The Right Approach to Bringing the Ultra-Orthodox into the IDF

Nov. 15 2017

Since the turn of the century, the number of Ḥaredim serving in the Israeli military has steadily increased—despite the repeated failures of legislative initiatives to conscript them en masse. Yonatan Branski examines the causes and effects of the increase, suggests strategies for increasing ḥaredi enlistment, and argues military service might be not the biggest obstacle but rather the key to improving relations between Ḥaredim and Israeli society at large. Most importantly, writes Branski, the state and the IDF must continue to respect the ultra-Orthodox desire to remain a group apart:

The fundamental assumption in Israeli society, the media, and many of the state institutions is that the Ḥaredim lag behind in terms of culture and values, and that their integration into Israeli society will bring them out of their current “darkness” into the “light” of the dominant Western liberal culture. This patronizing and elitist approach, which often hides behind false civility and political correctness, endangers the crucial process of the ḥaredi sector’s inclusion in the IDF, in Israeli society, and eventually, the country’s leadership. . . .

Throughout Israel’s history, military service has functioned as a social and cultural melting pot, primarily because serving together provides a deep common denominator that connects people of different backgrounds. . . . [But the] idea that the IDF should be a “melting pot” is one of the [main] reasons that the Haredim are opposed to military service. They are completely unwilling to assimilate into Israeli society and fear the inevitable cultural impact of living together in close quarters.

While so far the solution to this problem has been to create special units for Ḥaredim, participation in these units, while by no means encouraging assimilation, has nonetheless led recruits to develop an enhanced sense of citizenship and facilitated their economic integration. An example:

In their first months of service, ḥaredi soldiers in Battalion 97 are much less willing to participate in noncommissioned-officer courses or [regular] officer courses, which require extending their service, than are soldiers in the same battalion who come from the Religious Zionist sector.

The ḥaredi soldiers are [at first] focused on their own self-interest and are unwilling to make the personal sacrifice required by such courses. . . . [But], as time goes on, many of the ḥaredi soldiers change their perspective as they acquire a better understanding of the importance of making use of their abilities to contribute their share in the most fitting manner.

As the number of ḥaredi NCOs and officers who speak this ethical language increases, they will convey it to more and more of the ḥaredi soldiers under their command. From the earliest stages of the project to get Ḥaredim to serve in the IDF, it was clear that one of the most important keys to its success would be the cultivation of a cadre of outstanding ḥaredi NCOs and junior officers. This is a lengthy process, but the trend is gaining strength from year to year.

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Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies

More about: IDF, Israel & Zionism, Israeli society, Ultra-Orthodox


Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war