10 incredible facts about Israeli Defense Forces

Take a look at these fascinating facts surrounding the Israeli military, or Israeli Defense Forces, and how they operate.
Israeli army Merkava battle tanks deploy along the border with the Gaza Strip.
Israeli army Merkava battle tanks deploy along the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on October 13, 2023. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Chances are you’ve heard plenty about the Israeli military – some good, some bad, some true, some completely bogus. In movies, they’re always portrayed as the biggest badasses, and for good reason. Despite their incredible efficiency, little about this force is known by the general public.

Take a look at these fascinating facts surrounding the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF, and how they operate. 

1. Everyone has to serve – yes everyone

When Israeli citizens turn 18, they take off for mandatory military service of two to three years; women serve two and men serve three. Some jobs are required to serve more time; for instance, pilots must serve for nine years to cover their training. This goes for males and females alike. However, willingness to put in this service has dropped to record lows. Historically, those who refused were jailed, but as the instances have risen, fewer have been enforced. 

In addition, those who have served remain on reserve until they are 40, or 45 if it’s a non-combat position. Reserves are called to duty when there is a war or another type of crisis. 

2. Wonder Woman served

Gal Gadot posing in her military uniform.
Gal Gadot posing in her military uniform.

Before she was Wonder Woman, Israeli citizen, Gal Gadot joined the Israeli Defense Forces. She served from 2005 until 2007, during which she achieved the rank of Samal, or sergeant. She joined a year after winning Miss Israel and competing in Miss Universe. 

3. They don’t deploy

The main goal of Israeli soldiers is to keep their borders safe. They stay within their own country to carry out missions, meaning the forces never deploy. 

4. They’re involved in the arts

Just like U.S. forces, Israeli members can have jobs that are not related to combat or weapons. In fact, IDF has its own radio station, Galatz, an orchestra, a choir, a magazine, and it runs several popular social media channels, including those on Twitter and TikTok. 

5. They started with very little

The founders of the IDF had to build their ranks from the ground up. Even until the 1950s, senior officers did not receive a wage. They were so hard-up for resources that they only ate the food they were able to grow themselves. 

6. They don’t throw around rank

Soldiers have to earn promotions, just like anywhere else. But it’s less blatant as in other militaries. For instance, soldiers refer to their superiors by their name, rather than a title. And because everyone joins, only those who work the hardest will gain access to a higher rank. 

Israeli army soldiers patrol an undisclosed area in northern Israel bordering Lebanon.
Israeli army soldiers patrol an undisclosed area in northern Israel bordering Lebanon on October 15, 2023. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

7. They support vegan lifestyles

Being vegan is more than just what you eat: Israeli forces support this by allowing soldiers to choose leather-free boots or wool-free berets. In addition, they have plant-based meal options on each base that are available for each meal. This is to accommodate their sizeable vegetarian population (20% of the country), and growing vegan population (5% of all Israelis).

These efforts have earned them the title of the most “vegan-friendly military” in the world. 

8. They train a number of animals

The U.S. has an extensive dog program in its military ranks, but Israel has taken it a step further. They’ve gathered and trained all types of animals, including camels, donkeys, alpacas, antelopes, llamas, and, of course, dogs. Meanwhile, some bases care for sheep who are used to guard ammunition. Sheep are known for being both territorial and aggressive, making them the perfect guard animals. 

But their care for animals goes further than that, Israeli troops are known to rescue stray animals and have them re-homed so they are fed and safe. 

9. They developed Krav Maga

These folks can fight. Perhaps one of their biggest claims to fame is the creation and development of Krav Maga, or “contact combat.” In their early days, the military formed this new fighting technique to use against its enemies. It’s considered a mix of boxing, wrestling, judo, aikido, and karate. It’s also considered a great form of exercise, with many students practicing in order to remain in shape. 

10. Sign language interpreters are provided

The IDF is the only military in the world that requires deaf and/or hearing-impaired members to serve in its military. To account for this, they employ sign luggage interpreters through training events so they can stay current with their training. Most hearing-impaired soldiers serve in jobs that are not combat-related.