The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have been Israel's military forces since the state's founding in 1948. In its short history, the IDF has fought many wars and battles and has conducted many operations, including the War of Independence (1948), Sinai War (1956), Six-Day War (1967), War of Attrition (1967-1970), Yom Kippur War (1973), Lebanon War (1982), First Intifadah (1987-1993), Second Intifadah (2000-2005), Lebanon War (2006) and, most recently, three operations since 2008 against Hamas in Gaza. Since its founding, Israel has had mandatory conscription for most citizens and has faced several existential threats, making the IDF an important part of Israeli society and culture.
by the numbers
- Military strength (2013 est.)
- Active personnel: 176,500 (30th)
- Reserve personnel: 465,000 (13th)
- Per 1000 population: 21.3 (3rd)
- Expenditures (2014 est.)
- 5.58% of GDP
- Casualties (estimates 1948-2014)
- Roughly 11,000 IDF soldiers killed in action
- 3,791 Israelis killed by Palestinian terrorism
Since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the IDF has directly engaged Hamas three times and has maintained a strong presense along the Lebanese border, in the Golan Heights, along the border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and in the portions of the West Bank controlled by Israel. Currently, Israel has peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, the latter of which has had a more Israel-friendly foreign policy since Islamist President Mohammed Morsi's ouster in a July 2013 coup.
The peace process with the Palestinians is currently stalled, mainly due to intense Palestinian opposition to peace, by leaders and civilians alike, as detailed by CAMERA on Campus here. Since September, Israel has faced a wave of Palestinian terror attacks, mostly in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that has killed more than 30 Israelis and wounded hundreds. As can be expected, Israel has faced intense criticism from abroad over its recent actions to thwart killings and has been blamed by many for the recent terror attacks. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon blamed Palestinian terrorism in large part on frustration born of "decades of occupation," ignoring the Palestinians' own crucial role in forcing Israel to continue its occupation. Perhaps most outrageously, Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom accused Israel of illegal extrajudicial killings of Palestinian terrorists actively attempting to murder civilians. Israel has faced consistently slanted coverage by most Western news outlets during this latest spate of violence.
Israel continues to face some rocket fire from Gaza, though a ceasefire was reached with Hamas In August 2014. Since the ceasefire went into effect, Israel has been hit by 27 rockets fired from Gaza and three fired by Islamic State fighters in the Sinai.
major idf military engagements
1948 War of Independence
The IDF was founded on May 26, 1948 as a consolidation of several Jewish militias, less than two weeks after Israel declared independence and the armies of the Arab League invaded the new country. The nearly ten-month war against a joint invasion by Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, backed by local Arab militias, cost 6,373 Israeli lives, nearly 1% of the country's population at the time, including some 2,000 civilians. Still, it was a resounding victory for the new state. The IDF not only prevented the annihilation of Jewish life in Israel, but also gained territory outside of the borders established by the UN Partition Plan. This connected the three regions slated for a Jewish state under the UN's plan and allowed for control over part of Jerusalem, which has since been Israel's capital. Two areas fell under Jordanian control: East Jerusalem, including the Old City, set to become neutral territory under the Partition Plan, and the West Bank, meant to be part of a new Arab state. Gaza, also meant to be part of the Arab state in Palestine, fell under Egyptian control. As a result of the war, several hundred thousand Arab Muslims were displaced. They and their descendants continue to live in "refugee camps" in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, where they are denied citizenship and proper housing by Arab governments. In addition, a somewhat higher number of Jews fled Arab countries after the war, most of them resettling in Israel, where they fully integrated into the population.
1956 Sinai Campaign
In 1951, Egypt blocked Israel shipping from the Suez Canal and the Straits of Tiran, in direct violation of the Egypt-Israel armistice agreement signed after the War of Independence. In late October 1956, the IDF, joined a week later by France and the UK, invaded the Egyptian-controlled Sinai Peninsula. Israel's goal was to regain access to the straits and during the campaign, Israel captured almost all of the Sinai, losing just 231 soldiers in the process. The campaign, which was halted under intense international pressure, including from the US and USSR, resulted in the reopening of the shipping passages to Israeli ships and the establishment of a UN peacekeeping force along the border between Israel and Egypt.
