New IDF classifications for combatant soldiers are gaining support from some soldiers, while angering others. Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz has yet to confirm recommendations of the Operations Directorate, filed Wednesday, but soldiers in the field have responded decisively.
On the one hand, an Iron Dome soldier said, "The impact of our recent operations ... was more critical than that of the Givati soldiers." A front line combat soldier replied, "These soldiers guard computers."
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At the end of operational research, it was decided to classify the functions of soldiers as fighters, combat soldiers and weapons operators. Other soldiers will be classified as back-end. A fighter will be defined only as a soldier who endangers his life, was trained as a fighter and serves in proximity to the enemy; this includes infantry, armor, artillery, engineering, pilots and navy.
Soldiers in rescue battalions of the Home Front Command are expected to continue to enjoy combat status. Soldiers who serve in combat sectors such as armament soldiers and drivers, defined thus far as combat support, will now be defined as combat troops. Operators of air defense batteries, drone operators and soldiers engaged in cyber defense will now be categorized as “offensive weapons operators” due to their presence far from front line dangers. They are not trained as fighters, but still significantly affect the battlefield.
Iron Dome: front lines or back lines? (Photo: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv)
These changes were initiated by the chief of staff, who in the past had commanded the Paratroopers Brigade and came from an infantry background. Gantz listened to the criticisms of soldiers directed at the Iron Dome soldiers, deployed on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, or drone operators who oversee operations from an air-conditioned vehicle in Palmahim.
But criticism came quickly. "The impact of our recent operations in Operation Pillar of Defense was more critical than that of the Givati soldiers, who were on the fence surrounding Gaza, waiting to go in and who in the end did not go," an Iron Dome soldier said Thursday morning to Ynet.
An Iron Dome battery he operated with comrades shot down dozens of rockets headed for southern cities in November. "We are Rifle 03 certified and our commanders are certified even higher, as are our officers. There is no reason not to continue to be defined as fighters."
He added, "Even our daily routine, deployments that last for weeks, we eat more dust than a Nahal infantry soldier sitting in an air-conditioned room on the Lebanese border. As it is the physical conditions are difficult, and our commanders always tell us, 'What do you want us to do, you are warriors.’ What will they tell us now if the army defines us with such as sissy classification?"
A paratrooper, on the other hand, currently stationed on the border fence in Gaza, welcomed the changes, "It's an unfunny joke that a soldier in Unit 8200, who sits all day in a comfortable chair under fluorescent lamps with hot chocolate would be called a 'cyber warrior,' just because he might injure his best finger for typing on the keyboard."
Paratroopers on Lebanon border (Photo: Yoav Zitun)
"We all realize that technology has taken a central, significant and critical battlefield position, and that without the intelligence a soldier in Military Intelligence produced for me, I would find it difficult to eliminate terrorists and maybe I would even be shot," he continued. "But he would never risk his life, while we risk ours 24/7. To call the soldier guarding the Iron Dome's computer a 'warrior,' with all due respect, a soldier who is located five minutes from Luna Park, as a metaphor – this degrades the dignity of real fighters."
But in the air defense sector, some are also worried by implications of the change. One of the back lines combat soldiers said, "This hits us in our pockets, by taking our fighter categorization away which gives us free travel on public transport in our third year of service, by eliminating grants to fighters at the end of the service; now we will receive the salary of a jobnik (non-combatant soldier) or combat supporter, if this is enacted. Plus it will damage the way the military looks at us and appreciates us."
The economic significance of the new categorizations have yet to be defined by the army. A fighter currently makes NIS 700 ($189) per month, as do combat support positions in high risk locations. A back line soldier makes NIS 300 $81). Thus, if the change is approved, the salaries and bonuses of soldiers who are not defined as fighters could change substantially for the worse.
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