JERUSALEM (AP) - A military committee is recommending
Israel do away with universal draft, one of the pillars of
Israeli society, and limit conscription to combat-ready
recruits, a general said Wednesday.
The sweeping changes are necessary for economic reasons, said
Maj. Gen. Gil Regev, the army chief of manpower. He appointed
the committee and confirmed many of the findings reported
Wednesday by the Yediot Ahronot daily.
For decades, the Israeli military has acted as a melting pot
for a society made up of immigrants from more than 100
Under the current law, men are liable for three years of
service and women, 21 months, starting at age 18. Officers serve
an extra year.
But immigrants often lack the basic education needed to
serve, including an ability to speak Hebrew.
Some of the women soldiers are trained as teachers, and they,
in turn, instruct soldiers in a full-time classroom course to
bring them up to high school equivalency. Other women soldiers
serve as teachers in outlying communities.
The committee recommended the army do away with these
nonmilitary roles - for teachers as well as for students - a
drastic change in the way Israel sees its military.
Interviewed on Channel 2 TV, Regev said alternatives must be
found that would not ``burden the army with a group of people
for whom, perhaps, army service is not suitable.''
Because of a severe economic downturn, Israel has been
slashing its defense budget in recent years, despite three years
of Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has increased military
Israeli experts studying the army from outside have
determined that with the defeat of Iraq, which reduced the
threat against Israel, the military can safely cut back on
combat units, though the generals are hesitant to take such
``In the present economic reality we are facing, there is
room to consider whether the current model ... should be
changed,'' Regev said, noting the committee has not completed
its final report and that its recommendations are not for
``There is definitely the possibility of a model under which
not all men would serve the full three years,'' Regev said.
Regev said that universal service is already a myth - about
22 percent of eligible men are not drafted. Some are
ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs, who are exempt, while
others are released for medical or social reasons. Also, Regev
said, another 20 percent do not complete their full service.
Changing the draft system to include parallel civilian
service would maintain, rather than dismantle, the concept of a
``people's army,'' Regev said.
However, opposition lawmaker Yossi Sarid complained to Israel
Radio that the recommendations would make the army elitist ``and
further marginalize the weaker sectors.''
According to the newspaper, the report also recommended
paying soldiers in the regular army about $775 a month, 10 times
the current rate.