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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.


The staffs of each of the ground forces' three area commanders were divided into branches responsible for manpower, operations, training, and supply. The authority of the area commanders extended to the combat units and ground force bases and installations located within their districts, as well as area defense, including the protection of villages, especially those near the frontier. During combat, area commanders also coordinated activities of naval and air force units operating on fronts within their areas.


In 2000 the IDF formed a dedicated Field Intelligence Corps, which was the junior corps among the IDF five Land Corps or Field Corps (the other being Infantry, Artillery, Armor, and Combat Engineering). The IDF also has several support corps, including . The existence of a tactical Corps echelon is poorly attested. It is reported that in 1974 Ariel Sharon was first elected to the Knesset and became a member of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee. At the end of the year, in order to keep his position as Commander of an armored reserve corps, he resigned from the Knesset and returned to his farm. It is also reported that Maj. Gen. Dan Harel was a military secretary to then-defense minister Moshe Arens in 1999, head of Operations, and commander of a reserve corps.

Divisions / Brigades

In mid-1947, David Ben-Gurion, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine (the government of the Jewish population in Palestine), began preparing the Haganah for the expected war. By the end of the year, he had created military districts or commands astride the possible invasion routes of the Arab armies, established brigades on a territorial basis and set out the guidelines for the acquisition of arms and the training of forces. Thus, by February 1948, the 'Golani' Brigade was operating in the Jordan valley and eastern Galilee; the 'Carmeli' Brigade covered Haifa and western Galilee; the 'Givati' Brigade the southern lowlands; the 'Alexandroni' Brigade the Sharon central area; the 'Etzioni' Brigade the Jerusalem area; and the 'Kiryati' Brigade covered the city of Tel Aviv and its environs. In the course of the following months, three other Palmach brigades were created out of the independent Palmach battalions: the 'Negev' Brigade in the southern lowlands and the northern Negev; the 'Yiftach' Brigade in Galilee; and the 'Harel' Brigade in the Jerusalem area. When one talks about brigades and military units, one is not depicting a normal military line-up. The entire Haganah operation was an underground one. The total Jewish force that could be mobilized from an overall Jewish population of 650,000 was some 45,000, but these included some 30,000 men and women whose functions were limited to local defence.

The IDF did not organize permanent divisions until after the June 1967 War. Up until 1967, divisions in the IDF had been expedient organizations. By 1973, however, seven armored divisions were organized for wartime mobilization. Each division contained an organic reconnaissance battalion. The new battalion organization, as well as the preexisting brigade reconnaissance company, was heavier than the units used in the 1967 war.

As of 1988, their composition remained flexible, leading military analysts to regard the brigade (Hativa in Hebrew) as the basic combat unit of the IDF. Brigade commanders exercised considerable autonomy, particularly during battle, following the IDF axiom that the command echelon must serve the assault echelon.

Between 1977 and 1987, the IDF reconfigured its units as its tank inventory grew, reducing the number of infantry brigades while increasing the number of armored brigades from twenty to thirty-three upon mobilization. Although maintained with a full complement of equipment, most of the armored brigades were only at cadre strength.

In 1988 the army was organized into three armored divisions, each composed of two armored and one artillery brigade, plus one armored and one mechanized infantry brigade upon mobilization. An additional four independent mechanized infantry brigades were available. The reserves consisted of nine armored divisions, one airmobile mechanized division, and ten regional infantry brigades for border defense. In practice, unit composition was extremely fluid and it was common for subunits to be transferred, especially when a particular battalion or brigade was needed in a combat zone far from its regular divisional station.

