IDF: Fall in Combat Unit Preference Not Due to Azaria Case

YERUSHALAYIM -
Former IDF soldier Elor Azaria enters the military base where the military prison is located in Rishon Letzion, August 9. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

There was a marked reduction in the number of soldiers who sought to join combat units in the recently completed July draft. 67 percent of those drafted in the summer round of IDF recruitment said they preferred service in combat units, according to figures released by the IDF Wednesday. In the November 2016 draft, 71.5 percent of those drafted stated combat units as their preference, compared to 72.5 percent a year before that. The current level is the lowest in a decade, since the close of the Second Lebanon War.

IDF sources told Yediot Acharonot that the change was due to several factors. While combat units have been seen as the preferred service among recruits, in recent years the leadership role of combat units has been eclipsed by intelligence units, such as Unit 8200, which is responsible for communications security. Many graduates of 8200 have gone on to establish successful high-tech companies, especially in the area of cybersecurity, after they finished their service. Other units dealing with electronic warfare and cybersecurity have also proven to be attractive to recruits who could qualify for combat units.

One thing that has not affected combat unit recruitment rates, the army sources emphasized, was the Elor Azaria case. Activists who opposed the sentence given to Azaria have claimed that prosecuting the soldier for killing a terrorist who had tried to attack fellow soldiers would reduce the motivation of soldiers to serve in combat units, because of fear that they could be prosecuted like Azaria for violating rules on opening fire against terrorists. The army said that this was not the case, and that in fact registration for spots in the Kfir brigade, where Azaria served, was actually among the highest for any combat unit.

In any event, the IDF said, there is a waiting list to get into all combat units. Recent changes in service, especially an increase in salaries and improved benefits for combat unit soldiers which kick in at the beginning of next year will likely increase motivation for combat slots among recruits, the army sources said.