History & Overview
Defense Forces (IDF) was founded shortly after the State of Israel was established in 1948. It ranks among
the most battle-tested and highly-trained armed forces in the world.
Logo of the IDF
The IDF's security objectives are to defend
the existence, territorial integrity and sovereignty
of the State of Israel;
deter all of Israel's enemies; and, curb all forms of terrorism which
threaten daily life.
Most soldiers in the IDF are Jewish, but the number of Christian recruits has been steadily climbing since 2012, when concentrated efforts to encourage their enlistment began. It is predicted that approximately 200 Christian recruits will join the IDF in 2015-2016.
In October 2014 the IDF topped Business Insider Magazine's list of most powerful militaries in the Middle East, and also the list of the top air force's in the entire world. A close security relationship with the United States as well as a booming defense industry gave Israel an edge over the other countries on the list. Israel has one of the most well-tested and battle ready armies in the world (they have fought in four major engagements since 2006), and can also mobilize it's fighting forces quickly due to the relatively compact size of the country. The Israeli air force was ranked first in the entire world due to their "space assets, advanced fighter jets, high-tech armed drones, and nuclear weapons". Chris Harmer, a senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War was quoted in the Business Insider article stating that "Pilot to pilot, airframe to airframe, the Israeli air force is the best in the world".
For the second year in a row, in 2016 the most foreign IDF recruits came from France. French citizens comprise 45% of the 500 foreign volunteers in the IDF, and 80% of them will serve in combat infantry units.
- IDF Doctrine
- Society & Service
- Terms of Service
- Foreign Volunteers
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 caliber 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.
Society & Service
Service in the Israel Defense Forces is a measure
of involvement in the country's life. Most men and
single women are inducted into the IDF at age 18,
women for two years and men for three, followed by
service in the reserves, men up to age 51 and single
women to age 24. The IDF announced in November 2014 that starting in July 2015 male mandatory service in the IDF will be cut by 4 months, with male soldiers now serving a total of 32 months. In addition to this, the mandatory service length for female soldiers is to be extended at the same time, in an effort to promote equality. During the same meeting in which these new service requirements were approved, discussions were also held in reference to raising the salaries of enlisted soldiers.
Out of respect for their community's religious commitments, Orthodox women
may be exempted, although many choose to perform 12
years national service in the civilian sector. Most
men are granted deferments while pursuing Torah studies,
and those who serve in the IDF mainly fulfill religious
In March 2007, a report issued by
a ministerial committee on military service found
that 43 percent of female draft candidates receive
exemptions. Of these, 76 percent opt out of service
for religious reasons, 7 percent are overseas, 8
percent have criminal records and 2 percent are married.
Only 24 percent of men who are eligible are not drafted.
In essence, the society and army are one, as a broad spectrum
of the population serves periodically over many years, with those
in and out of uniform virtually interchangeable. Since soldiers
often hold ranks not necessarily corresponding with their status
in civilian life, the IDF has become a highly effective equalizer
in the society and contributes greatly to integrating individuals
from all walks of life. The IDF also helps new immigrants during
their period of military service to acclimate to Israeli life
in a framework wherein each person is undergoing the same process.
Over the years, the IDF has assumed a variety of national-social
functions for the society at large; providing special services
for new immigrants; upgrading educational levels of adults who
were denied basic education in their countries of origin; supplying
teachers to development towns; assisting in disadvantaged areas
and responding to emergency situations in the civilian sector.
Chritstian individuals living in Israel also serve in the IDF and are actively recruited. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyayu spoke at an IDF Christian Recruitment forum in December 2014 and said that "We are brothers, we are partners – Christians and Jews and Druze and Muslims who defend the State of Israel".
Terms of Service
Compulsory Service: 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.
Reserve Duty: 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 Israel Defense Force features soldiers from over 70 countries, with over 1/4 of these recruits coming from the United States. These soldiers are known as "lone soldiers," and are placed in the same category as Israeli recruits who do not have a support network (orphans), and Israelis who'se parents are not in Israel year-round. As of Israel Independence Day 2015, there were approximately 3,484 soldiers in the IDF from different countries who had made Aaliyah. The number of foreign volunteers in the IDF increased by 330 between 2013 and 2014. Nefesh B’Nefesh, an Israeli organization that works with recent Israeli immigrants, hypothesized that social media is to blame for this increase in foreign volunteers, as well as the increasing European tide of anti-Semitism . Women account for 30% of the lone soldiers, serving as combat soldiers as well as paramedics and in intelligence roles.
The first group of Chinese Jews to ever join the IDF suited up during Winter 2014, hailing from Kaifeng, China. Moshe Li, Gideon Fan, and Yonathan Xue, all aged 25, made aliyah to Israel in 2009 through the organization Shavei Israel. The men were originally rejected when they attempted to sign up at the IDF conscription office, but thanks to friends in high places the group of Chinese Jews were later accepted into the IDF.
Sources: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
“IDF to cut male soldiers’ service time next year,” Times of Israel(November 11 2014);
Shpigel, Noah. “Netanyahu Lauds Christians Serving in Israeli Army,” Haaretz (December 15 2014);
Ferber, Alona. “Israeli Army Cites Rise in Number of Overseas Volunteers Joining Its Ranks,” Haaretz (April 22, 2015);
Freund, Michael. “From Kaifeng to the Kotel: Chinese Jews in Jerusalem,”
Jerusalem Post (August 8, 2015);
“French citizens comprise largest number of foreign IDF volunteers in 2016,” Jerusalem Post (July 27, 2016);