1967 Six-Day War
In May 1967, Egypt began amassing its army in the Sinai near the border with Israel and closed the Straits of Tiran to Israel, blockading Israel's only sea route to Asia. On June 5, Israel launched preemptive airstrikes on Egyptian air fields in the Sinai Peninsula, all but destroying the Egyptian Air Force. Simultaneously, the IDF launched a ground invasion of the Egyptian-held Gaza Strip. Later that day, Syrian and Jordanian forces attacked from the Golan Heights and West Bank, respectively. After just one day of fighting, the IDF destroyed the Syrian and Egyptian air forces. In the following days, Israel captured the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. On June 11, a ceasefire was signed. On the Israeli side, 776 soldiers and only 20 civilians were killed and the IDF lost approximately 400 tanks and 46 aircraft; on the Arab side, at least 15,000 soldiers were killed and about a thousand tanks and at least 452 aircraft were destroyed.
On June 19, just eight days after the war ended, the Israeli government voted unanimously to return the Sinai to Egypt in return for a peace agreement. In the months after the war, Israel incorporated East Jerusalem, including the Old City, into Jerusalem and annexed the Golan Heights, allowing residents to obtain Israeli citizenship (an offer which many continue to refuse). Meanwhile, at a meeting in Khartoum in August, Arab leaders reached a consensus that there should be no recognition, no peace, and no negotiations with Israel.
1973 Yom Kippur War
Between 1967 and 1970, Israel fought numerous border skirmishes with Egypt and faced attacks by Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank. This fighting, known collectively as the War of Attrition, killed several hundred IDF soldiers and over a hundred Israeli civilians. On the Egyptian side, some 10,000 soldiers and civilians were killed. The fighting also included IDF operations against the PLO in the West Bank that killed about 1,800 terrorists. From 1970, the Egyptian front was quiet, but on Yom Kippur (October 6), 1973, Egypt and Syria, with support from forces from Jordan, Iraq, Algeria, and Cuba (as well as financial and minor military assistance from several other Arab nations) launched a massive attack on IDF forces in the Sinai and Golan. After initial setbacks, Israel regained the territory it lost and even advanced in the Golan. On October 25, a ceasefire was reached. The fighting killed 2,688-2,874 Israelis and about 15,000, Arabs, mostly Egyptians and Syrians. Initially, Israel lost considerable numbers of aircraft to Soviet-supplied surface to air missiles (SAMs), but once Israel destroyed the SAMs, their air force was dominant, as it had been in previous conflicts.
Nearly five years after the fighting ended, in September 1978, Egypt and Israel signed a peace agreement, still honored by both sides, under which Israel gave the Sinai back to Egypt. Though Israel retreated back to the Six-Day War border with Syria, giving a UN peacekeeping force control over the border region, Syria has never signed a formal peace agreement with Israel. In 1994, six years after giving up its claim on the West Bank and one year after the Oslo I Accord between Israel and the Palestinians, Jordan signed a peace agreement with Israel. Egypt and Jordan remain the only Arab countries that recognize Israel.
1982-1985 First Lebanon War
Following the Jordanian Civil War from 1970-1971, fought between the ruling Hashemite Kingdom and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the victorious Hashemites expelled thousands of Palestinian terrorists, who for several years had launched terror attacks on Israel from their base in Jordan. The PLO moved to southern Lebanon, all while continuing their attacks on Israeli civilians. By 1975, the PLO effectively controlled southern Lebanon, home to over 300,000 Palestinians, using it as a base for terror operations.
In June 1982, a PLO splinter group attempted to assassinate Israel's ambassador to the United Kingdom. In response, on June 6, 1982, IDF forces entered southern Lebanon to drive out the terrorists. THe operation eventually exiled the PLO leadership to Tunisia and thus ended Palestinian terror attacks on northern Israel. The war, in which Israel allied with Lebanese Christian militias against Syria, the PLO, and Lebanese Muslim groups, had several important outcomes: the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon (most of which Israel left by 1985); the failure to achieve peace between Israel and Lebanon (one of the main goals of Israel's invasion); eventual Syrian dominance of Lebanon by 1990, after continued fighting in the Lebanese Civil War; and the establishment of the Shia Hezbollah terror group. Israel finally withdrew from the South Lebanon Security Belt, which it controlled jointly with the Lebanese Army, in 2000. Despite Israel's complete withdrawal from Lebanon, Hezbollah remains dedicated to Israel's destruction and currently exerts control over southern Lebanon.
