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Israel Defence Forces

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The Israel Defence Forces (Hebrew: Tsva Haganah Le-Israel, often abbreviated Tsahal) is the name of Israel's armed forces (army, air force and 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 operative detachments, the Palmach[?]) and the British armed forces, in particular the Jewish Brigade that fought during World War II.

After the establishment of the IDF, it eventually incorporated some personnel and equipment from the Irgun, and to some extent the Stern gang militias which operated during the British rule over the mandate of Palestine.

Table of contents

Current Status The IDFs fall under the command of a single general staff.

Service is mandatory for Jewish men and women over the age of 18, although exemptions may be made on religious grounds. The fact that an increasing number of people in the ultraorthodox community are exempt, has been a source of tension in Israeli society. Druze, members of a small Islamic sect living in Israel's mountains, 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 obliged 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), that has received the Order of Example. 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. 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 required for attaining a 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.

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 the Joint Political Military Group, which meets 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.

Military branches:

  • IDF
    • Ground
      • Infantry
      • Armour
      • Artillary
    • Air
    • Navy
  • Frontier Guard (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).
  • Military manpower - military age: 18 years of age
  • Military expenditures - dollar figure: $8.7 billion (FY99)
  • Military expenditures - percent of GDP: 9.4% (FY99)
The IDF's human assets (estimate, source: CIA World Factbook 2000)
Military manpower - CategoryMalesFemales
Availability (age 15-49)1,499,1861,462,063
Fit for military service (age 15-49)1,226,9031,192,319
Reaching military age (18) annually50,34847,996

Nuclear capability? Most analysts hold it that Israel is the only nuclear power in the middle east. The Israeli government has neither acknowledged nor denied that it possesses nuclear weapons, an official policy referred to as "ambiguity".

Gathering information from various sources, the analysts conjencture that nuclear weapons have been developed at the Dimona nuclear reactor since the 1960s.

Very little can be said with certainty beyond this. The Federation of American Scientists (see references) claims that the first two nuclear bombs probably were operational before the Six-Day War. It is widely reported that Prime Minister Eshkol ordered them armed in Israel's first nuclear alert during that war. It is also reported that, fearing defeat in the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israelis assembled 13 twenty-kiloton nuclear bombs. Naturally, it is next to impossible to confirm this information.

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 kms, meaning that it can target sites as far away as central Russia.

Recent policies The IDF uses sophisticated technology, and due to their long experience fighting Palestinian guerrillas, have developed methods of crowd control[?] and use of non-lethal force[?], in particular in scenarios when the largely unarmed crowds are used as a cover for gunmen. Some, however, criticise the IDF's methods, as there were numerous cases in which unarmed civilians have died during clashes. For example, Rachel Corrie was killed during a clash between about ten unarmed International Solidarity Movement activists and two Israeli bulldozers and a tank.

Israel targets and detains individuals to avert future terrorist acts. In addition, Israel employs a strategy of targeted killings (called assassinations by critics).

It should be noted that the question of assassinations is considered by some a gray area in international relations. Although up until recently, most developed nations, including the U.S., did not consider the assassination of political leaders legitimate, this was never the case with military objectives. Recently, the U.S. has assassinated numerous Al-Qaeda operatives as well as tried to assassinate Mullah Omar via missile-armed remote-controlled drones, and other nations have carried out what they deem to be otherwise valid military action in areas that were also intended to impact those individuals.

In the Second Intifada, Israel's official "most wanted" list has become the list of likely targets in the future. In the majority of the cases, Israel manages to arrest the wanted individuals.

In an interview with the BBC (linked below), Giora Eiland, the chief of Military Planning department of the IDF General Staff defined four criteria necessary for carrying out a targeted killing:

  1. There's no way to arrest the particular individual
  2. The target is important enough
  3. The assassination can be carried out with minimal civilian casualties
  4. The operation cannot be delayed - meaning the target is a "ticking bomb", ready to execute an attack

If the criteria are met, the target can be killed by various methods, including sniper fire, explosive devices, helicopter-launched rockets or aerial bombs. By using this method, Israel hopes to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties while preventing severe attacks from being carried out.

The method remains highly controversial however, inside as well as outside Israel, also because of the risk of hurting non-combatant civilians in the process. Many reject its legitimacy outright, while supporters say there is no viable alternative. It is seen and accepted by the majority of Israeli public only as a measure of last resort, facing the Palestinian Authority's perceived complicity by non-prevention.

See also: Arab-Israeli conflict, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Terrorism against Israel, Terrorism against Arabs, USS Liberty, Nuclear proliferation

Further reference

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