Israel’s Reserve Army

Israel’s Reserve Army, by James Dunnigan.

This Reserve system is one reason Israel has the most powerful armed forces in the Middle East and manages to achieve this with a population of only eight million. While only two percent of the population is in the active army, nearly five percent are in the reserves. There are former full-time soldiers who train regularly and can be called back to active service quickly. This is called the “reserve system” and it is a relatively recent development. …

Some nations, like Israel, Sweden and Switzerland took the reserve system to an extreme. These three nations enrolled a large portion of the adult males into the reserves. As a result, full mobilization called up so much of the population that it severely disrupted the economy. Sweden and Switzerland are neutral and depend more on the threat of mobilization. Israel has had to mobilize many times in the past and will probably have to do it again. So Israel has to win quickly, and her enemies know that. However, Israel has adapted its economy to full mobilization. Back in the early 1980s, such a mobilization put 15 percent of the population in uniform, but now it’s half that. So Israel can keep fighting for a bit longer.

Israel, Sweden and Switzerland all depend on reserve units, formed around reservists from the same area. While some reservists are used to reinforce active duty units, most mobilize and go to war with their local reserve units. In effect, reservists serve in units that will, quite literally, defend the homes and families of the reservists. That is a tremendous motivator to learn military skills and perform your duties effectively.

Israel is unique in that its reservists, especially those in combat units, are frequently mobilized in peacetime. About 30 percent of Israeli reservists are mobilized each year (for more than a few days), often for only a week or two. About two-thirds of those mobilized are combat troops. Not surprisingly, half of the reserve troops are married. Over 15 percent of the reservists are women (up from 11 percent in 2008). About the same percentage of Israeli reservists were born overseas. Reservists serve until their early 40s, if physically able, and can continue until 51. In combat units, most of the troops are in their 20s and 30s with some officers and senior officers still serving in their 40s.