Demobilization of IDF Units – Processes and Considerations

Brig. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Nuriel sheds some light on the demobilization of IDF units through the years, and determines what would be the right thing to do in the future 

The recent decision made by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot to demobilize the Herev (Sword) Battalion, made up of members of the Druze community, has triggered numerous responses both for and against the decision. The objective of this column is to shed some light on similar processes in the past and determine what would be the right thing to do in the future.

The considerations that led to the demobilization of the Herev Battalion ranged from decreasing recruitment percentages to the aspiration to see Druze conscripts join all of the IDF units with no sectorial classification. Factors as power struggles within the Druze community have also been injected into the range of considerations. The bottom line: an issue that was on the agenda for over a decade has just been concluded.

The IDF demobilizes units occasionally as a result of changing operational needs, significant changes in weapon systems and efficiency improvement initiatives. This process is ongoing and always stirs emotions as questions of substance are interwoven with human factor questions, all of which are perfectly legitimate.

Each such decision is judged by the way it was made as well as by the way it is being implemented.

During my military service, I attended discussions that addressed the demobilization of units. In one case, I was personally ordered to demobilize a unit, so I am thoroughly familiar with the subject matter.

As the operations officer of IDF Northern Command, I closely monitored the demobilization of the 126th Battalion of the 211th Brigade. We deliberated over the question of whether to prevent the battalion from engaging in operational activity along the northern border line (a “prestigious” sector) because of the fact that it was going to be demobilized. Back then I claimed that as long as the battalion existed, it would not be right to regard it as a second-rate unit. My view prevailed and the battalion performed its operational duties exceptionally well. That should be the case with the Herev Battalion as well – it should be regarded as the first-rate operational battalion it is until the very last moment.

During a later period, we were required to demobilize a divisional HQ. We spent hours deliberating the question of how to maintain the heritage of that division (the division that had forded the Suez Canal during the Yom-Kippur War of 1973). The decision made eventually was to assign the responsibility for the divisional heritage and for the commemoration of the fallen, to the division that was to absorb some of the brigades of the demobilized division. 

The demobilization of the Herev Battalion calls for a clear-cut ruling as to who would be responsible for the Battalion’s heritage and for the commemoration of its fallen warfighters.

In 1996, I was ordered to demobilize the Samaria Regional Brigade pursuant to a wrong conclusion that the situation in the Judea and Samaria Region was calming down. Needless to say, I objected to this move and argued against it, including appeals to the Head of the IDF Central Command and the IDF Chief of Staff. Having failed in my efforts to prevent the demobilization of the regional brigade, the primary mission I undertook was ensuring that all worthy regular service personnel and officers would have appropriate future positions, so that they would not find themselves being sent home. The same should be done with the officers and regular servicemen of the Herev Battalion. Every individual should be able to transfer to a suitable position.

The demobilization of a military unit is a traumatic experience for those serving in that unit, and even more so for the regular personnel of the unit and for the bereaved families of the fallen, who fear that the commemoration element will diminish. 

Once the decision to demobilize the Herev Battalion has been made, several complementary decisions should be made in order to ensure that the subsequent process would be appropriate, controlled and measurable.

The bottom line: the IDF authorities have demobilized various units in the past, including operational battalions and even dedicated units whose existence was no longer required as the weapon systems they used had become obsolete. All of the experience gained from those processes should be assimilated into the demobilization of the Herev Battalion, which is the first IDF sectorial battalion being demobilized.

It would also be appropriate to incorporate in the process all of the past commanders of the Herev Battalion. It is still not too late to do so, despite the fact that most of them object to the demobilization decision.