Sunday, May 12, 2013

Rethinking shorter army service

Prof. Ron Breiman
Last week we were told of plans to cut mandatory military service by four months -- a decision that would take affect in two years. Seemingly, this plan should be praised, as it purports to ease the burden on young Israelis and save a considerable amount of money which can be used for other things. However, we should take a moment to reconsider its merits.

Only once before in Israeli history has a similar measure been taken, and only two draft classes were able to enjoy it. I'm talking about those who were drafted in August and November of 1964 and served only two years and two months. Not long after, the quiet along Israel's borders, since 1956, was broken and the winds of war began to blow from Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The result was the Six-Day War in 1967. 

In the years following the Six-Day War -- the years of the War of Attrition, the Yom Kippur War, the First Lebanon War -- it was clear to everyone that there was no choice but to maintain the three-year mandatory service policy. Only in the 1990s , when the bells of "peace" rang in "the new Middle East" did country's leaders think again about shortening military service. This time, however, the easing of the security burden was directed at the reserve army, not towards changing the three-year mandatory service policy. The reserve service cut-off was lowered to 40 years of age, the need to receive a permit for travelling abroad was cancelled, and more. 

Following these measures, the results were quick to follow: Instead of reserve service being a common denominator for the majority of men in Israel, it became an unjust burden on only a few, those who are referred to by others (and who often refer to themselves) as "suckers" and who have rightfully protested against this discrimination and to receive proper compensation. In addition, employers began showing a preference for those exempt from reserve duty over those who serve a month every year to protect everyone else. In the universities, meanwhile, reserve soldiers, who of all people deserved the most respect, were often met with negative attitudes.
The rotten fruit of the Oslo Accords -- as was expected at the time -- bore the bloody wave of terror attacks of the Second Intifada, followed by Operation Pillar of Defense, which led (along with the security wall) to a better security situation in Judea and Samaria and within the Green Line. It was once again clear to all that three years of mandatory service was essential.
Debates over a more equal distribution of the security burden -- perhaps instead of burden it is more correct to call it the privilege to defend our dear home -- and the general lack of equality when entire sectors don't serve (Arab, ultra-Orthodox, draft dodgers from the far Left) and others serve less time (girls, hesder yeshiva students, certain Nahal soldiers) have apparently led to the conclusion that burden should be reduced for those who contribute to society and the army. These circumstances are what have led to this new decision.
But, before we get ahead of ourselves, it is important to examine how reasonable it is. Just as the "new politics" we were promised are the same old politics, the "new Middle East" is the same old Middle East. It is full of hostile Arab and Muslim states, with unstable and irresponsible regimes, and with an Arab "occupying" army sent here within the framework of the Oslo "peace" agreement and with which peace cannot be made.
We can continue bashing our heads against the wall as if the two-state "solution" has the power to end the regional conflict, but it is abundantly clear that there is no connection between it and sustainable, real peace. With all due remorse, peace will not come in our generation -- which Israel is not to blame for -- but in the meantime we cannot disarm or weaken the army. Shortening mandatory army service seems like a knee-jerk measure that requires further consideration and a deep reanalysis of the risks involved.

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