The technology-driven Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of the twenty first century is a far cry from the volunteer soldier farmers during the fight for Jewish independence in the Land of Israel in the 1940s. In contrast to the modern day IDF - the developer of the world's first high-energy laser weapon system capable of shooting down a rocket carrying a live warhead, and the pioneer of what is considered the world's most secure tank, the founders of the IDF were so desperately short of resources that up until the 1950s, even senior commanders mostly earned no wage, were in their early twenties and lived by growing their own food.
Most Israeli citizens are required to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for a period of between two and three years. Israel is unique in that military service is compulsory for both males and females. It is the only country in the world that maintains obligatory military service for women. But the IDF grants general exemptions from compulsory service to various segments of the population, including Israeli Arabs, students engaged in religious studies in an accredited Jewish Law institution , women who are married, are pregnant or who have children, and women who declare that they lead a religiously observant life and who choose to pursue 'national service' - community work.
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 age 51 serve 39 days year period time which can be extended in times emergency. Recent policy has been reduce the burden whenever possible and reservists who have served combat units may now discharged at 45. Career Military Service: 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.
The Israeli government does not disclose information on the overall size of the IDF, or the identity, location, and strength of units. In 1988, the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London estimated the strength of the ground forces at 104,000 troops, including 16,000 career soldiers and 88,000 conscripts. An additional 494,000 men and women were regularly trained reserves who could be mobilized within seventy-two hours. According to The Military Balance, in 1997-1998 there were 175,000 soldiers in the regular Israeli army (conscripts and career soldiers) and 430,000 in the reserves. These reserve forces consisted of 365,000 in land forces, 10,000 in the navy and 55,000 in the air force. As of 1999 Jane's estimated the active duty strength at 136,000 troops. In 2004, the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated the strength of the ground forces at 125,000 troops, including 40,000 career soldiers and 85,000 conscripts, with an additional 600,000 men and women in the reserves.
The Israeli ground forces are highly mechanized. Their equipment inventory included nearly 4,000 tanks and nearly 11,000 other armored vehicles. Their armored personnel vehicles almost equaled in number those of the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. The offensive profile of the army was bolstered significantly by the artillery forces (principally self-propelled and equipped with advanced fire control systems and high-performance munitions). Antitank capabilities had been upgraded with modern rocket launchers and guided missile systems.
As of 1988, most Israeli ground forces were positioned on the northern and eastern border areas facing Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. After the Syrian army shifted most of its troops out of Lebanon following the IDF withdrawal in June 1985, more than six Syrian divisions were concentrated in the Golan-Damascus area. The IDF responded by constructing several defensive lines of mines and antitank obstacles in the Golan Heights, and by reinforcing its troop strength there, mainly with regular armored and infantry units. Reserve units training in the vicinity also could be mobilized in case of need. Other ground forces were deployed in defending the Lebanese border against infiltration.
The Israel Defence Force (IDF) is planning extensive cuts to its ground forces. The IDF presented its amended work plan early in June 2003, which included cuts of 20% of Israel's ground forces over a five year period, the deepest cut in the past 15 years. The IDF would keep fewer old platforms [i.e. tanks] and more investment in new technology. The cuts include a gradual disposal of all the IDF's M60 main battle tanks.
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