The Israeli government did not disclose information on the overall
size of the IDF, or the identity, location, and strength of units.
In 1988 the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London
estimated the strength of the ground forces at 104,000 troops,
including 16,000 career soldiers and 88,000 conscripts. An additional
494,000 men and women were regularly trained reserves who could
be mobilized within seventy-two hours. The staffs of each of the
ground forces' three area commanders were divided into branches
responsible for manpower, operations, training, and supply. The
authority of the area commanders extended to the combat units
and ground force bases and installations located within their
districts, as well as area defense, including the protection of
villages, especially those near the frontier. During combat, area
commanders also coordinated activities of naval and air force
units operating on fronts within their areas.
The army was organized into three armored divisions, each composed
of two armored and one artillery brigade, plus one armored and
one mechanized infantry brigade upon mobilization. An additional
five independent mechanized infantry brigades were available.
The reserves consisted of nine armored divisions, one airmobile
mechanized division, and ten regional infantry brigades for border
defense. In practice, unit composition was extremely fluid and
it was common for subunits to be transferred, especially when
a particular battalion or brigade was needed in a combat zone
far from its regular divisional station.
The IDF did not organize permanent divisions until after the
June 1967 War. As of 1988, their composition remained flexible,
leading military analysts to regard the brigade as the basic combat
unit of the IDF. Brigade commanders exercised considerable autonomy,
particularly during battle, following the IDF axiom that the command
echelon must serve the assault echelon.
Between 1977 and 1987, the IDF reconfigured its units as its
tank inventory grew, reducing the number of infantry brigades
while increasing the number of armored brigades from twenty to
thirty-three upon mobilization. Although maintained with a full
complement of equipment, most of the armored brigades were only
at cadre strength.
The Israeli ground forces were highly mechanized. Their equipment
inventory included nearly 4,000 tanks and nearly 11,000 other
armored vehicles (see table 12, Appendix A). Their armored personnel
vehicles almost equaled in number those of the combined armies
of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. The offensive profile of the army
was bolstered significantly by the artillery forces (principally
self-propelled and equipped with advanced fire control systems
and high-performance munitions). Antitank capabilities had been
upgraded with modern rocket launchers and guided missile systems.
As of 1988, most Israeli ground forces were positioned on the
northern and eastern border areas facing Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.
After the Syrian army shifted most of its troops out of Lebanon
following the IDF withdrawal in June 1985, more than six Syrian
divisions were concentrated in the Golan-Damascus area. The IDF
responded by constructing several defensive lines of mines and
antitank obstacles in the Golan Heights, and by reinforcing its
troop strength there, mainly with regular armored and infantry
units. Reserve units training in the vicinity also could be mobilized
in case of need. Other ground forces were deployed in defending
the Lebanese border against infiltration.
Data as of December 1988