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Israel Defense Forces
צבא ההגנה לישראל‬

Israel Defense Forces emblem

Flag of the Israel Defense Forces

Service branchesIsraeli Army
Israeli Air Force
Israeli Navy
Prime Minister
Defense Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu
Avigdor Lieberman
Chief of General StaffRav AlufGadi Eizenkot
Military age17
Available for
military service
1,554,186 males, age 17–49 (2016 est.),
1,514,063 females, age 17–49 (2016 est.)
Fit for
military service
1,499,998 males, age 17–49 (2016 est.),
1,392,319 females, age 17–49 (2016 est.)
Reaching military
age annually
60,000 males (2016 est.),
60,000 females (2016 est.)
Active personnel176,500[1] (ranked 34th)
Reserve personnel445,000[1]
Budget$18.6 billion (2015)[2]
Percent of GDP6.2% (2015)[2]
Domestic suppliersIsrael Aerospace Industries
Israel Military Industries
Israel Weapon Industries
Elbit Systems
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems
Israel Shipyards
Foreign suppliers Czechoslovakia(1948)[3]
 United States(1968–present)[5]
Related articles
HistoryWar of Independence(1948–1949)
Reprisal operations(1951–1956)
Sinai War(1956)
Six-Day War(1967)
War of Attrition(1967–1970)
Yom Kippur War(1973)
Operation Litani(1978)
First Lebanon War(1982–1985)
South Lebanon conflict(1985–2000)
First Intifada(1987–1993)
Second Intifada(2000–2005)
Second Lebanon War(2006)
Operation Cast Lead(2008–2009)
Pillar of Defense(2012)
Protective Edge(2014)
RanksIsrael Defense Forces ranks

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF; Hebrew: צְבָא הַהֲגָנָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל‬  Tsva ha-Hagana le-Yisra'el, lit. "The Army of Defense for Israel"; Arabic: جيش الدفاع الإسرائيلي‎), commonly known in Israel by the Hebrew acronymTzahal (צה״ל‬), are the military forces of the State of Israel. They consist of the ground forces, air force, and navy. It is the sole military wing of the Israeli security forces, and has no civilian jurisdiction within Israel. The IDF is headed by its Chief of General Staff, the Ramatkal, subordinate to the Defense Minister of Israel; Lieutenant general (Rav Aluf) Gadi Eizenkot has served as Chief of Staff since 2015.

An order from Defense Minister David Ben-Gurion on 26 May 1948 officially set up the Israel Defense Forces as a conscript army formed out of the paramilitary group Haganah, incorporating the militant groups Irgun and Lehi. The IDF served as Israel's armed forces in all the country's major military operations—including the 1948 War of Independence, 1951–1956 Retribution operations, 1956 Sinai War, 1964–1967 War over Water, 1967 Six-Day War, 1967–1970 War of Attrition, 1968 Battle of Karameh, 1973 Operation Spring of Youth, 1973 Yom Kippur War, 1976 Operation Entebbe, 1978 Operation Litani, 1982 Lebanon War, 1982–2000 South Lebanon conflict, 1987–1993 First Intifada, 2000–2005 Second Intifada, 2002 Operation Defensive Shield, 2006 Lebanon War, 2008–2009 Operation Cast Lead, 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, and 2014 Operation Protective Edge. The number of wars and border conflicts in which the IDF has been involved in its short history makes it one of the most battle-trained armed forces in the world.[7][8] While originally the IDF operated on three fronts—against Lebanon and Syria in the north, Jordan and Iraq in the east, and Egypt in the south—after the 1979 Egyptian–Israeli Peace Treaty, it has concentrated its activities in southern Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, including the First and the Second Intifada.

