(photo credit: AP [file])
President Shimon Peres called on Sunday for the formation of a Gadna (IDF Youth Corps) Technological Unit to prepare youngsters for their army service.
Peres made the proposal during a tour of the IDF Induction Center at Tel Hashomer after discussing the matter last week in separate meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.
Peres, who has been considering how to attract haredim to the IDF - both male and female - without having them compromise their way of life, believes that creating a technological environment in which they do not have to mingle with the opposite sex and in which their talents can be put to use in service to the state, may be the solution. Also, the technological training they would receive in the paramilitary course and in the IDF's technological units would stand them in good stead in civilian life when they go job-hunting.
Accompanied by OC Human Resources Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern, Peres toured the base and talked on a one-on-one basis with several 18-year-olds who had been assigned to the Armored Corps. He also spoke to the young soldiers' families.
The president was welcomed with a lusty chorus of song.
At the outset of the tour, Peres was briefed by Stern on the percentage of young people who find reasons not to serve in the IDF. He was very disturbed by the fact that only 52 percent of those who are eligible for service join the army, including 75% of the young men.
Stern said that while motivation was still high among those who wanted to join elite units, there was a significant drop in the number of female recruits, resulting in a shortage of women for training, combat and technological positions.
The ease with which people are excused from service posed a real threat, and the issue must not be allowed to disappear from the public agenda, he told Peres.
"Only a strong and beloved army will give Israel the human and security responses she needs to confront the dangers on her threshold," said Peres.
Peres said that in the past, recruitment levels had been high because young people were eager to join the army and to contribute to the strength and security of the state.
He said he was certain that young people serving in the IDF today were no less committed, and urged that the army be left outside the cycle of cynicism and criticism. If people wanted to criticize, he said, let them criticize the political leadership and not the army.