Air force
Israel Air Force soldiers at a graduation ceremony. Photo by Ilan Assayag
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Despite efforts by the Israel Air Force to increase the number of female pilots, few women are graduating from flight courses, and they are more likely to drop out than men.

The next course, which is set to conclude in January, started with a record number of women cadets - 30. Only six remain; most of them did not choose to take the course. The course after it, which also started with impressive female representation, now has only one woman cadet.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to IAF flight school graduates. Addressing the new pilots' sisters, he told them the course was open to them. But the graduates did not include a single woman, even though 15 had started the course.

It has been 15 years since Alice Miller's Supreme Court petition opened the course to women, and 12 years since the first woman graduated. Now, on average, less than one woman completes the course every six months.

The IAF changed its policy on recruiting women in 2007, after then-commander Maj. Gen. Eliezer Shkedi decided the army would approach potential candidates and invite them to the entry exams - like it does with men - rather than expecting women to come to the recruitment office and the Air Force. The Air Force also started holding study days and conferences with commanders, and panels with women pilots and cadets.

The Air Force has long since claimed that too few women join the course, and even fewer graduate. Women who were ejected from the course said that aside from factors like competitiveness, stress and the expectation that they would commit to years in the military, they also had to deal with peer pressure.

"Some of the boys had trouble accepting that there were girls in the course, and plenty of girls at that," one told Haaretz. "Some were even afraid the course would be too 'girly' and not combative enough."

The fact that some of the women who do make it through the course don't get assigned to combat positions, but to education or welfare roles, doesn't add to the attraction.

Senior officers, however, insisted that contrary to claims, women who join the course have the same chances of success as men do.

"We're looking into that," one senior officer said. "We're checking where we can improve our vetting and training system." He said he believes the problem isn't with the course but with finding enough female candidates.

One Air Force source said they were "a little tired" with the constant counting of how many women finish the pilot course. "We no longer get excited about that every time," one source said. "We see them every day during the training, it's become a natural part of the pilot course."

Air Force sources added that increasing the number of women volunteering for the course was the mission of the entire IDF, and of Israeli society as a whole.