The Israel Defense Forces differs from most armed forces in the world in many ways. Differences include the mandatory conscription of women and its structure, which emphasizes close relations between the army, navy, and air force. Since its founding, the IDF has been specifically designed to match Israel's unique security situation. The IDF is one of Israeli society's most prominent institutions, influencing the country's economy, culture and political scene. In 1965, the Israel Defense Forces was awarded the Israel Prize for its contribution to education.[9] The IDF uses several technologies developed in Israel, many of them made specifically to match the IDF's needs, such as the Merkavamain battle tank, Achzaritarmoured personnel carrier, high tech weapons systems, the Iron Dome missile defense system, Trophyactive protection system for vehicles, and the Galil and Tavor assault rifles. The Uzi submachine gun was invented in Israel and used by the IDF until December 2003, ending a service that began in 1954. Since 1967, the IDF has had close military relations with the United States,[10] including development cooperation, such as on the F-15I jet, THEL laser defense system, and the Arrow missile defense system.

The Israel Defense Forces are believed to have had an operational nuclear weapons capability since 1967, possibly possessing between 80 and 400 nuclear weapons,[11] with delivery systems forming a nuclear triad, of plane launched-missiles, Jericho III intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine launched cruise missiles.


The Israeli cabinet ratified the name "Israel Defense Forces" (Hebrew: צְבָא הַהֲגָנָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל‬), Tzva HaHagana LeYisra'el, literally "army for the defense of Israel," on 26 May 1948. The other main contender was Tzva Yisra'el (Hebrew: צְבָא יִשְׂרָאֵל‬). The name was chosen because it conveyed the idea that the army's role was defense, and because it incorporated the name Haganah, the pre-state defensive organization upon which the new army was based.[12] Among the primary opponents of the name were Minister Haim-Moshe Shapira and the Hatzohar party, both in favor of Tzva Yisra'el.[12]


Main articles: History of the Israel Defense Forces and List of the Israel Defense Forces operations

The IDF traces its roots to Jewish paramilitary organizations in the New Yishuv, starting with the Second Aliyah (1904 to 1914).[13] The first such organization was Bar-Giora, founded in September 1907. Bar-Giora was transformed into Hashomer in April 1909, which operated until the British Mandate of Palestine came into being in 1920. Hashomer was an elitist organization with narrow scope, and was mainly created to protect against criminal gangs seeking to steal property. The Zion Mule Corps and the Jewish Legion, both part of the British Army of World War I, would further bolster the Yishuv with military experience and manpower, forming the basis for later paramilitary forces. After the 1920 Palestine riots against Jews in April 1920, the Yishuv leadership realised the need for a nationwide underground defense organization, and the Haganah was founded in June of the same year. The Haganah became a full-scale defense force after the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine with an organized structure, consisting of three main units—the Field Corps, Guard Corps, and the Palmach. During World War II, the Yishuv participated in the British war effort, culminating in the formation of the Jewish Brigade. These would eventually form the backbone of the Israel Defense Forces, and provide it with its initial manpower and doctrine.

Following Israel's Declaration of Independence, Prime Minister and Defense Minister David Ben-Gurion issued an order for the formation of the Israel Defense Forces on 26 May 1948. Although Ben-Gurion had no legal authority to issue such an order, the order was made legal by the cabinet on 31 May. The same order called for the disbandment of all other Jewish armed forces.[14] The two other Jewish underground organizations, Irgun and Lehi, agreed to join the IDF if they would be able to form independent units and agreed not to make independent arms purchases. This was the background for the Altalena Affair, a confrontation surrounding weapons purchased by the Irgun resulting in a standoff between Irgun members and the newly created IDF. The affair came to an end when Altalena, the ship carrying the arms, was shelled by the IDF. Following the affair, all independent Irgun and Lehi units were either disbanded or merged into the IDF. The Palmach, a leading component of the Haganah, also joined the IDF with provisions, and Ben Gurion responded by disbanding its staff in 1949, after which many senior Palmach officers retired, notably its first commander, Yitzhak Sadeh.

