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Encyclopedia > Tzahal
Israel Defense Forces
Image:IDF badge.gif
Military manpower
Military age 18 years of age
Availability males age 15-49: 1,499,186 (2000 est.)

females age 15-49: 1,462,063 (2000 est.)

Fit for military service males age 15-49: 1,226,903 (2000 est.)

females age 15-49: 1,192,319 (2000 est.)

Reaching military age annually males: 50,348 (2000 est.)
females: 47,996 (2000 est.)
Military expenditures
Dollar figure $8.7 billion (FY99)
Percent of GDP 9.4% (FY99)

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) (Hebrew: צבא ההגנה לישראל Tsva Ha-Haganah Le-Yisrael ("[Army] Force [for] the Defense of Israel"), often abbreviated צה"ל Tsahal, alternative English spelling Tzahal, is the Hebrew name of Israel's armed forces (Tsahal comprises the Israel army, Israel air force and Israel navy). It was formed following the founding of Israel in 1948 to "defend the existence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state of Israel" and "to protect the inhabitants of Israel and to combat all forms of terrorism which threaten the daily life." The predecessors to the IDF were the Haganah (in particular, its operational branch, the Palmach) and former elements of the Jewish Brigade that fought under the British Flag during World War II. See also Jewish legion.

After the establishment of the IDF, the two Jewish underground organizations the Etzel and Lehi joined with the IDF in a loose conferderation, but were allowed to operate independently in some sectorsJerusalem until the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war; after which these two organizations were eventually disbanded.

For detailed IDF history, see: Israel Defense Forces History.



High command

The IDF falls under the command of a single general staff. The current chief of staff is (Lieutenant) General (Rav-Aluf) Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon, answerable to the Minister of Defense.

Rav Aluf Moshe Ya'alon, the Israeli Defence Forces' Chief of General Staff (Ramatkal).
Rav Aluf Moshe Ya'alon, the Israeli Defence Forces' Chief of General Staff (Ramatkal).

The Chief of the General Staff (in Hebrew: רמטכ"ל, pronounced: Ramatkal) is the high commander of the IDF and answers to the Defense minister and the Prime minister. All Ramatkals are in the rank of (Lieutenant) General (in Hebrew: רב אלוף , pronounced: "Rav Aluf").

Note about ranks: if the ranks of the IDF are to be translated one-to-one to Western ranks then a "Rav Aluf" is equivalent to Lieutenant General (since Major General is "Aluf"). But since Rav Aluf in Israel is the senior commander of the armed forces (including the army, air force, and navy), the translation of it as "General" is more appropriate.

Service and manpower

National military service is compulsory for Jewish men and women over the age of 18, although exemptions may be made on religious, physical, or psychological grounds (see Profile 21). Israel is the only country which currently has female conscription. The fact that an increasing number of people in the Haredi community are exempt, has been a source of tension in Israeli society. Druze also serve in the IDF. In recent years, some Druze officers have reached positions in the IDF as high as Major General. Israeli Arabs, with few exceptions, are not required to serve, though they may volunteer.

Six Israeli Arabs have received orders of distinction as a part of their military service; of them the most famous is a Bedouin officer, Lieutenant Colonel Abd El-Amin Hajer (also known as Amos Yarkoni), who received the Order of Distinction. Recently, a Bedouin officer was promoted to the rank of Colonel.

Men serve three years in the IDF, as do the women in combat positions, while women in non-combat positions serve two. The IDF requires women who volunteer for combat positions to serve for three years because combat soldiers must undergo a lengthy period of training, and it is in the interests of the IDF to get as much use of that training as possible. In addition, men serve up to one month annually of reserve service, up to the age of 43-45. No direct social benefits are tied to completion of military service, but doing it is sometimes required for attaining security clearance and serving in some types of government positions (in most cases, security-related); Israeli Arabs claim, however, that this puts them at a disadvantage.

Expenditures and alliances

During 1950-66, Israel spent an average of 9% of its GDP on defense. Defense expenditures increased dramatically after both the 1967 and 1973 wars. In 1996, the military budget reached 10.6% of GDP and represented about 21.5% of the total 1996 budget.

In 1983, the United States and Israel established a Joint Political Military Group, which convenes twice a year. Both the U.S. and Israel participate in joint military planning and combined exercises, and have collaborated on military research and weapons development. Israel has the official distinction of being a US Major Non-NATO Ally. As a result of this, America shares the vast majority of its security and military technology with Israel.

Military branches

The following is a very partial list that does not refer to any reserve forces.

  • IDF
  • Frontier Guard - MAGAV (Mishmar Ha-Gvul - This is in fact a police unit. However, serving in the FG is the same as serving in the IDF, in terms of completing the mandatory term of service). The unit comprises of about 50 regular companies spread mostly across Israel's borders with the West Bank. There are a few additional platoons that serve as special forces for the Froniter Guard.
  • Shin Bet (SHABAK - Sherut Bitahon Klali) - Israeli internal security service

See also: Israel Security Forces.

Israeli Military Technology

Israeli modified F-16 flying over Masada.

