The massive reserve callup in the days following the Hamas atrocity of October 7 signaled a significant, strategic shift in the IDF’s reserve utilization policy over the past few decades. The ramifications of the callup were far reaching, well beyond the significant military impact felt on all battle fronts.
The IDF reserve component has suffered from increased marginalization over the past two decades. Economic, political, social, and doctrinal factors all contributed to reduced training, substandard and inadequate equipment, and a general attitude that the IDF could manage its primary missions without mobilizing the reserves.
As a consequence, reservists were underutilized, either by assigning their units mundane duties or, increasingly, not calling them up for extended periods, years in many cases. Concomitantly, training was reduced, and equipment not renewed or replaced with more current models. The reserve component ultimately became the poorest of the step-siblings in the IDF. The reverberations of these policies are still being felt in reserve units today.
Belief that the standing army could manage without mobilizing reserves was a contributing factor in the unsatisfactory outcome of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, in which reserve unit mobilization was initially delayed and, in some cases, such as Home Front Command, severely curtailed.
Unwillingness to mobilize adequate reserves early in the 2006 war resulted in regular army units, engaged in Gaza in the aftermath of Hamas’ capture of Gilad Schalit, terminating their operation and shifting up north to confront Hizbullah after it’s attack on an IDF border patrol on July 12. This left Hamas the undisputed victor in that round and was an early precursor of the events of this past October.
Refusal to fully mobilize Home Front Command in the north left the population poorly served by the IDF during Hizbullah’s rocket attacks that summer. For many of the residents of the North, this was a first experience of rocket barrages, and the absence of experience coupled with inadequate Home Front forces made the experience more difficult than it could have been.
However, beyond the military value of the reserve formations, IDF reserve duty plays a critical integrative role in Israeli civilian society. For many years, reserve duty was, for thousands of Israelis, a regular periodic reunion with friends. In addition to military duties, the encounter afforded time to catch up on personal events, and also to engage in discussion, debate, and argument with those of vastly different backgrounds and opinions. After, or in the middle of the debate, all would gear up and go out to do whatever the IDF had planned for them. The debate would be picked up later, sometimes extending over multiple periods of service, but the demonstration of unity of purpose superceding differences in opinion and outlook carried over into the post-duty period, making the societal differences less fractious.
Groups that categorically didn’t serve were not only criticized for not sharing the burden but exacerbated their outgroup status by not sharing the social experience. They simply were not partners in the discussion
Severe reduction of reserve mobilization removed this critical component of Israeli society. This led to greater polarization and contributed to the vehemence of the protests and counterprotests of the past year. The extreme labeling and demonization of opponents was facilitated by the years of greater separation in the absence of regular joint military service.
The prompt, extensive reserve callup in the immediate aftermath of October 7 allowed the IDF to fully engage Hamas in Gaza, deter Hizbullah in the north, and increase counterterrorism operations in Judaea and Samaria. And significantly, by putting Israelis of almost all walks of life back together in uniform for an extended period of time, it revitalized the unity of purpose, and it also put into clear, physical practice the slogan, “United We Will Win.”