Nostalgia Makes Bad Military Policy

You can’t help liking Major General (Res.) Emanuel Sakal–even when you think his vision of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is totally skewed. At this week’s conference on The Decline of Citizen Armies in Democratic States (see my post on Wednesday), he offered a list of reasons why an all-volunteer army would be the end of the IDF. Some of the reasons were good, many were laughable, and none of them were backed up by facts.

Sakal, with his sun-wrinkled face and sharp gaze, is a paragon of Israeli republican virtue–he’s a man who devoted his life to his country’s defense and now, in his old age, gives his people the benefit of his experience and wisdom from his perch as a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.

The problem is that he acquired his wisdom decades ago and hasn’t bothered to update it. Sakal’s still caught in the “trust me” attitude all too common in the IDF, in which rank and battle scars are taken to be better indicators of reliability than empirical evidence.

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The IDF: All Conscripts, All Volunteers, Or Something In Between?

Haim Watzman

One of Israel’s least-known secrets is that it no longer has a people’s army. I don’t say best-kept secret because no one is trying to keep it a secret. It’s a secret simply because it so clashes with the country’s mythology, and with the image it projects, that many of its own citizens and boosters prefer not to think about it.

But the question of whether the process by which the Israel Defense Forces has become less and less broad-based and more and more professional should be encouraged or decried is the subject of lively debate in the academic community. Most of the speakers at today’s  conference on the subject sponsored by Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies sought to dispel some of the more hoary parts of the myth and to suggest that the old model of an army in which everyone serves might not be the only or best option for Israel today.

Keep in mind-this myth-bashing and iconoclasm was sponsored by Bar-Ilan, probably the most conservative, patriotic academic redoubt in Israel. We’re not talking about a group of effete post-Zionists but rather about academics solidly in the political and cultural mainstream.

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