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Explained: Inside the Israeli Defense Forces and its numbers

Girish Linganna delves into the structure, size, and history of the Israeli Defense Forces, highlighting key facts about the Israeli Army, Air Force, and the Navy. Additionally, the defence analyst talks about the mandatory military service in Israel and its significance.

Explained Inside the Israeli Defense Forces
First Published Oct 16, 2023, 5:07 PM IST

Israel has been activating its reserve forces since October 9 in response to the barbaric attack by Palestinian militant outfit Hamas. In addition, Tel Aviv also called up an extra 60,000 army reservists, bringing the total mobilized over the past three days to 360,000. However, the current size of the Israeli army is not officially disclosed, making it necessary to rely on foreign sources or Israeli researchers for relevant data.

Establishment of the Israeli Military

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF), widely recognized as the Israeli army, came into existence on May 31, 1948, a mere two weeks following the declaration of the state's independence. At the core of the IDF's guiding doctrine lies the fundamental premise that Israel cannot risk losing any war. This objective is believed to be attainable solely through a defensive strategy, emphasizing the swift mobilization of overwhelming force to confront any adversary.

Structure of the IDF 

The IDF is headed by the chief of the General Staff (currently serving in this capacity is Herzi Halevi), who is subordinate to the Israeli Defence Minister (currently Yoav Gallant).

The chiefs of the ground and air force, as well as the navy, report to the chief of staff, as do regional commanders and the heads of various defense directorates, including the Intelligence Corps

Size of the Army

The IDF has around 176,500 active soldiers, based on public information. In the Israeli Ground Forces, which includes infantry, tanks, and artillery, there are about 126,000 active soldiers and roughly 400,000 reservists. Major General Yoel Strick leads them.

These troops have been part of many important Israeli military actions, including the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the 1956 Suez Crisis, and the 1967 Six-Day War, and they are currently involved in the Hamas-Israel conflict.

The ground forces use some technologies developed in Israel, like the Merkava tank, Achzarit armoured vehicle, and Iron Dome missile defence system.

Size of the Israeli Air Force

The Israel Air Force (IAF) has around 34,000 active members and an additional 55,000 reservists. They have a fleet of 684 aircraft. The current leader of the IAF is Aluf Tomer Bar.

Since the 1967 Six-Day War, the majority of the IDF’s warplanes have been obtained from the United States. These include aircraft like the A-4 Skyhawk, the F-4 Phantom II, the F-15 Eagle, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, and the advanced F-35 Lightning II. 

The IAF has also been involved in significant events, such as the 2006 Lebanon War.

Size of the Israeli Navy

The Israeli Navy has about 9,500 active members and 10,000 reservists. It is led by Aluf David Sa'ar Salama. Their fleet includes seven corvettes, eight missile boats, five submarines of the Dolphin class, 45 patrol boats, and two support ships. The Israeli Navy has taken part in significant military operations like the 1973 Arab–Israeli War, the 1973 Battle of Baltim, and the 2006 Lebanon War.

Corvettes are a type of small, highly manoeuvrable naval warship. They typically serve various roles, including coastal defence, anti-submarine warfare, and escort missions. Corvettes are smaller than frigates or destroyers but larger and more capable than patrol boats.

A frigate is a type of naval warship that is typically larger and more heavily armed than a corvette but smaller than a destroyer. Frigates are known for their versatility and are often used for a variety of missions, including anti-submarine warfare, escorting other ships, and conducting maritime patrols. They play a crucial role in a navy's fleet for both defensive and offensive operations at sea.

Missile boats, often referred to as missile corvettes or fast attack craft, are small and fast naval vessels designed primarily for launching anti-ship or anti-aircraft missiles. They are typically smaller than traditional naval warships like frigates or destroyers but are highly manoeuvrable and equipped with advanced missile systems. Missile boats are used for coastal defence, patrol missions, and to provide a quick response to potential threats at sea. Their agility and firepower make them suitable for engaging and countering enemy ships and aircraft.

Mandatory Military Service in Israel

In Israel, when citizens or permanent residents turn 18, they are required to serve in the military. For men, this mandatory active-duty service lasts 30 months, and for women, it's 24 months. After this, there's still a long period where they can be called for military service, and this duty stops when women reach 50 years old and men reach 55 years old. Overall, there are around 3.11 million people who can be called up for military service in Israel, including about 2.55 million who are considered suitable for it.

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