The new army organized itself when the 1947–48 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine escalated into the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, which saw neighbouring Arab states attack. Twelve infantry and armored brigades formed: Golani, Carmeli, Alexandroni, Kiryati, Givati, Etzioni, the 7th, and 8th armored brigades, Oded, Harel, Yiftach, and Negev.[15] After the war, some of the brigades were converted to reserve units, and others were disbanded. Directorates and corps were created from corps and services in the Haganah, and this basic structure in the IDF still exists today.

Immediately after the 1948 war, the Israel-Palestinian conflict shifted to a low intensity conflict between the IDF and Palestinian fedayeen. In the 1956 Suez Crisis, the IDF's first serious test of strength after 1949, the new army captured the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, which was later returned. In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel conquered the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Golan Heights from the surrounding Arab states, changing the balance of power in the region as well as the role of the IDF. In the following years leading up to the Yom Kippur War, the IDF fought a war of attrition against Egypt in the Sinai and a border war against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Jordan, culminating in the Battle of Karameh.

The surprise of the Yom Kippur War and its aftermath completely changed the IDF's procedures and approach to warfare. Organizational changes were made[by whom?] and more time was dedicated to training for conventional warfare. However, in the following years the army's role slowly shifted again to low-intensity conflict, urban warfare and counter-terrorism. An example of the latter was the successful 1976 Operation Entebbe commando raid to free hijacked airline passengers being held captive in Uganda. During this era, the IDF also mounted a successful bombing mission in Iraq to destroy its nuclear reactor. It was involved in the Lebanese Civil War, initiating Operation Litani and later the 1982 Lebanon War, where the IDF ousted Palestinian guerilla organizations from Lebanon. Palestinian militancy has been the main focus of the IDF ever since, especially during the First and Second Intifadas, Operation Defensive Shield, the Gaza War, Operation Pillar of Defense, and Operation Protective Edge, causing the IDF to change many of its values and publish the IDF Spirit. The Lebanese Shia organization Hezbollah has also been a growing threat,[16] against which the IDF fought an asymmetric conflict between 1982 and 2000, as well as a full-scale war in 2006.


All branches of the IDF answer to a single General Staff. The Chief of the General Staff is the only serving officer having the rank of Lieutenant General (Rav Aluf). He reports directly to the Defense Minister and indirectly to the Prime Minister of Israel and the cabinet. Chiefs of Staff are formally appointed by the cabinet, based on the Defense Minister's recommendation, for three years, but the government can vote to extend their service to four (and on rare occasions even five) years. The current chief of staff is Gadi Eizenkot. He replaced Benny Gantz in 2015.


The IDF includes the following bodies (those whose respective heads are members of the General Staff are in bold):


Land ForcesAir Forces
ChuliaFire TeamMashak Chulia
("Fire Team Leader")
Corporal or Sergeant
TayesetAir Force SquadronCaptain or Major
KitaSquad / SectionMashak Kita
("Squad / Section Leader")
Staff Sergeant
KanafAir Forces WingLieutenant-Colonel
MachlekahPlatoonMifaked Machlekah ("Platoon Commander")
LahakAir Force CommandColonel
PlugahCompanyMifaked Plugah ("Company Commander")
Solil-l’ahArtillery BatteryCaptain or Major
SayeretCommando (Special Operations)Captain or Major
UgdaDivision(1948–1967) Major-General
(1968–Present) Brigadier-General

Ranks, uniforms and insignia


Main article: Israel Defense Forces ranks

Unlike most militaries, the IDF uses the same rank names in all corps, including the air force and navy. For ground forces' officers, rank insignia are brass on a red background; for the air force, silver on a blue background; and for the navy, the standard gold worn on the sleeve. Officer insignia are worn on epaulets on top of both shoulders. Insignia distinctive to each service are worn on the cap (see fig. 15).

Enlisted grades wear rank insignia on the sleeve, halfway between the shoulder and the elbow. For the army and air force, the insignia are white with blue interwoven threads backed with the appropriate corps color. Navy personnel wear gold-colored rank insignia sewn on navy blue material.

