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The Answer to the Haredi Draft Dilemma Is…Drones!

Confronted with escalating threats on multiple fronts, the IDF is aiming to boost recruitment in order to enhance its combat capability.  In traditional military fashion, this involves increasing infantry and armored units, expanding and constructing new bases, and overall moving towards a significantly larger standing army.

But as we’ve seen in Gaza, deploying large combat formations in asymmetrical warfare environments is not a panacea, and almost inevitably results in painful casualties.  Despite the IDF’s overwhelming superiority in firepower, training, and technology, once troops are engaged in close combat with an elusive and well-armed adversary, the playing field evens considerably, enabling the enemy to inflict serious damage before being neutralized.

Can drones provide the solution?  Israel was an early drone innovator and is still a world leader in the development and use of unmanned aircraft in many missions.  But the country’s arms industry has lagged in leveraging the technology to fundamentally change the calculus of land combat.  IDF planners have viewed drones mainly as extensions of the Air Force, providing a cheaper alternative to fighter planes for reconnaissance and attack missions.  Small, ultra-tactical attack drones are scarce or nonexistent in frontline IDF units, and desperate commanders have resorted to private donors to get their hands on commercially available drones.

Contrast this to Ukraine, which will be producing one million cheap, effective FPV (first person view) bomb drones this year, and whose many thousands of drone operators regularly lay waste to entire military formations with grim precision.  There is no doubt that applying Israel’s technological prowess and innovation in this direction would yield exponentially deadlier weaponized drones, fundamentally altering the landscape of asymmetrical combat in Israel’s favor.

Some might counter that October 7th proved that reliance on technology is the problem, and what we really need are more “boots on the ground”.  Actually, the exact opposite is true.  Had there been even a  few hundred drone operators on call, with a ready supply of attack drones stationed along the Gaza envelope, the military response would have been swift, quickly decimating the soft Hamas targets streaming across the border.  Instead, troops had to be gathered, transported to staging areas, and thrown into battle with minimal planning, which took many hours and tragically resulted in high casualties.

But where will Israel get the thousands, or even tens of thousands, of remote operators who will be available to control these legions of drones, potentially fighting simultaneously in multiple combat areas?

There actually is a sizable population of young Israelis, living mostly in dormitories, adept at spending long hours seated in concentration, who are religiously ill-suited to join the army’s increasingly gender-integrated environment – but are intelligent, quick-thinking and resourceful.  Yeshiva students are the ideal candidates to fill this role, and in sufficient numbers, could carry out this critical mission while still leaving significant time for intensive Torah study.

Those pushing to draft Charedim through the regular conscription process are, perhaps intentionally, deluding themselves.  The reality is that the typical Yeshiva student will never abandon the four walls of the Yeshiva for an army base, nor leave his sheltered community and Torah-oriented lifestyle for the “melting pot” of the IDF, or willingly trade in his existing black-and-white uniform for a green one.  Trying to force Charedim en masse to change their identity will only tear apart Israeli society and swell the prisons, but accomplish nothing.  Next-generation drone technologies offer the perfect opportunity to enable Charedim to make a vital contribution to the country’s defense, without demanding that they culturally integrate into the military.

Taking advantage of this opportunity will not be easy and will necessitate compromise and flexibility on all sides.  It will require that military leaders give up some of their most cherished ideals about the essence of military life, and redefine their perception of what a “real” soldier looks like.  But if all parties act in good faith, recognize the challenges confronting our shared future, and are flexible in finding solutions, the new Charedi Drone Army has the potential to become an integral part of both Israeli society and military capability.

About the Author
Zev Tyberg attended American and Israeli yeshivas and received Rabbinic ordination from Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim in Queens, NY. He made aliyah with his family in 2003 and lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh. He holds an MBA in International Business and currently works in venture capital.
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