One evidently reliable source suggests that there are only three active armor brigades [the 7th Armored Brigade, the 188th Armored Brigade, and the 401th Armored Brigade]. This source also reports that the IDF Infantry Corps is made of four infantry brigades - Givaty, Golany, NAHAL and T'zanhanim. In the past, the brigades also had different missions. The T'zanhanim brigade specialized in airborne operations, using helicopters and parachuting. The Golani brigade deployed the Achzarit APC, while the Givaty brigade specialized in maritime operations, similar to the US Marines. Today, all units train with helicopters, the Givati brigade no longer trains on amphibious operations and the brigades are much closer to each other in organization and equipment. While in the past there was some differentiation between the brigades, in quality, training and deployment, by 2004 they were essentially similar. The four brigades have the same organization, with each brigade made of three conventional infantry battalions; a Signal Company ("Plugat Heil Kesher - PALHICK", in Hebrew), and a Reconnaissance Unit / Reconnaissance Battalion ("Yechidat Siour / Gdud Siour - YACHSAR / GADSAR", in Hebrew).

Reserve Corps

The IDF reserve battalions constitute 70% of the combat echelon -- variously estimated to total as few as 380,000 troops, to as many as 600,000 soldiers. Other estimates suggest a total of 400,000 reserve soldiers. The army reserves constitute the backbone of the army's manpower needs. It is not rare in Israel for two generations to be serving simultaneously in the army - the son obligatory service and the father in reserves.

One of the principal findings of the Agranat Report was that the failures in October 1973 were not attributed solely to bad luck or to technical flukes. The faults were far more fundamental. At a tactical level, it began with the IDF's confidence that the regular forces can hold the line by themselves, an assessment itself based on a gross underestimate of the improvement since 1967 in Arab fighting abilities. The Agranat commissioners uncovered a set of misperceptions relating specifically to the reservists. IDF planning prior to 1973 took it for granted that the General Staff would always be able to mobilize whatever quantity of reserves it deemed necessary for operational purposes. Instead of being an orderly process, mobilization became an administrative shambles, characterized by improvisation and dependent upon individual initiative. Much of the equipment which the reserves were supposed to draw from the emergency stores was either missing or unfit for use.

The system of reserves frees up the vast majority of its soldiers to take an active part in society and the economy. At the same time, the army is able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of reserves within hours and the full strength of the army within 48 hours. The system of reserves means that the army has officers and soldiers with considerable life experience and managerial expertise. Reserve units carry out many operations, such as Operation Defensive Shield, in the recent wave of Palestinian violence. The rationale is that reserve soldiers are more mature and can be expected to handle situations more diplomatically and calmly.

The original function of the reserves, as conceived by policymakers during the 1950s, was to serve as the principal fighting force during time of war. Over time this concept has changed and now 80 percent of reserve duty is for purposes of maintenance and administration operational work, which is not connected to combat. This change in concept is a result of the IDF not having to pay the real cost of its reserve forces. This cost is in fact passed on to the taxpayer and the economy as a whole.

Category A units are intended for combat and are composed of soldiers with appropriate training whose reserve duty consists of operational work and training. Category B units are responsible for guarding facilities and providing services and maintenance -- these soldiers they have a low probability of contact with the enemy during time of war.

Reserve training is lacking in some respects, with some training conducted by simulation due to lack of funding for field exercises. Some Reserve units carried out police activities in the West Bank and Gaza that was unrelated to their combat missions. Since 1990 reserve training exercises have decreased, despite concerns that these cutbacks may reduce combat readiness. It was decided that training exercises would be reduced to once every three years. During the other two years, command post exercises would be held with the commanders only.

In 2003 the IDF had planned to reduce reservists' service in 2005. During 2004 some 65 percent of all reserve battalions were called up, and the original plan had been to reduce the rate to 50 percent in 2005 and 33 percent in subsequent years. The Gaza disengagement postponed the reduction for a year. The army planned to devote two divisions - the Gaza Division plus one other - to this task. The Gaza evacuation was handled mainly by the Givati Brigade, and the West Bank evacuation handled by either the Nahal or Golani Brigade. A third infantry brigade was to be used to beef up the IDF's presence in Gaza during the disengagement. An additional 10 to 12 reserve battalions would be deployed between the West Bank and Israel during the three-month disengagement period.

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