The Israel Defense Forces (IDF), founded in 1948, ranks among the most battle-trained armed forces in the world, having had to defend the country in five major wars. Currently, the IDF’s security objectives are to defend the existence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the State of Israel, deter all enemies and curb all forms of terrorism which threaten daily life. Its main tasks include reinforcing the peace arrangements; ensuring overall security in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in coordination with the Palestinian Authority; spearheading the war against terrorism, both inside Israel and across its borders; and maintaining a deterrent capability to prevent the outbreak of hostilities.
To ensure its success, the IDF’s doctrine at the strategic level is defensive, while its tactics are offensive. Given the country’s lack of territorial depth, the IDF must take initiative when deemed necessary and, if attacked, to quickly transfer the battleground to the enemy’s land. Though it has always been outnumbered by its enemies, the IDF maintains a qualitative advantage by deploying advanced weapons systems, many of which are developed and manufactured in Israel for its specific needs. The IDF’s main resource, however, is the high caliber of its soldiers.
In preparing for defense, the IDF deploys a small standing army (made up of conscripts and career personnel) with early warning capability, and a regular air force and navy. The majority of its forces are reservists, who are called up regularly for training and service and who, in time of war or crisis, are quickly mobilized into their units from all parts of the country.
The IDF’s three service branches (ground forces, air force and navy) function under a unified command, headed by the chief-of-staff, with the rank of lieutenant-general, who is responsible to the Minister of Defense. The chief-of-staff is appointed by the government, on recommendation of the prime minister and minister of defense, for a three-year term, which is usually extended for an additional year.
Except when combat duty is involved, men and women soldiers of all ranks serve side by side as technicians, communications and intelligence specialists, combat instructors, cartographers, administrative and ordnance personnel, computer operators, doctors, lawyers and the like. The IDF is responsive to the cultural and social needs of its soldiers, providing recreational and educational activities, as well as personal support services. Recruits with incomplete educational backgrounds are given opportunities to upgrade their level of education, and career officers are encouraged to study at the IDF’s expense during their service. The integration of new immigrant soldiers is facilitated through special Hebrew language instruction and other programs. Active in nation-building enterprises since its inception, the IDF also provides remedial and supplementary education to civilian populations and contributes to the absorption of newcomers among the population at large. In times of national crisis or emergency, the IDF responds immediately with appropriate action and assigns trained personnel to fill essential jobs or carry out special tasks.