The Path to Becoming an IDF Soldier

Israelis are not born donning the green uniform. In the past, soldiers would reach their recruitment day, terrified and excited, only to be randomly placed in different roles. The IDF (Zahal) has since changed its approach. Meet the selection system that all young Israelis go through as they make the transition from civilians to soldiers in the IDF (Zahal).

Since its formation on May 31, 1948, the IDF (Zahal) has been a compulsory service military. The IDF (Zahal) was founded in the wake of the War of Independence as the new State of Israel was fighting for its existence, and needed every soldier it could recruit. It operated in light of the Palmach Anthem, which stated that “Every fellow who is able- to arms,” meaning that anyone who could fight should join the combat forces.

In the decades since, the IDF (Zahal) has realized the importance of giving its soldiers the opportunity to serve in a role that suits their personal preferences. The Selection Systems Development Branch is in charge of fulfilling this objective, and tries to create the ideal match between the military’s needs and soldiers individual wishes. “Our specialty here is developing selection systems. We have been doing this since the 1950s,” explains Lt. Col. Sharon Fischer, an organizational psychologist and the head of the branch. “We oversee all the selection systems in the IDF (Zahal) from the recruitment office all the way to try-outs for elite combat units.”

Many Israelis experience their service in the IDF (Zahal) as a special junction in their lives, during which they encounter many different people from a myriad of cities and ways of life. “A strong principle that guides us throughout the selection process is equality. We take it upon ourselves to mix everybody up and give them a fresh start,” states Lt. Col. Fischer.

The Path to Becoming an IDF Soldier

A new soldier packing his bag.

From a Letter in the Mail All the Way to Basic Training

The Selection Systems Development Branch guides Israeli adolescents from the Tsav Rishon – the very first draft notice they receive – to the day of their enlistment and onwards. “Everybody is supposed to be drafted, and that’s relatively unique to the IDF (Zahal) because most armies in the world today are completely voluntary,” says Lt. Col. Fischer.

When they come of age, Israelis receive their first formal draft notice in the mail and are ordered to arrive at the recruitment center nearest to their home. There, they go through a standard set of medical, cognitive and psychological exams which eventually determine their options of placement within the army.

The Path to Becoming an IDF Soldier

The medical exams form the soldier’s Medical Profile. If a soldier is determined combat able, he or she will go through further selection systems which will test his or her ability to become part of the IDF (Zahal)’s special forces. The cognitive and psychological exams make up the soldier’s Quality Index, which is comprised of the Dapar – an indication of cognitive abilities based on four tests which can be taken in a variety of languages – and on a Hebrew Language Index. If the prospective soldiers are not proficient in Hebrew, the test will be made compatible to their own language. It is important to state that a soldier who is not proficient in Hebrew can not serve in a combat role before going through a Hebrew course because he or she will not be able to understand basic commands and could pose a safety hazard.

Additionally, men are required to go through a personal interview which helps determine their compatibility for combat. “The interview was developed by Prof. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel-winning psychologist. He is our most famous veteran. He served here as a junior officer and helped develop parts of the selection system that are still in place today,” discloses Lt. Col. Fischer.

A Perfect Match: Assigning Roles with Statistics and Test Scores

After completing the Tsav Rishon, every prospective soldier receives a final Medical Profile (which ranges from 21 to 97) and a Quality Index (which ranges between 41 and 56). “The Quality Index is a very accurate indicator of how successful a soldier will be throughout his or her service,” reveals Lt. Col. Fischer. “For example, the Quality Index enables us to predict retention in combat units. When the Quality Index score of a prospective soldier is higher, his or her chances of remaining in a combat unit throughout his or her service are higher.”

The Path to Becoming an IDF Soldier

Prospective soldier taking tests during their Tsav Rishon.

The Selection Systems Development Branch uses methodology, statistics and research in order to understand what the most accurate predictors of success in the IDF (Zahal) and in specific units are. The branch also often applies occupational assessment profiling. In recent years, the branch developed a special process for women and for men who are not combat able. Prospective soldiers take part in a day of exams and simulations in which they are given the chance to show their potential. They are tested for motoric abilities, commanding and instruction abilities and they even go through a test which checks their ability to function under field conditions. “Teamwork, attention, administration skills- everything is taken into consideration,” says Lt. Col. Fischer.

After completing their evaluation process, the prospective soldiers are asked to fill out an online Personal Preference Questionnaire. The questionnaire inquires what environment they prefer to work in (for example- in an office or outside, with people or in front of a computer) and which specific positions they are interested in.

The Path to Becoming an IDF Soldier

Trying on a uniform for the first time.

When the evaluation process is over, the prospective soldiers receive their final placement. “The branch is responsible for maintaining the balance between the soldiers wishes and military’s needs,” emphasizes Lt. Col. Fischer. “This is an immense responsibility that we carry, and we are proud to be part of a process which opens wide opportunities within the IDF (Zahal).”