The meaning of Israel Defense Forces to the Israeli people (at least the secular portion) is much much more then a regular army in the western world. The Israeli army serves as melting pot and rite of passage to immigrants.
It is viewed as symbol of unity and community and of the willingness of each individual to contribute to the greater cause.
It is also a symbol of our strength and independence. It is the Israelis' answer to the sheepish people who went to the slaughter and a guarantee against a second Holocaust.
For a secular (and national religious) Israeli, army service is not a job or even a duty, it is an honor.
This is also why we view and treat our soldiers as much more then just soldiers, even to the point of regarding them as family members. This is evident in the nation's regard towards POWs and kidnapped soldiers.