smiling soldiers 298.
(photo credit: IDF)
In a revolutionary step for the nation's youth, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz approved a reform that would cut compulsory army service for males from 36 months to 24 months. Soldiers serving in combat, combat-support units and other areas deemed vital, would serve 28 months and would receive a significant increase in monthly salaries as well as additional monetary benefits.
While the recommendations have yet to be approved by the Knesset, Mofaz stressed that the implementation would be carried out gradually, in two stages, to be completed by 2010. The government would have the right to delay implementation if the security situation worsens.
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Secular-Zionist Party leader Avraham Poraz used the opportunity to lash out at the ultra-orthodox communities who receive government benefits concerning their military service, delaying it, shortening it, and even waiving it altogether. Poraz, in an Israel Radio interview, said that if the government were to discontinue the current arrangement with yeshiva students, the shortening of the national service for the rest of the population would be much more significant.
In response, MK Zevulun Orlev (National Union-NRP) said that the religious Zionists are some of the greatest contributors to the IDF national service, composing a large part of the volunteers in the elite units.
The first to be eligible for two years of military service are those slated to be drafted in July 2006. Soldiers drafted from August 2004 and onward will be released after 32 months of service. Soldiers already approved for reduced service will not be affected by the new reform.
"We are leading a national reform for youth that will provide Israeli society with equal opportunities. The political and security changes currently underway in the country allow the possibility for such reforms to take place," Mofaz told reporters at a press conference at ministry headquarters.
Addressing the country's youth, Mofaz said, "From July this year you will enjoy a shortened military service, it will allow you to attend university at the same age as your compatriots abroad," he said.
Moreover, the reform would not affect the safety and security of Israeli citizens, he said.
Describing the new plans as a revolutionary message for the nation's youth, Mofaz said, "the most important principle to be upheld and maintained is that the IDF remains the people's army," he said.
The changes will provide equal opportunities for both men and women serving in the army, Mofaz said. Under the new reform, soldiers serving four months longer will receive a monthly salary of NIS 4,560 a month for those in combat units, while those in combat support units will receive NIS 4,220 a month and soldiers serving in non-combat positions will receive NIS 3,910 a month.
Praising the committee's work, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said that the shortened service would not create a manpower shortage, as the reform would provide additional slots for those serving in the career army.
According to the committee, the changes would allow the army to increase the quota of those seeking to serve a minimal period of time in the army. While there will be no change in the length of military service for female soldiers, officials said the process of issuing exemptions to females would be tightened. Some officials questioned whether implementing the reform would decrease the number of youth applying to serve in combat positions.
The committee was established at Mofaz's instructions in July and headed by Prof. Avi Ben-Bassat. Other members included Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, prof. Zvi Eckstein and Brig.-Gen. (Res.) Suzi Yogev.
The defense minister noted that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had given his blessing to the changes as well as the recommendations of two other committees, one on civil service headed by former national security adviser David Ivry and one on reserve duty headed by professor Avishai Braverman.
In January 2005, Braverman's committee introduced reforms, to be implemented by 2008, whereby reservists will only be called up in times of emergency or to undergo training, and reservists who serve in administrative and certain support positions may not be required to serve at all.
Soldiers will be required to serve a maximum of 42 days in a three-year period. Officers will be required to serve up to 70 days in a three-year period, according to the plan.