Behind every machine is a story of an inventor – and the advanced technology of the IDF (Zahal) is no exception, ranging from unmanned vehicles to environmental innovations to computer systems.

The Minds Behind the Computers – and the Army that Trains Them

Israel is known worldwide for its high concentration of startups, which improve the standard of living in Israel and export technology abroad. The IDF (Zahal)’s use of technology is an integral part of this phenomenon, thanks in part to institutions like its Center of Computers and Information Systems – Mamram as it is known in Hebrew – and its School of Programming.

According to a study published in Haaretz and TheMarker earlier this year, 36% of the high-tech entrepreneurs in Israel served in one of the IDF (Zahal) technological units, while 29% of high-tech workers come from such units.

“Behind most of the great inventions is one of our [graduates],” says Maj. Mincha, Spokesperson of the c4i branch, adding that IDF (Zahal) service gives young people the opportunity to acquire the tools for success in civilian life.

“In the IDF (Zahal)’s Programming School, we train the IDF (Zahal) young cadets so they can have tomorrow’s big idea,” he explains. “Our programmers are integrated into all the forces, developing strategic, military and administrative systems.”

The Minds Behind the Computers – and the Army that Trains Them

Photo: Bamahane

In addition to providing soldiers with technical knowledge, the Programming School’s attitude towards experimentation and innovation encourages the kinds of thinking that lead to groundbreaking technological developments.

“Paradoxically, despite being within a hierarchical and military system, cadets here are encouraged to make mistakes and to overcome challenges. We encourage them to break conventions and think outside the box, just so that they will be open-minded enough to come up with the next big thing,” says an instructor at the Programming School.

Because the Programming School gives its graduates tools that will allow them to thrive after their IDF (Zahal) service as well, the integration between various segments of society that occurs there has a special significance. “If we want to design a modern, technological society, we must put an emphasis on giving opportunities to all – women and men, religious and secular, immigrants from Ethiopia, Bedouin – to all,” says another instructor.

A History of Technological Development

In 1954, Israel’s first computer was built at the Weizmann Institute of Science. The Ministry of Defense and the IDF (Zahal) were allowed to use the innovative machine for only a few hours each week.

The IDF (Zahal)’s General Staff appointed a committee to evaluate the possibility of purchasing the IDF (Zahal)’s first computer in 1958. The following year, the commission proposed three alternatives for buying a computer: IBM 709, Remington Rand 1105 and Philco 2000. The committee later traveled to the Philco computer center in San Francisco to evaluate its new model, the 211, which the IDF (Zahal) then obtained as its first computer.

The Minds Behind the Computers – and the Army that Trains Them

In April 1961, a room was built specially for the computer at Ben Gurion Airport (thenknown as Lod Airport) to mark the beginning of a new era in IDF (Zahal) technology. Yitzhak Rabin, then a major general and Deputy Chief of the General Staff, gave a forward-thinking speech emphasizing the importance of the IDF (Zahal)’s computer technology.

“The computer security system of the IDF (Zahal) has two purposes,” he said. “The overall objective is to introduce the IDF (Zahal) to the world of computers and electronics. This world is an integral part of the development and reconceptualization of what is a weapon, which is called a ‘weapon system’. The use of computers will provide us with deterrent force and with the knowledge and skills to address the advances occurring in the world, making us a modern army.”

At the time, few realized how correct Rabin was. The IDF (Zahal)’s use of advanced technology continues to prove him right today – and the soldiers of its technological units will undoubtedly continue this legacy tomorrow.