On Sunday, the IDF published its mortality statistics for 2020, listing the causes of death for the 28 soldiers who died during the course of the year. The most common cause of death was suicide, with nine soldiers having taken their lives. Five of the nine were combat soldiers, and all but one were male.
Only one soldier lost his life in an operational mission, Channel 13 News notes – this was Amit Ben Yigal, who was killed in May in an operation in northern Samaria. Six soldiers died in road accidents, and two died in work accidents (one of whom was injured several years ago, and succumbed to his injuries last year). Three died in other circumstances not attributable to suicide, and five died of illness.
In 2019, by comparison, 27 soldiers lost their lives, the lowest figure since the establishment of the State. Of those 27, 12 soldiers took their own lives.
Responding to the figures related to suicide, the IDF’s head of Manpower, General Motti Almoz, said that officers would be sent to workshops run by professionals to address the issue. “If a soldier lets it be known that he is feeling suicidal, that’s the easiest type of case to address,” he said. “The main challenge is to identify dangers in advance and to keep track of situations as they develop.” Almoz stressed that emphasis would be placed on investigating past incidents in order to prevent future errors, and noted that this would demand a significant investment of time and resources, due to the large turnover of officers.
All the same, Almoz said that the number of suicides in the IDF has actually dropped by around 75% in recent years, although there was “still room for improvement.” He added that the figure in the IDF is half that in armies in countries in the OECD.
He defined two types of suicides within the IDF, with the first relating to a soldier going through a tough period. In past cases, he said, the issues the soldier was dealing with could potentially have been spotted by others and help could have been provided in time. The other type of case – less prevalent – was of a soldier who quietly makes up his own mind to take his life, and in such cases, the chances of being able to prevent him from going through with his plans are much lower.
With regard to the coronavirus epidemic, Almoz said that not a single soldier has lost his or her life to the illness. But he added that in 2021, it will be necessary to pay greater attention to the ramifications of the epidemic as they pertain to mental health issues. Some soldiers may be feeling a financial strain or witnessing their parents going through hard times, and this will be something officers will be asked to be aware of.
Another point of potential crisis faced by soldiers is that of being demoted from a prestigious track, or removed from a certain position. “What we’re going to be telling officers is that when something like that happens, they have to accompany the soldier throughout the process and make sure he or she doesn’t feel abandoned,” he said. “If a soldier internalizes a sense of being a failure, that’s not something to be taken lightly.”
Almoz also stressed that officers would be warned not to be too strict toward their subordinates, as this is a known cause of stress and can cause a vulnerable soldier to crack.