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Israel Defense Forces:
History & Overview


IDF: Table of Contents | Wars & Operations | Chiefs-of-Staff


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The Israel 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.

IDF logo
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.

- IDF Doctrine
- Society & Service
- Terms of Service

IDF Doctrine

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. In February 2006, the Defense Ministry outlined a plan to reduce mandatory service for male soldiers to 28 months. Further reductions will bring the final service term for men down to two years by 2010.

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 ultra­Orthodox men are granted deferments while pursuing Torah studies, and those who serve in the IDF mainly fulfill religious functions.

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.

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.


Sources: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs; JTA (March 30, 2007)

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