Within the framework of Israel’s 70th anniversary celebrations, President Reuven Rivlin and Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot met on Tuesday with 70 influential teenagers who will be drafted into the IDF during the summer induction.
The meeting was an extension of those that the IDF conducts in high schools around the country several times a year.
The teens were given the opportunity to fire questions at both Rivlin and Eisenkot, and here too, Rivlin had the opportunity to wax long on his favorite “four tribes” theme, capped by the conclusion that the army is the unifying factor that is so elusive in civilian life.
Also present were young officers, who in private conversations answered questions about army life and how mandatory national service can propel people into tailor-made careers.
During the official part of the program, both Rivlin and Eisenkot emphasized in Israel’s case the importance of a people’s army as distinct from a career army.
Eisenkot, responding to a question about motivation from the time that he had been drafted to the present day, said that he joined the IDF shortly after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the whole country was in trauma and motivation to join a combat unit was very high.
There are rumors these days, he said, that motivation has declined. This is a fallacy, he insisted. While it was true that motivation was not very high when youngsters received their first call-up notice, once they actually got to the recruitment center, more than 50% asked to be assigned to combat units.
Nearly all recruits want their service in the IDF to be meaningful, he said.
Nonetheless, he added: “We don’t take motivation for granted.”
Eisenkot said that when the army goes to schools, it stresses that responsibility for defense of the state should be shared equally.
Whether one chooses military or civilian national service, it should be regarded as a privilege rather than a duty, he said.
As far as the army is concerned, it will remain a people’s army, always striving to become more professional. It will constantly upgrade itself to ensure public confidence and recognition of the role the IDF plays in guaranteeing safety and security.
Rivlin, who is somewhat older than Eisenkot, recalled that in his day, if someone wasn’t accepted for an officer’s course, it was devastating, and they couldn’t think of anything beyond the rejection.
“We don’t have professional soldiers,” he said. “We are the soldiers defending our country, our homes and our families.”
The IDF is always under a magnifying glass, and subject to the most severe criticism, even though it is one of the most moral armies in the world, said Rivlin.
Eisenkot declared that the army must always strive to be stronger, correct in what it does, ready to defend its borders, fight against terrorism and win.
THE OCCASION was also used for the launch of Our 70 Heroes, a book published by the Israel Ministry of Defense in conjunction with the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, written by a broad range of contributors from different walks of life.
Some of them are well known like Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, sports icons Tal Brody and Yael Arad, singer Yehoram Gaon, Hasson Hasson who was the first Druze to serve as a military adjutant to the President of Israel and comedian Adir Miller.
Others are less familiar to the general Israeli public.
Current and former chiefs of staff who contributed to the book include Ehud Barak, Gabi Ashkenazi, Benny Gantz, Dan Halutz, Moshe Ya’alon and Shaul Mofaz. Deceased chiefs of staff Haim Laskov, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and David Elazar were listed among the heroes and written about.
Several contributors wrote about their relatives. It was to be expected that Netanyahu and his bother Ido would choose their oldest brother Yoni, who was killed in the July 1976 Entebbe Rescue Operation.
Similarly, Rona Ramon chose her husband Ilan – who was Israel’s first astronaut, killed when his space shuttle disintegrated as it returned to earth – and her eldest son Assaf, who was killed when the F-16 fighter plane he was flying crashed. And of course, Miriam Peretz chose her sons Uriel and Eliraz who were killed while on active service.
Yuval Arad wrote about her father, missing airman Ron Arad.
Actor Shlomo Vishinsky wrote about his 20-year-old son Lior; his armored personnel carrier transporting explosives to be used to detonate weapon-smuggling tunnels was hit by an anti-tank rocket. Recently retired Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky wrote about his brother- in law Col. Michael Stieglitz, who suffered a heart attack and died in November 1996 while on reserve duty. Stieglitz had returned to Moscow long before Sharansky to serve as military attaché, and had left a lasting impression not only among Russian Jews, but among gentile Russians as well.
Arab heroes who served in the IDF were not overlooked in the book either. One of the best known was Lt.-Col. Amos Yarkoni, born Abd el-Majid Hidr, was one of six Arabs to be awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.
The real surprise in the book was that Eitan Haber – who had been former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s bureau chief and before that his media advisor – did not chosen Rabin as his hero, though this lacuna was compensated for by Shaike Levy, a member of The Pale Scout comedy team. He did choose Rabin, whose various positions in the defense establishment included chief of staff.
Barak – who has also been a chief of staff and is, jointly with two others, the most highly decorated soldier in the IDF – was not selected by anyone as their hero.
All of the teenagers were given a copy of the book plus postcards, stickers, T-shirts and army caps all inscribed with the words “The Moment of Truth.”