Israel Doesn’t Need Conscription
As the Swedish government plans to reintroduce conscription, and similar calls are heard in France and Lithuania, it’s time to look at where a long-time conscription is a harsh reality: Israel. Until recently, Israel had the third-longest conscription period of 3 years for men and 2 years for women, just after Eritrea (unlimited) and North Korea (10 years, probably). Just last year, the conscription period was reduced to 32 months for men, but with the price of raising it to 28 months for women. Israeli 18 year-olds are conscripted for one of the longest periods in the world. This, of course, is not true if the particular 18 years-old is an Arab, and ultra-orthodox Haredi, or a religious girl. All these groups are exempt for political reasons, some obvious and some require a familiarity with Israeli politics to understand.
The people left for conscription are more than enough to make up for the IDF’s (Israeli Defence Forces) manpower, that is in the non-combatant units at least. Manpower surpluses are common, with many cases of soldiers doing practically nothing, or completely useless work, metaphorically digging up holes for others to fill. In addition, the mass of the IDF creates a need for a huge network of support and logistics units – even useless soldiers need to be fed, supplied, transported, basically trained, housed, taken care of medically, arrested and judged if they disobey the many IDF commands, such as a ban on beards. All these “overall” units create a need for, you guessed it, more soldiers. The IDF is so huge, it crumbles under its own weight. Alongside this, there is an actual lack of manpower where it’s really needed – up in the front, where the living conditions and lack of actual payment (about 400 USD per month for combatants, and that’s after a recent raise) sometimes make people go to jail if they’re sent to unprestigious units like the Armor Corps.
One of the major problems with recruiting so many soldiers is that you can’t actually reasonably pay all of them. This creates a situation in which soldiers who come from very poor families sometimes make economic desertions, in which they don’t come back from their weekend leaves, and instead stay home and work hard to provide for themselves and their families. Just compare Israel’s minimum wage of 1,300 USD to a Rearguard soldier’s monthly wage – 200 USD. You can see why, for poor soldiers, desertion is tempting. The result is military prisons full of conscripted new immigrants and weak minority groups such as Ethiopian Jews. Most inmates in the IDF’s military prisons have done nothing but escaped forced military service to provide for their families.
Apart from harming the weakest parts of society, conscription damages the economy as a whole: around half of the Israeli population (which includes its most productive groups) gets to the job market or to studying for a profession 2 to 3 years later, sometimes more, as the custom of going for a long trip abroad after finishing military service is becoming more popular. The result is a job market lacking experience and training: the price of this to the economy is estimated to stack up to billions of dollars. Some positions in the military provide you with some kind of a marketable skill, but this just discourages soldiers to go to where they are actually needed: to combatant units.
Zero Motivation is a 2014 dark comedy about Israeli girls getting bored to death in the IDF.
Conscription was established in Israel under the Security Service Act of 1949, to protect Israel from future Arab invasions, but also to participate in “national missions” such as expanding Jewish settlement close to Israel’s borders. Back then, conscription was just 24 months for men and 12 months for women. Since then, Israel’s Jewish population sextupled, peace was signed between Israel and two of its neighbours who could muster a sizeable military (Egypt and Jordan), and Syria was cast into a vicious civil war that broke the Syrian army to pieces. The security threats that Israel is facing is completely different: terror attacks and rocket launching from within civilian urban territory. Masses of cannon fodder troops are not as useful in war as they used to be, and the modern battlefield requires highly-skilled, technologically superior troops that can deal with agressions against Israel’s citizens without creating massive collateral damage. If there is a lack of manpower in unpopular yet important units, the IDF should, in my opinion, compensate the soldiers through differential payment according to supply and demand.
Unlike the notions some nationalists try to spread, conscription creates no “national solidarity”, and even less “social justice”. Nations that don’t stand against immediate threats from foreign standing armies have no reasons, in my view, to force its youth into forced servitude. Even Israel, one of the most threatened nations in the world should gradually transfer into a voluntary, well-paid professional military.
Picture Source: Zero Motivation, film.
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