Under pressure from new immigrants and in an effort to encourage aliya and better utilize its human resources, the IDF is in the final stages of revamping its Shlav Bet program for immigrant men who join the army in their mid-20s and plans to begin tailoring jobs for those from Western countries, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The new plan, the brainchild of OC Human Resources Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern, is designed to better utilize immigrants who arrive in Israel at an age at which they can still serve in the IDF. The program is a joint effort with the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, which plans to advertise the initiative on its Web site and in target communities in the West.
Edri: Olim benefit cuts to be diluted
Army to crack down on draft dodgers
In the meantime, the Post has learned of a group of new immigrants currently serving in Shlav Bet who, lamenting that they were wasting much of their time and could perform more useful service, sent a proposal including a number of key recommendations on Thursday to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and to IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.
Shlav Bet is a service track designed for new immigrants aged 22 to 25. It consists of six months of military service including basic training, an optional Hebrew ulpan and then a course that trains the soldiers to fill a variety of positions - including as tractor drivers, tank mechanics, artillery operators and truck drivers. On average, the IDF holds two Shlav Bet drafts a year consisting of some 200 recruits.
Following the drop in the number of immigrants to Israel and a simultaneous increase in the number of immigrants coming from Western countries such as the United States, France and Great Britain, the IDF decided to revamp the program and instead of "throwing" soldiers into jobs while ignoring their degrees and work experience, the army will now work to find personally-tailored jobs for the new recruits.
"The makeup of new olim today has changed," a senior officer in the IDF Human Resources Department told the Post Thursday. "We are aware of this and are working to make the necessary changes so we can better utilize the soldiers and their skills."
In their own proposal sent out this week, the Shlav Bet soldiers bring two examples of soldiers who came to Israel highly motivated and with advanced degrees but spent their military service cleaning gardens in various military bases. One soldier had a degree in international relations from Oxford University and had worked in the British Parliament. He asked to serve in the IDF's Strategic Planning Division but instead spent months cleaning Northern Command headquarters in Safed.
"We came to Israel to serve in the army and contribute," a Shlav Bet soldier told the Post. "But instead we are doing absolutely nothing and we, as a human resource, are being wasted."
Fearing a drop in aliya numbers, the IDF is planning to interview all recruits for the next Shlav Bet draft, scheduled for December, prior to their enlistment and to try to find them jobs that suit their qualifications.
This week, the IDF signed up a new immigrant with an engineering degree from MIT to a three-year service in the air force. It does not, however, promise to replicate anything like that for Shlav Bet soldiers. And if a Shlav Bet recruit would like to serve in a more serious job according to his/her qualifications, he or she would need to sign on for an extended military service of at least one to two years.
Jobs will be found "according to the degrees and qualifications the recruits come with," an officer said. "We are looking for people with degrees in exact science, engineering and international relations. If someone comes with a degree in fitness or sports, we may not be able to make use of that."