I am a 17-year-old Israeli-American. My parents are both from Israel, but I am from New York City – born and raised. I want to go live in Israel for a few years after high school. Since I am nearing 18, and I don’t expect to be going to school, I think I will go ahead and complete my mandatory military service while I’m there. Depending on my test results, I would like to be recruited in an elite unit like the Air Force. My question is: Can I lose my U.S. citizenship for this? I don’t want to give up my U.S. citizenship and I plan to come back to the States later on.
As a general rule, service in a foreign military cannot lead to a loss of U.S. nationality unless it is performed voluntarily, with specific intent to give up U.S. nationality, and either at officer rank or on behalf of a country engaged in “hostilities” against the United States. Thus, merely serving in a foreign military needs not cause a loss of U.S. nationality. Nevertheless, your situation may well warrant some caution.
First of all, although Israel is admittedly unlikely ever to engage in “hostilities” against its historical ally the U.S. (considering that the word “hostilities” refers to something more than mere diplomatic tension, even if not necessarily to full-blown war), serving as an officer in the Israeli military could well expose you to some risk of losing your U.S. nationality. You might want to check whether completing your training at an elite institution such as the Israeli Air Force Flight Academy would not automatically qualify you as an officer.
Second of all, this risk of U.S. nationality loss will become more concrete if you take any step to join the Israeli military officer corps, as opposed to merely completing your mandatory service. While the latter should not expose you to any suspicion of intent to give up your U.S. citizenship, the former (at least in theory) could. The difference between these two sets of cases may not be clear, however. Thus, whether your decision to move to Israel and complete your service with the Air Force (instead of keeping your principal residence in the U.S., or even seeking an exemption, a deferment, or any other legal avenue for avoiding such service) might someday be interpreted to your disadvantage is also a bit unclear.
That said, practically-speaking, the U.S. government is unlikely to act under any of the worst-case scenarios discussed above. In fact, as a matter of policy, the U.S. State Department may presume that you do not intend to give up your U.S. citizenship unless you formally renounce it (or Israel comes to engage in hostilities against the U.S. during the period of your enlistment). It is just important to understand the risks to your U.S. status, however small they may be.