Young Israelis keen to join IDF combat units

By Nathan Jeffay, March 25, 2010

Young Israelis are keener than ever to join army combat units, according to new Israel Defence Forces figures.

After a barrage of criticism by human rights organisations and the Goldstone Report in the wake of the Gaza War, the reputation of the Israeli army's combat units have taken a battering.

But among Israeli school leavers, the three-week military campaign appears to have done wonders for their image.

During their final year of high school, Israeli pupils undergo physical and mental tests to determine where the army could best use them. Before the Gaza War, two in three pupils deemed suitable for combat decided to go into a combat unit.

The rate has been climbing since, and according to data just released, now stands at 76 per cent.

Avital Leibovich, head of the IDF's International Press Branch, said that the Gaza War "projected to the youth the IDF's ability and when it shows such ability youth want to be part of its achievements".

She added: "The threats are also a crucial element," referring to current concerns about Israel's foes, including Iran.

She said that one "cannot compare" threats today to those of 2007 and 2008, and said that Israeli youngsters are responding to this situation by showing enthusiasm for fighting for their country.

Avi Segal, a military expert at Ben Gurion University, said that Israeli youngsters are numb to international criticism of the IDF.

"People are brought to be so insensitive to it because the world is seen as 'against us'."

In addition to the effect of the Gaza War, the figures reflect changes taking place in Israeli society, said Dr Segal.

Many traditional recruits for combat units - kibbutzniks, secular Ashkenazim - are today shunning army service altogether, contributing to a drop in draft rates by around a tenth in the last 20 years.

This leaves a disproportionately high number of Sephardim and religious-Zionists in the army.

These groups are "more collectivist" and less individualist in their values, meaning they are keener to join combat units, he said.

Last updated: 2:23pm, March 25 2010