BEIT SHEMESH, Feb 4 - The country even has two new kindergartens that teach computer skills and robotics.

The training programs - something of a boot camp for cyber defence - are part of Israel's quest to become a world leader in cybersecurity and cyber technology by placing its hopes in the country's youth.

To that end, Israel announced this week the establishment of a national centre for cyber education, meant to increase the talent pool for military intelligence units and prepare children for eventual careers in defence agencies, the high-tech industry and academia.

"You students need to strengthen us with your curiosity," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told an Israeli cyber technologies expo, sitting next to high school students in a training program overseen by the defence establishment.

"Your years in the security services will be golden years for the security of the nation."

Israel has long branded itself the "Cyber Nation" but authorities say they have been facing a shortage of cyber experts to keep up with the country's defence needs and keep its cybersecurity industry booming.

To build up a wellspring of talent, Israel is starting young: teaching children the basic building blocks of the web.

"In the first grade, they learn the letters, then how to read and how to write. We are building the next level of knowledge - how to code," said Sagy Bar of the Rashi Foundation, a philanthropic group running the cyber education centre as a joint venture with Israel's defence establishment and academic institutions.

The centre will also oversee educational programs launched in recent years, including the Education Ministry's Gvahim pilot program that introduced computer and robotic classes to the fourth-grade curriculum in 70 schools, and the after-school Magshimim program, which trains talented high-schoolers from underprivileged areas in college-level cyber skills.

Drawing youth into the highly technical field of cybersecurity is not a novelty, and the United States and Britain have implemented similar training programs.

The National Security Agency, America's global surveillance and intelligence agency, co-sponsors free cybersecurity summer camps throughout the US for students and teachers from kindergarten through high school. The GenCyber program seeks to improve cybersecurity teaching in schools as early as kindergarten.

GCHQ, the UK's powerful signals intelligence agency, has a host of youth outreach initiatives, including an annual competition for amateurs and youngsters at dramatic venues such as Winston Churchill's World War II-era bunker under central London.

In 2015, the competition invested in whizz kid-friendly puzzle games - including a specially designed Minecraft level - to pique children's interest. Also, GCHQ is trying to bridge the gender gap and last month announced a national cybersecurity challenge for schoolgirls aged 13 to 15.

In Israel, the two cyber training programs feed Israel's vaunted military intelligence Unit 8200, which intercepts digital communications and collects intelligence on Israel's enemies across the Middle East - the Israeli equivalent of America's NSA.

Many members of the unit eventually move on to Israel's high-tech and cybersecurity industries. Some of the most successful technology companies have been founded by the unit's veterans.

Military service is compulsory for most Jewish high school graduates in Israel, giving military intelligence the power to enlist the country's best and brightest.

For military intelligence, it's a win-win situation.

AP