Israeli Military to Lift Gender Restriction on Elite Unit

The military's statement, made days before the deadline for its response to a petition demanding women be allowed in all units, does not give timetable

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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A Unit 669 exercise off the coast of Ashdod, 2015.
A Unit 669 exercise off the coast of Ashdod, 2015.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

The military plans to allow women to try out for combat roles in the air force’s ultra-elite 669 search-and-rescue unit, it announced Friday, days before the deadline for submitting its response to a High Court of Justice petition demanding women to be permitted to serve in all units.

Currently, women serving in the unit are allowed to be paramedics or fill other noncombat roles and are assigned to it rather than trying out.

While asserting its general intention to include women in combat roles at some point, the statement in no way guarantees that it will actually accept any women and does not provide any timetable.

Brig. Gen. Itamar Reichel, head of the Air Force’s personnel division, told reporters that the first stage in the military’s examination of the issue will be the creation of a new track for women, and the question of how to protect their health as a gender-based group will be studied “We will not compromise on two things: The operational level necessary for every mission, and the health of the women combat soldiers.”

Two years ago, four women filed a petition in the High Court asking to remove the gender barriers used in assessing candidates for military service. After the petition was filed, the military established a committee to review the issue of women’s enlistment, and it was agreed that the military would present a report to the court every few months so it could supervise the committee’s progress. The committee has not yet submitted its conclusions and recommendations.

When the committee was established, the military said it would review “all aspects of the issue of integrating women in additional combat roles, including the medical and physiological aspects, and those concerning assignments and personnel, assessment procedures, future command development, aspects concerning reserve duty and the service of men and women together, as well as other questions.”

The lawyers for the petitioners praised the military’s decision, and made it clear that this did not mean they were withdrawing the petition. “This is a historic day,” they said in a statement. “After a long struggle for three years, in which women combat soldiers fought to be allowed to serve in special forces units in the IDF and for them to be judged according to their abilities and not according to their gender – the IDF is taking another important step on the road to equality. We spoke with the petitioners, who are serving today in combat roles in the army and they are happy about the decision, and some of them plan on trying out for 669 now.”

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