Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have agreed to increase soldiers’ pay by 50% starting in 2022, following a wave of public backlash against the army for significantly raising the pensions of career military officers without raising the wages of rank-and-file soldiers.

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According to the new plan, combat soldiers’ monthly wages will reach 2,463 shekels ($781), up from their current pay of 1,642 shekels ($521). Within the army’s payment tier, all wage brackets – for frontline soldiers, combat-support soldiers, and administrative soldiers – will rise according to the same rate, to 3,048 shekels ($968), 1,793 shekels ($569), and 1,235 shekels ($392), respectively. 

Technically, soldiers in the IDF are not paid a salary, but rather "subsistence wages," meant to cover costs while home on leave. These wages, even with the new raise, are far lower than Israel's current minimum wage, which currently stands at 5,300 ($1,711) per month.

This raise in wages was decided upon in coordination with Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said of the decision, “This is the least we can do for the soldiers who are protecting us.”

The raise, which is the first in over five years for soldiers, came after a recent uproar about the government's decision to allocate 1.1 billion shekel ($340 million) to the IDF's pension fund, after a lawsuit brought by retired soldiers. According to a recent article by the Times of Israel, the IDF claims that high pensions are a necessary incentive for soldiers to continue long-term careers in the military.

The increased wages will cost Israel 900 million shekels ($286 million), which will be financed from both the defense budget and an additional budget of the Ministry of Finance.

“I promised to increase soldiers’ pay, and I did, as a sign of appreciation for and recognition of their service in the IDF and their centrality to the security and the resilience of the State of Israel and its citizens,” Lieberman said.

“This decision reflects our responsibility and duty as leaders towards those who contribute to the country and expresses a policy of changing priorities that this government is moving forward, thus joining a series of measures that came into force with the last budget transfer.”

Lieberman referenced several additional military reforms, including Nefesh Ahat, which provides benefits for soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; Magen HaTzafon, a program to increase security in Israel’s northern region; and MiMadim LeLimudim, a scholarship that covers 2/3 of the cost of university studies for former combat soldiers.

Gantz said of the raised wages, “Today we bring forward a decision that does justice to those who serve, and that has significant implications for building the power of the IDF and maintaining its status as the people’s army. This is a national need, which connects to the need to bring about broad reforms regarding service in the IDF.”

“Along with the budget increase, we will continue to take care of all the soldiers, expand the circle of recruits, and provide for the soldiers from the special populations who need additional assistance,” he continued.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi. (Photo: Flash90)

Chief of Staff Kochavi, too, spoke of the decision with pride.

“The people's army is what guarantees the state’s security, and we must appreciate the soldiers who serve in it,” he said. “IDF soldiers are the source of the IDF’s strength – every soldier is a valuable asset that we receive for the length of their service, and we treat caring for the soldiers as a commandment. The decision to increase soldiers’ pay is a significant part of a broad program of care for conscripted soldiers from the day of their enlistment until the day of their release and beyond.”

“The plan includes, among other things, increasing the pay meant to support the service conditions and living conditions for lone soldiers and those in need of financial assistance, and in addition, increasing and providing a budget for the MiMadim LeLimudim program, which will double the scope of those eligible for the scholarship.”