IDF to redefine cyber defense units as ‘combat’ in new classification of soldiers’ roles


New changes define four categories of soldiers:
1. full-fledged combatants
battle soldiers
3. facilitators of weapons
4. home-front soldiers



In part of an extended process of defining categories of soldiers within the IDF which is near completion, the IDF is expected to define some of its cyber units as attack units.

IDF soldiers engaged in cyber security – Photo:

The IDF spokesman only officially confirmed that defining “who is a ‘combatant'” in the IDF had been “approved and agreed to by [Lt. Gen. Benny Ganz] the Chief-of-Staff” and would be “distributed” throughout “relevant units” in the IDF after an additional approval from Gantz.

But in light of a highly specific May 29 online statement by the IDF (subsequently removed) on the issue plus the IDF confirmation that the same process under discussion in May has gotten approvals at the highest level, it appears that the new definitions from the May statement are going forward.

Essentially, the expected change defines four categories of soldiers: full-fledged combatants, battle soldiers, facilitators of attacking weapons and home-front soldiers.

Full-fledged combatants are those whose “lives are in immediate physical danger,” battle soldiers are those who are on the battlefield with the combatants, but fulfilling only support functions and facilitators of attacking weapons could be long-range artillery or, more notably cyber units.

The inclusion of cyber units in a category distinguish for using attacking weapons is one of the few times that any Israeli official has publicly recognized that Israeli cyber units are used for attack purposes and not only defensive purposes, and stood out among the new definitions.

Asked about the change, former IDF international law division head Col. (res.) Liron Libman said that a key question was “what was the goal of the new definitions?”

Libman dismissed the definitions being turned for use against Israel.

For example, even to try to recast some non-state hostile actors (terrorists not connected with a country) as being civilians or less than combatants, and trying to make them immune to attack by the IDF, would run into the law of armed conflict’s rules.

He said that those rules already widely define combatants as including those facilitating hostilities even if they themselves are not fighting in a direct and physical way.

Libman added that having a spectrum of combatant was probably more a symbolic change to maintain the exclusivity of the “fighting soldier” in an age of modern technologies blurring those boundaries.

But he did agree that it was noteworthy that the expected new definitions officially recognized cyber units as offensive and not merely defensive.


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