February 5, 2017

A Look Toward the Future of the I.D.F.

Sam Russo ‘18


Usually, when thinking about the challenges that militaries face, threats of missiles or nuclear weapons top the list. Acquiring arms and navigating alliances may come up, too. However, people rarely think about the ways in which soldiers in the field eat.
The IDF’s Nechemyah Sokal, though, thinks about that on a regular basis and the newest innovative solution under his supervision sends soldiers into the field with no food, only a 3-D printer, nutrient powders and liquid.
Sokal currently serves as the commander-in-chief of the Technological and Logistics Branch of the IDF. In this capacity, he oversees locating terror tunnels on the Israel-Gaza border, analysis of social media, IDF disaster relief teams, development of autonomous weapons and logistics for the entire military, among other responsibilities.
The Flame was allowed an exclusive interview with him through reservist Sergeant Benjamin Anthony, Director of Our Soldiers Speak, which works to educate students, politicians and others about Israel. This unique opportunity shed tremendous light on many of the IDF’s latest initiatives.
“We are adapting new technologies to try to… reduce the logistical footprint,” Sokal said of the printer system. “We can take powders of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and other nutrients with liquids… [and place them] inside the machine… and produce… nutrients [and] bars that can be adjusted [to fit] the needs of the soldiers. The taste and the feeling is like real food.”
For example, they have printed foodstuff ranging from energy bars to macaroni and cheese.
“Seriously, he’s done that,” Anthony said.
3-D printing food is just one of many initiatives of the IDF and the TLB to make the military more modern, effective and enjoyable.
The TLB is also investigating new ways of purifying and obtaining water in the field. Currently, they are working on taking water directly from the air, in a fashion similar to air conditioning units.
Sokal’s work in making the IDF a modern military does not stop with technology, though. He is on the forefront of social issues as well.
According to Anthony, Sokal is “intimately involved in the gender assimilation of troops within the IDF… He has a view [and] some input on that.”
Currently, Israel is the only democratic country, other than Norway, that has mandatory military service for both men and women. According to Israeli news site haaretz.com, the percentage of female soldiers serving in combat positions has more than doubled since 2012 to seven percent.
Moreover, women serve as pilots and in infantry units that protect Israel’s borders. However, there is a debate now within the IDF regarding whether female soldiers should be permitted to serve in more intense units, like artillery.
“As I see it, the only limitation[s] will be in two ways,” Sokal explained. “The first one is that I don’t think a tank crew can be combined with women and men together because it’s a very intimate environment inside the tank, but a tank that is operated only by women soldiers is something that can be done.
“Another thing is the physical abilities… There are physical differences between women and men, but we, as logisticians, have to find the solutions for women in order to integrate all the weapons system, like tanks for example, and even though they can’t use their force in order to, for example, load a cannon of a tank with a very [heavy] ammunition, we can make the right automation inside the tank in order to assist them to do their mission.”
Another area of social change in the IDF today is the religious community. Among the ultra-orthodox Haredi groups, only about 25 percent of eligible individuals serve in the IDF, according to forward.com. This is because of a special exemption that allows them to study Torah in place of military service.
Sokal, however, is looking to bring the two together.
“You can’t force [anyone] to serve. You need to have the motivation. You need to want it,” he said with a smile. “So we [are trying] to convince the Haredim that they will gain a lot by serving in the IDF, and we will support them in order for them to keep their way of life.”
The IDF and Sokal have worked with rabbis and are prepared to make special allowances for Haredi soldiers, including making sure that their quarters are completely separate from those of the opposite gender and allowing them to study twice a day. Currently, Sokal is looking into making sure that all IDF kitchens will be glatt-kosher, or held to a higher degree of kashrut.
“I think that in a few years, [Haredis] will be fully integrated into the IDF… This integration is very important for us, as the IDF, for the country, for Israel and also for them…”
Military service will likely increase job prospects for the Haredi community, where unemployment is incredibly high, because many jobs in Israel require military service.
Nevertheless, as the IDF looks forward, Sokal is confident that one thing will not change.
“Being a Jew… is something that everyone should be proud of. It wasn’t the same a few decades ago. Jews were hunted and killed, only because they were Jews. Today we have country, a very strong one that we are very proud of and we are going to keep it like this.
“This is the mission of the IDF and we are strong and we will be in the future.”
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