As early as 2002 the IDF human resources department estimated that the rate of draft dodgers in the summer of 2006 would reach 25 percent and the rate of those who would not complete their military service would stand at 20 percent. But during that summer, exactly five years ago, the army's deliberations on this matter were shrouded in optimism.
Officials made note of the increase in the number of recruits into the strictly Orthodox Nahal units, said that the State of Israel was not facing an existential threat, and argued that the drop in the number of recruits in fact enabled the army to select better suited candidates, and particularly – that at a time of need we would see the entire people, as one, storming IDF induction centers.
This optimism disappeared completely from the army's recent deliberations on the subject. Not because we are facing a moment of decision, which is arguable, and the number of new recruits is declining. It is also not because every 200 additional standing army soldiers, for example, would save the army the call up of 19 reserve duty battalions every year, which would also be lacking in the course of the next 25 years.
Rather, this issue is more about a deepening rift between the State and its citizens and continued dissipation of the unwritten contract, even if it is bound by law, between Israeli society and the army. This has reached such an extent that we may for a moment wonder at the fact that 50 percent of youngsters still fulfill their military duty in full.
The data published this week in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, which noted that 25 percent of youngsters dodge the draft and a further 17 percent do not complete their full military service, should concern us all.
Some of the reasons for this can be attributed to social processes occurring throughout the western world, and this has been discussed at length. Some of these processes have led - and this may have happened in Israel as well at a much faster pace than anticipated – to the formation of professional armies.
However, a significant amount of these processes also stem from a severe credibility crisis between the leadership (primarily the political leadership, but also the military leadership) and the citizens.
The military service bill enables the State to enlist 18-year-olds for several years, and enables the army to limit their personal freedom, assign them to posts according to the army's needs, and demand that they fulfill the assignments imposed on them, including risking their lives.
In exchange, society expects its decision-makers to do this cautiously and sensitively. Society expects them to set a personal example; to be totally committed. It expects them to remember at every given moment how valuable these young lives are.
The 18 years of the First Lebanon War, the 34 days of the Second Lebanon War and the endless conflict have demonstrated that our heads of state are not fulfilling their part of the deal. The state is not fulfilling its unwritten commitment even when these youngsters are released from active duty.
For years it has castrated and diminished the benefits due to discharged soldiers (as well as to reserve soldiers.) In its helplessness and apathy it is granting a decisive economic advantage to those who choose to dodge the draft. It placates the strong, benefits those who are well connected, and reconciles itself to cynicism while distributing funds that are not aimed at survival.
But particularly, the State sets such a low bar of values that it actually turns those who choose to fulfill their duty into suckers. Or almost suckers. And who wants to be a sucker in a country where the cost is not only paid in money but also in blood.