IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen.Gabi Ashkenazi on Friday visited the northern city of Migdal Haemek and met with local high-school students. In a conversation with the teenagers, Ashkenazi spoke about the complex reality in Israel.
"On the one hand we have relative calm along the borders, and on the other hand Hezbollah is gaining power, Syria is extending its control over the radical block and although Hamas is restrained, there are still incidents like the one in Gaza this week," Ashkenazi noted.
The chief of staff also addressed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated threats against Israel, saying "we take his calls to destroy us very seriously."
Ashkenazi was enthusiastically received by the teenagers, and was given an honorary citizenship from the municipality of Migdal Haemek. After meeting with Mayor Eli Barda, Ashkenazi visited the Yad Lebanim memorial, where he met with bereaved families.
The army chief met with students at the Ort Rogozin high school, and answered the teens' questions. "Military service is important, but the future is even more important," he told them.
Ashkenazi with Ort Rogozin alumni (Photo: Hagai Aharon)
Ashkenazi also commented on the issue of draft dodging, and said that the IDF was employing broad methods to encourage enlistment. "There is a worrying trend of Israeli youth that do not enlist to the army. We're nearing a situation in which 50% of each annual draft does not enlist, either for religious reasons, or because they are members of a minority group.
"This is a distorted situation, also because of social justice. It must be corrected with a national service solution. I hope the leaders of this country truly address the problem," he said.
A senior high school student asked the Ashkenazi how he is planning to deal with the repeated threats against Israel.
"It's not the first time that there's an attempt and a call to destroy the State of Israel and the IDF is the answer to those who make such calls. We are aware of these calls, especially coming from (Iranian President) Ahmadinejad, and are taking them seriously," Ashkenazi replied.
'IDF most moral army'Another student, who is about to enlist to the IDF's Naval Sailor's Course, addressed recent convictions issued against soldiers for actions committed during operational activity, and asked the army chief what he considered an order that must be refused.
"I think the IDF is probably the most moral army in the world, but today the enemy is hiding in built-up areas and uses civilians as human shields," Ashkenazi said.
"On the one hand, we must prevent the launching of rockets from densely populated areas such as the Jabaliya refugee camp, but on the other hand we must deal with soldiers who stray away from the norm," he explained.
"If a soldier takes a gun and shoots a woman, it is forbidden. Luckily, in 99% of the incidents, the IDF acts correctly," Ashkenazi added.
Before the end of the meeting, the chief of staff was asked whether he doesn't think kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit should have been returned home a long time ago.
"I – as the IDF that sent Gilad – am responsible for brining him back, and as long as he is not back, we have not fulfilled our mission. I am aware of the publics' feelings and I can only say that we are doing a number of covert and overt operations. We are doing anything we can to bring him home."
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