From the formation of the IDF until the late 1980s, sergeant major was a particularly important warrant officer rank, in line with usage in other armies. However, in the 1980s and 1990s the proliferating ranks of sergeant major became devalued, and now all professional non-commissioned officer ranks are a variation on sergeant major (rav samal) with the exception of rav nagad.

All translations here are the official translations of the IDF's website.[17]

Conscripts (Hogrim) (Conscript ranks may be gained purely on time served)

Warrant Officers (Nagadim)

Academic officers (Ktzinim Akadema'im)

  • Professional Academic Officer (Katzin Miktzo'i Akadema'i)
  • Senior Academic Officer (Katzin Akadema'i Bakhir)

Officers (Ktzinim)


The Israel Defense Forces has several types of uniforms:

  • Service dress (מדי אלף Madei Alef – Uniform "A") – the everyday uniform, worn by enlisted soldiers.
  • Field dress ( מדי ב Madei Bet – Uniform "B") – worn into combat, training, work on base.

The first two resemble each other but the Madei Alef is made of higher quality materials in a golden-olive while the madei bet is in olive drab.[18][19] The dress uniforms may also exhibit a surface shine[19][20]

  • Officers / Ceremonial dress (מדי שרד madei srad) – worn by officers, or during special events/ceremonies.
  • Dress uniform and mess dress – worn only abroad. There are several dress uniforms depending on the season and the branch.

The service uniform for all ground forces personnel is olive green; navy and air force uniforms are beige (tan). The uniforms consist of a two-pocket shirt, combat trousers, sweater, jacket or blouse, and shoes or boots. The navy also has an all white dress uniform. The green fatigues are the same for winter and summer and heavy winter gear is issued as needed. Women's dress parallels the men's but may substitute a skirt for the trousers.

Headgear included a service cap for dress and semi-dress and a field cap or bush hat worn with fatigues. IDF personnel generally wear berets in lieu of the service cap and there are many beret colors issued to IDF personnel. Paratroopers are issued a maroon beret, Golani brown, Givati purple, Nahal lime green, Kfir camouflage, Combat Engineers gray, navy blue for IDF Naval and dark grey for IDF Air Force personnel. Other beret colors are: black for armored corps, turquoise for artillery personnel; olive drab for infantry; grey for combat engineers. For all other army personnel, except combat units, the beret for men was green and for women, black. Women in the navy wore a black beret with gold insignia. Males in the navy once wore a blue/black beret but replaced it with the US Navy's sailor cap.

Some corps or units have small variations in their uniforms – for instance, military policemen wear a white belt and police hat, Naval personnel have dress whites for parades, paratroopers are issued a four pocket tunic (yarkit) meant to be worn untucked with a pistol belt cinched tight around the waist over the shirt. The IDF Air Corps has a dress uniform consisting of a pale blue shirt with dark blue trousers. Similarly, while most IDF soldiers are issued black leather boots, certain units issue reddish-brown leather boots for historical reasons — the paratroopers, combat medics, Nahal and Kfir Brigades, as well as some SF units (Sayeret Matkal, Oketz, Duvdevan, Maglan, and the Counter-Terror School). Women were also formerly issued sandals, but this practice has ceased.


Main article: Israel Defense Forces insignia

IDF soldiers have three types of insignia (other than rank insignia) which identify their corps, specific unit, and position.

A pin attached to the beret identifies a soldier's corps. Soldiers serving in staffs above corps level are often identified by the General Corps pin, despite not officially belonging to it, or the pin of a related corps. New recruits undergoing basic training (tironut) do not have a pin. Beret colors are also often indicative of the soldier's corps, although most non-combat corps do not have their own beret, and sometimes wear the color of the corps to which the post they're stationed in belongs. Individual units are identified by a shoulder tag attached to the left shoulder strap. Most units in the IDF have their own tags, although those that do not, generally use tags identical to their command's tag (corps, directorate, or regional command).

While one cannot always identify the position/job of a soldier, two optional factors help make this identification: an aiguillette attached to the left shoulder strap and shirt pocket, and a pin indicating the soldier's work type (usually given by a professional course). Other pins may indicate the corps or additional courses taken. Finally, an optional battle pin indicates a war that a soldier has fought in.


