Reform the IDF reserves

Published in The Jerusalem Post on February 27, 2000

It is no secret that the IDF military reserve load is distributed unequally. Less then 30 percent of eligible Israelis ever are called for reserve duty, and 50 percent of those called serve ten days a year or less. The burden of defense falls largely on the three percent of our able-bodied men who serve 33 days a year or more in the reserves.


Today, even this tiered system of reserve service is threatened by epidemic proportions of absenteeism and inexcusable magnitudes of wasted time. My solution: outsource the mundane guard duty tasks unnecessarily heaped upon our dwindling, fatigued and jaded reserve force.


Consider the recent experience of a friend of mine, a doctor called-up to induct 100 reserve combat soldiers for patrol along the border with Egypt. In order to rope-in 100 reservists, the minimum needed for the task, the Lt. Col. in command had to call-up no less than 250 men. Drafting reservists, you see, is like pulling teeth.


Immediately upon receiving the draft notice, about 40 men appealed the call to duty before army brass, citing urgent and critical tasks at work. Another 30 men faxed in sick notes on the day of induction; and 70 men more just didn’t bother to show up.


This left the poor commander with just 110 soldiers, and 25 of these immediately demanded to see my friend, the doctor. One guy appeared on crutches; a second with a neck bandage; a third in a wheelchair; a forth with a casted arm. Two of the guys let-off for physical disability were seen removing the casts and neck braces a moment after entering their cars to drive away.


Then, there were the cases of social distress. One guy’s wife was said to be in fertility treatments, another wife was about to give birth, and one father had problems with his son at school — so the men needed to be home. In short, the Lt. Col. in command had to learn the details of his men’s personal and professional lives, right down to intimate knowledge of marital secrets and cycles, before eking-out a minimum-size squadron with which to patrol the border.


The 110 suckers who in the end got stuck serving learned one central thing: try twice as hard next time to get out of reserve duty. This inane attempt to draft combat soldiers for hum-drum guard duty – something that happens to combat units every other year – has a negative snowball effect which regressively leads the troops to spurn reserve service altogether!


THE REMEDY for this absurd situation lies in getting someone else to do the required guard duty. Why don’t we pay 21-year-olds finishing their mandatory service to stay in the IDF for an additional four months – to do guard duty? We’ll probably have better fit and trained guards, and think of the economic savings!


Do the math with me. At present, reservists in combat units do 20 years of duty, until age 41, for 24 days a year. Half of that time is wasted on guard duty – the equivalent of ten years or stints of service. In reality, most reservists will serve, at best, 60-70 percent of that time (after getting off for urgent business trips, fertility cycles, etc.). We’re down to 15 days of guard duty, for, say, seven years.


So over the course of a reserve soldier’s active military life, under today’s system he’ll likely do about 100 days in guard duty.


Begging middle age managers and hi-tech engineers to leave the workplace and do their commander a favor by showing-up for 100 days of static guard duty makes no sense! Instead, we can pay a 21-year-old doing guard duty NIS 10,000 a month tax free. At that age it is a whopping amount; it will cover one-year’s university tuition. Such an outlay, however, is far less than the cost to the IDF of mobilizing and paying the monthly salary of a 37-year-old bank manager.


This proposal won’t eliminate reserve duty outright. Reservists will still have to train for combat every other year with their organic fighting unit; and not every demobilized soldier will want to sign on for the four-month extension. But by eliminating guard duty from the task list for the reserves, the reserve burden can be cut by half.


Military manpower specialist Prof. Stuart Cohen of Bar-Ilan University takes this one step further. Guard duty for the IDF should be “outsourced” altogether, he argues, to a formal IDF Guard Corps, professionally-trained in hi-tech protection wizardry and the like. In the modern era, guards have to do more than walk around a perimeter with a gun slung over their shoulder.


Unless far-reaching reforms are instituted by the IDF, its reserve system is going to wither away. The absenteeism will intensify. Abolish guard duty as a task for the reserves, so that society’s most productive men no longer need hide from the military policeman.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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