A new report about a spike in exemptions from military service highlights a persistent problem: The declining interest of young Israelis in the IDF. The ongoing crisis continues to preoccupy army officials, with no solution in sight.
The number of exemptions from service due to mental issues increased by a whopping 30 percent in 2018, daily newspaper Ma’ariv reported Friday. In total, some 4,500 youngsters secured such discharges last year, the report said.
The latest figures follow earlier reports about the IDF motivation crisis. In 2017, only 67 percent of new recruits requested to serve in combat units, the lowest number in a decade. Notably, in 2010 the figure stood at 80 percent. The army has not yet released its full report for 2018.
Military officials are acutely aware of the problem, and trying to come up with initiatives to reverse the trend. In recent years, the army advanced plans to boost the rewards offered to soldiers, and particularly to combat troops.
Some of the reasons for the decline are readily apparent. The growing number of ultra-Orthodox youngsters, who mostly avoid military service, is one explanation. Another potential reason is the relatively stable security situation in recent years, which may have created the perception that joining the army is less meaningful or necessary.
However, the key factor may be more deeply rooted, and harder to address. It mostly has to do with our changing world, and specifically with changing circumstances in Israel.
Materialism Replaces Ideology
Young Israelis now live in a country that enjoys unprecedented prosperity and openness to the world. From a young age they have access to the kind of luxuries and technologies that previous generations could only dream of. These youngsters are accustomed to a comfortable life, the best brand names, and frequent trips abroad. As a result, they are increasingly focusing on materialistic concerns, like their peers in the West.
In-depth polls have shown that most young Israelis hold right-wing views, but seek to attain goals that have little to do with politics or ideology. Their main concerns tend to revolve around education, career choices, and living the good life. Given such attitudes, it is no wonder that many have no interest in fighting wars and making other sacrifices.
Similarly, new recruits increasingly assess military service based on potential career gains. Hence, the army is seeing a growing preference for elite technology and intelligence units as a springboard for future success. Meanwhile, combat roles appear to offer fewer rewards. This outlook is not expected to change in the foreseeable future.
The IDF is trying to respond by luring soldiers with more benefits and educational opportunities. However, there is a limit to what it can do given budgetary constraints and the need to maintain a people’s army. Eventually, Israel may have to reexamine the mandatory service model and consider the option of a professional army.