1987-1993 First Intifada
The First Intifada erupted in 1987 and was a general uprising against Israeli rule. The intifada started as a popular movement, but quickly became an organized rebellion, run by Fatah, Hamas, and other Palestinian terror groups. During the first four years of the Intifadah alone, over 3,600 Molotov cocktail attacks, 100 hand grenade attacks, and 600 assaults with guns or explosives were reported by the IDF. The attacks killed 100 Israeli civilians and 60 Israeli soldiers and policemen. Over 2,000 Palestinians were killed in the First Intifadah, several hundred by the PLO, often brutally, for being suspected "collaborators" with Israel. Most of the others were terrorists or violent protesters.
In the wake of the uprising, the PLO, led by Yasser Arafat, recognized Israel and signed the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995. However, lasting peace proved elusive and talks broke down in 2000, two months before the start of the Second Intifadah.
Source: Jewish Virtual Library
2000-2005 Second Intifada
In late September, Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount complex, home to the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock Shrine, which were built on the site of the Jewish Second Temple. At the time of the Second Intifadah, Palestinian leaders claimed that this visit ignited the uprising; however, since then, Palestinian Authority and Hamas leaders have admitted that the uprising was premeditated. The Palestinian campaign of violence, directed by the PLO, killed 764 Israeli civilians and 215 Israeli security personnel. Roughly 3,000 Palestinians were killed, including about 400 who were killed by Palestinian combatants, either in clashes between Palestinian terrorist groups or as suspected collaborators. Of the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, more than half were terrorists. Even among non-combatants, only a tiny portion were women; most were young men engaged in often violent protests.
2006 Second Lebanon War
The Second Lebanon War, which lasted 34 days during the summer of 2006, was a conflict between the IDF and Hezbollah, the Shia Lebanese terror organization dedicated to Shia rule in Lebanon and to the destruction of the State of Israel. The war began when Hezbollah terrorists illegally crossed the northern border into Israel and attacked an IDF patrol, killing eight soldiers and kidnapping two others. During the war, Hezbollah fired roughly 4,000 rockets (at a rate of over 100 a day) into Israel, mostly at civilians. Israel responded with air strikes targeted specifically at known Hezbollah strongholds and military infrastructure, such as roads in southern Lebanon. These raids were supported by an on-the-ground offensive. Over the course of the war, 121 IDF soldiers, 44 Israeli civilians, and about 1,100-1,200 Lebanese were killed. In addition, five UN peacekeepers were killed. Also, 600-700 Hezbollah and other terrorists were killed. The war had few conclusive results. Since the war, Hezbollah has continued built up its infrastructure considerably. In early May 2015, the IDF announced that an assessment by Israeli intelligence estimated that Hezbollah had built up an arsenal of about 100,000 short-range missiles, several thousand more that can reach Tel Aviv and central Israel, and hundreds that could hit any place in the country. Hezbollah has command posts, missile launchers, tunnels, and arms depots in dozens of Shia villages in southern Lebanon. By using civilian areas to store supplies, Hezbollah likely hopes to maximize Lebanese civilian casualities in future conflicts in order to gain international sympathy--a tactic Hamas has used with stunning success in recent years. Currently, Hezbollah is otherwise engaged assisting the Assad regime in the Syrian Civil War.
2008-2014 Gaza Operations
Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and the Palestinian Authority took control. Since 2007, the terrorist organization Hamas has ruled Gaza. Since Israel's disengagement, Israel has endured many Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza. The IDF's three recent operations against Hamas and other Gazan terror groups are covered in seperate articles, linked to below:
Operation Cast Lead (2008)
Operation Pillar of Defense (2012)
Operation Protective Edge (2014)