading the war against terrorism, both inside Israel and across its borders; and maintaining a deterrent capability to prevent the outbreak of hostilities.
To ensure its success, the IDF's doctrine at the strategic level is defensive, while its tactics are offensive. Given the country's lack of territorial depth, the IDF must take initiative when deemed necessary and, if attacked, to quickly transfer the battleground to the enemy's land. Though it has always been outnumbered by its enemies, the IDF maintains a qualitative advantage by deploying advanced weapons systems, many of which are developed and manufactured in Israel for its specific needs. The IDF's main resource, however, is the high calibre of its soldiers.
In preparing for defense, the IDF deploys a small standing army (made up of conscripts and career personnel) with early warning capability, and a regular air force and navy. The majority of its forces are reservists, who are called up regularly for training and service and who, in time of war or crisis, are quickly mobilized into their units from all parts of the country.
The IDF's three service branches (ground forces, air force and navy) function under a unified command, headed by the chief-of-staff, with the rank of lieutenant-general, who is responsible to the minister of defense. The chief-of staff is appointed by the government, on recommendation of the prime minister and minister of defense, for a three-year term, which is usually extended for an additional year.
Except when combat duty is involved, men and women soldiers of all ranks serve side by side as technicians, communications and intelligence specialists, combat instructors, cartographers, administrative and ordnance personnel, computer operators, doctors, lawyers and the like.
The IDF is responsive to the cultural and social needs of its soldiers, providing recreational and educational activities, as well as personal support services. Recruits with incomplete educational backgrounds are given opportunities to upgrade their level of education, and career officers are encouraged to study at the IDF's expense during their service. The integration of new immigrant soldiers is facilitated through special Hebrew language instruction and other programs. Active in nation-building enterprises since its inception, the IDF also provides remedial and supplementary education to civilian populations and contributes to the absorption of newcomers among the population at large. In times of national crisis or emergency, the IDF responds immediately with appropriate action and assigns trained personnel to fill essential jobs or carry out special tasks.
All eligible men and women are drafted at age 18. Men serve for three years, women for 21 months. Deferments may be granted to qualified students at institutions of higher education. New immigrants may be deferred or serve for shorter periods of time, depending on their age and personal status on entering the country. Upon completion of compulsory service, each soldier is assigned to a reserve unit. Men up to age 51 serve up to 39 days a year, a period of time which can be extended in times of emergency. Veterans of compulsory service meeting current IDF needs may sign up as career officers or NCOs. The career service constitutes the command and administrative backbone of the IDF. Graduates of officers' or pilots' schools or special military technical schools are required to sign on for periods of career service.
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