The IDF is considered to be one of the most high-tech armies in the world, possessing top-of-the-line weapons and computer systems. Besides purchasing American-made weapon systems (such as the M4A1 assault rifle, F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon jets and Apache helicopter), the IDF holds a large department of weapon development, Rafael (The Authority For Weapons Development), which develops new weapons and technology to the IDF. Most of the technologies are produced by the Israeli security industries including the IMI, Elbit, El-Op and the IAI.

Israel's military technology is most famous for its guns, armored vehicles (tanks, tank-converted APCs, armoured bulldozers etc) and rocketry (missiles and rockets).

An Israeli Merkava main battle tank.

Currently Israel is the only country in the world with an anti-ballistic missile defense system "Hetz" and working with the USA on development of a tactical high energy laser system against medium range rockets (called Nautilus THEL). Also, Israel has the independent capability of launching satellites into orbit (a capability which is only held by Russia, the USA, the UK, China, Japan, France, India, and Israel).

Main Israeli Developments:

Nuclear capability

See also: Israel and weapons of mass destruction

It is generally believed that Israel is a nuclear power. The weapons were thought to have been developed at the Dimona nuclear reactor since the 1960s. The first two nuclear bombs were probably operational before the Six-Day War and Prime Minister Eshkol ordered them armed in Israel's first nuclear alert during that war. It is also believed that, fearing defeat in the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israelis assembled thirteen twenty-kiloton nuclear bombs.

The current size and composition of Israel's nuclear stockpile is uncertain, and is the subject of various estimates and reports. FAS estimates that Israel probably has 100-200 nuclear warheads, which can be delivered by airplanes (A4 Skyhawk or converted F-4 Phantom II), or ballistic missiles (Lance, Jericho, or Jericho II missiles). The Jericho II is reported to have a range between 1,500 and 4,000 km, meaning that it can target sites as far away as central Russia.

It has also been alleged that the Israeli Navy's three 1,925 ton Type 800 Dolphin class submarines may be capable of carrying nuclear-armed Popeye Turbo cruise missiles. However, military analysts have labelled such rumors to be highly unlikely and impossible given the logistics of the submarines.

The Israeli government has neither acknowledged nor denied that it possesses nuclear weapons, an official policy referred to as "ambiguity". However, a formerly imprisoned ex-Dimona employee, Mordechai Vanunu, confirmed much of the earlier speculation.

Israeli Defence Forces Ranks

Enlisted דרגות חוגרים
Rank in Hebrew Abbreviations Pronounced as... US equivalent
טוראי none Turai Private
רב טוראי רב"ט Rav Turai Corporal
סמל none Samal Sergeant
סמל ראשון סמ"ר Samal Rishon Staff Sergeant
NCOs דרגות נגדים
Rank in Hebrew Abbreviations Pronounced as... US equivalent
רב סמל רס"ל Rav Samal Sergeant First Class
רב סמל ראשון רס"ר Rav Samal Rishon - Rasar First Sergeant
רב סמל מתקדם רס"מ Rav Samal Mitkadem Sergeant Major
רב סמל בכיר רס"ב Rav Samal Bachir Warrant Officer
רב נגד רנ"ג Rav Nagad Chief Warrant Officer
Junior officers דרגות קצונה זוטרה
Rank in Hebrew Abbreviations Pronounced as... US equivalent
קצין מקצוע אקדמאי קמ"א Katzin Miktzoa Academy Academic Officer
קצין אקדמאי בכיר קא"ב Katzin Academy Bachir Senior Academic Officer
סגן-משנה סג"מ Segen Mishne Second Lieutenant
סגן none Segen Lieutenant
סרן none Seren Captain
Senior officers דרגות קצונה בכירה
Rank in Hebrew Abbreviations Pronounced as... US equivalent
רב סרן רס"ן Rav Seren Major
סגן אלוף סא"ל Sgan Aluf Lieutenant Colonel
אלוף משנה אל"מ Aluf Mishne Colonel
תת-אלוף תא"ל Tat Aluf Brigadier General
אלוף none Aluf Major General
רב-אלוף רא"ל Rav Aluf Lieutenant General or General

Note about ranks: if the ranks of the IDF are to be translated one-to-one to Western ranks then a "Rav Aluf" is equivalent to Lieutenant General (since Major General is "Aluf"). But since Rav Aluf in Israel is the high commander of the army (including air force and navy), the translation of it as "General" is more appropriate.

  • IDF ranks in English (http://www1.idf.il/DOVER/site/mainpage.asp?sl=EN&id=22&docid=22993&Pos=4&bScope=False)
  • IDF ranks in Hebrew (http://www1.idf.il/DOVER/site/mainpage.asp?sl=HE&id=22&docid=22993&Pos=2&bScope=False)

The Code of Conduct

In 1992, the IDF has written down a Code of Conduct that is a combination of international law, Israeli law, Jewish heritage and the IDF's own traditional ethical code - Ruach Tzahal רוח צה"ל ("The Spirit of the IDF (http://www1.idf.il/DOVER/site/mainpage.asp?sl=EN&id=32)").