Military service routes

The military service is held in three different tracks:

  • Regular service (שירות חובה): mandatory military service which is held according to the Israeli security service law.
  • Permanent service (שירות קבע): military service which is held as part of a contractual agreement between the IDF and the permanent position-holder.
  • Reserve service (שירות מילואים): a military service in which citizens are called for active duty of at most a month every year (in accordance with the Reserve Service Law), for training and ongoing military activities and especially for the purpose of increasing the military forces in case of a war.

Sometimes the IDF would also hold pre-military courses (קורס קדם צבאי or קד"צ) for soon-to-be regular service soldiers.

Special service routes

  • Shoher (שוחר), a person enrolled in pre-military studies (high school, technical college up to engineering degree, some of the קד"ץ courses) – after completing the twelfth study year will do a two-month boot-camp and, if allowed, enter a program of education to qualify as a practical engineer, with at least two weeks of training following each study year. Successful candidates will continue for an engineering bachelor degree. The Shoher will be enrolled into regular service if he dropped out before finished their P.A. education or in any finishing education stage (after high school, after P.A. or after receiving the bachelor's degree). Another example of a Shoher is a programmer that is under the programming course of School for Computer Professions (Hebrew: בית הספר למקצועות המחשב‎, abbr. Basmach Hebrew: בסמ"ח‎). The course usually lasts about six months, and at its peak, the Shoher receives a programmer badge. The Shoher will have the ability to serve in R&D units without having the engineering credentials if an officer finds him as worthy, and could recommend him for the R&D units. R&D units have the option to provide Hebrew: על תקן מהנדס‎ certificate for few selected personal to allow the person to work on life-saving or flight equipment without having an Eng. license (the certificate is not valid for medical R&D machinery). The certificate is provided by the highest in command in the research field (as an example for the Air Force it is the Chief of Equipment Group).
  • Civilian working for the IDF (Hebrew: אזרח עובד צה"ל‎), a civilian working for the military.

The Israeli Manpower Directorate (Hebrew: אגף משאבי אנוש‎) at the Israeli General Staff is the body which coordinates and assembles activities related to the control over human resources and its placement.

Regular service

Main article: Conscription in Israel

National military service is mandatory for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18, although Arab (but not Druze) citizens are exempted if they so please, and other exceptions may be made on religious, physical or psychological grounds (see Profile 21). The Tal law, which exempts ultra-Orthodox Jews from service, has been the subject of several court cases as well as considerable legislative controversy.

Until the draft of July 2015, men served three years in the IDF. Men drafted as of July 2015 and later will serve two years and eight months (32 months), with some roles requiring an additional four months of Permanent service. Women serve two years. The IDF women who volunteer for several combat positions often serve for three years, due to the longer period of training. Women in other positions, such as programmers, who also require lengthy training time, may also serve three years.

Some distinguished recruits are selected to be trained in order to eventually become members of special forces units. Every brigade in the IDF has its own special force branch.

Career soldiers are paid on average NIS 23,000 a month, fifty times the NIS 460 paid to conscripts.[21]

In 1998–2000, only about 9% of those who refused to serve in the Israeli military were granted exemption.

Operation Gazelle, Israel's ground maneuver, encircles the Egyptian Third Army, October 1973
Structure of the Israel Defense Forces (click to enlarge)
Israeli officers of the Paratrooper Battalion 890 in 1955 with Moshe Dayan (standing, third from the left). Ariel Sharon is standing, second from the left and commando Meir Har Zion is standing furthest left.
Soldiers of the "Yanshuf" (Owl) Battalion, which specializes in CBRN warfare
Female IDF corporal with the Spike missile launcher, wearing the golden-olive Madei Alef uniform
IDF female infantry soldiers
163rd IAF Flight Course Graduates
IAF Flight academy graduates receive their ranks as air force officers
IDF Recruits trying on uniforms for the first time


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