The IDF Code of Conduct emphasis the following values:

  • Tenacity of Purpose in Performing Missions and Drive to Victory חתירה לניצחון והשלמת המשימה
  • Responsibility אחריות
  • Credibility אמינות
  • Personal Example דוגמה אישית
  • Human Life ערך חיי אדם
  • Professionalism מקצועיות
  • Discipline משמעת
  • Comradeship רעות
  • Sense of Mission שליחות
  • Purity of Arms טוהר הנשק - "The IDF servicemen and women will use their weapons and force only for the purpose of their mission, only to the necessary extent and will maintain their humanity even during combat. IDF soldiers will not use their weapons and force to harm human beings who are not combatants or prisoners of war, and will do all in their power to avoid causing harm to their lives, bodies, dignity and property".

Recently, a team of professors, commanders and former judges, led by Tel Aviv University head of Ethics cathedra, Professor Assa Kasher, developed a code of conduct which emphasizes the right behavior in low intensity warfare against terrorists, where soldiers must operate within a civilian population. Reserve units and regular units alike are taught the following eleven rules of conduct, which are an addition to the more general IDF Spirit:

  1. Military action can only be taken against military targets.
  2. The use of force must be proportional.
  3. Soldiers may only use weaponry they were issued by the IDF.
  4. Anyone who surrenders cannot be attacked.
  5. Only those who are properly trained can interrogate prisoners.
  6. Soldiers must accord dignity and respect to the Palestinian population and those arrested.
  7. Soldiers must give appropriate medical care, when conditions allow, to oneself and one's enemy.
  8. Pillaging is absolutely and totally illegal.
  9. Soldiers must show proper respect for religious and cultural sites and artifacts.
  10. Soldiers must protect international aid workers, including their property and vehicles.
  11. Soldiers must report all violations of this code.

Recent policies and tactics

Owing to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the tactics of the IDF have been adapted for low intensity warfare primarily against Palestinian militants operating from within densely-populated civilian areas. Sometimes such clashes have resulted in deaths of civilians during clashes.

IDF Caterpillar D9 Armored Bulldozer. The D9s have been operated vastly through the al-Aqsa intifada, keeping Israeli casualties low but causing extensive damage to structures and shrubbery.

The IDF also employs a controversial strategy of assassinations (called targeted killings) of Palestinian militant leaders.

See also: urban warfare, counter terror, CQB.

See also

External links

  • IDF's Official Website (http://www.idf.il)
  • The IDF Spirit - the ethical code of the IDF (http://www1.idf.il/DOVER/site/mainpage.asp?sl=EN&id=32)
  • IDF Code of Conduct (http://www.jcpa.org/brief/brief3-8.htm)
  • The Sword and the Olive, Martin Van Creveld, ISBN 1-891620-05-3. A thorough and critical history of the IDF from the early defence leagues, and up to the late 1990s.
  • FAS's page about Israel's nuclear capability (http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/nuke/)
  • BBC: Israel undercover (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/correspondent/1820862.stm)
  • Israeli Weapons (http://www.israeli-weapons.com)
  • Statistics about IDF ratio of thwarting suicide bombing attacks (http://www.idf.il/daily_statistics/english/5.doc) (link to DOC file)
  • Defense-Update Online Magazine (http://www.defense-update.com)
  • Haaretz report: "From 40 attacks per quarter to 5 attacks per quarter" :English (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/413396.html) - Hebrew (http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/pages/ShArtPE.jhtml?itemNo=413586&contrassID=2&subContrassID=1&sbSubContrassID=0) - Graph 1: Thwarted attacks (yellow) vs successful attacks (red) (http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/images/printed/P080404/zza.jpg) - Graph 2: Suicide bombing within the "green line" per quarter (http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/images/printed/P080404/a.0.0804.10.2.9.jpg) .
  • War Online (http://www.waronline.org/) - military analysis and military history of the Middle East, especially IDF (Russian, English)

  Results from FactBites:
Think-Israel (3750 words)
Tzahal is noted for the speed and effectiveness of its rescue and humanitarian missions.
The men and women of Tzahal and all those who love them cannot depend on organs of their own government and society to stand firmly with those who are risking their own lives to protect them.
An investigation by Tzahal determined that the bullet was fired by a 20-year-old officer from Israel's Beduin Arab community.
katif.net in English (2483 words)
When Tzahal reports that it has" thwarted" a terrorist attack, they mean that they have discovered the base of the terrorists, have found the explosive device or belt, and a terrorist has been killed or arrested.
In Tzahal it has already been accepted that the appraisal regarding the number of those who will refuse to obey commands related to disengagement, from among the regular (as opposed to those doing reserve duty,) soldiers, will not be a one digit number.
Tzahal sees the situation that way, and this seems to be a correct evaluation, as during the process of uprooting settlements, close to 100,000 citizens from all around the country will get to the area and will try to prevent the carrying out of this plan with their very bodies.
  More results at FactBites »



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