Despite Successful Pilot Program, Israeli Army Decides Against Stationing Women Tank Soldiers

Even though top military officials praised the program in the past, Israeli army now says integrating women into Armored Corps cannot proceed due to budgetary and personnel reasons

Female IDF soldiers in an armored vehicle lot on the Gaza border, March 2019.
Ilan Assayag

The Israeli army's initiative to integrate women into tank units has been put on hold for now, its Spokesperson's Unit said on Sunday, stating that in the face of the operational need for tanks for missions to defend the borders.

"It is not suitable to continue the process, and instead to strengthen the integration of women combat soldiers into existing units," said the statement.

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The pilot program for training women tank soldiers was conducted in 2017 and 2018, and had successful results – but the IDF says it has limited monetary resources for the project and is having a hard time identifying women who can meet the physical criteria for combat soldiers in the Armored Corps – which together make it difficult to implement the full program.

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The pilot program roused protest and an aggressive campaign on the part of a number of prominent rabbis from the religious Zionist movement and other source. The chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, approached the prime minister last year, asking him to fire the army’s chief of staff.

“Give back the keys and go home” said Eliyahu, “Eisenkot has adopted a crazy feminist agenda.”

In the past, the army rushed to market the initiative in the media. “After a trial of a year and four months, we can categorically state that a team of female tank fighters led by a female tank commander can carry out operational activities in protecting the borders,” said Brig. Gen. Guy Hasson, the head of the Armored Corps, following the pilot program.

"We now know to say how to correctly carry out the selection process [for soldiers], the physical significance of service as a female soldier in a tank and, going forward, how to appropriately guide the training," he said.

Now the IDF says that as part of the pilot, “aspects of suitability, organization, manpower and infrastructure of integrating women” into the tank forces were studied. “In the status report conducted by the Ground Forces in November 2018, it came up that at this time and in the face of the operational needs for tanks in missions of protecting the borders it is not suitable to continue with the process.” Another explanation raised was that of a cost-benefit analysis – but the question of equality for women in the military was not mentioned.

In April 2018, former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot commented on the project in a letter to soldiers. He said that "compulsory draft was still based on the principle of the IDF's establishment as an official people’s army. Women’s service had been expanded both in numbers and in the opportunities open to them, for example as combat soldiers in tanks in border defense units."

Eisenkot even reprimanded IDF Chief Rabbi Brig. Gen. Eyal Krim after he spoke to young trainees at a pre-military academy in Beit She’an. "There are girls who instead of drinking coffee on Dizengoff in the afternoon, do guard duty on the border," he said. "They're ready to sacrifice their lives day and night on a border that no terrorist has penetrated in 2,000 years." Krim added that "to this day, not one female soldier has entered the tanks. There's a single tank at a few posts in order to deter an Islamic State incursion. The chief of staff decided to build a tank team of four girls, a homogenous team. That's what they're talking about; it's not the 77th Brigade that's attacking now in Lebanon."

Last November, the Deputy Gender Affairs Advisor to the Chief of Staff, Lt. Col. Oshrat Bachar, presented the pilot program in a meeting with foreign military representatives – without mentioning that they had already decided not to integrate female soldiers. "In foreign militaries like the Swiss army, all positions, including combat positions, are open to women. The conscription standards are identical, so the percentage of women who draft are not as high as in the IDF," Bachar later said.

"Our goal is to examine in which positions we can best integrate women in order to achieve a higher percentage of women who are integrated into combat roles," Bachar said. "A case that we managed to learn from in a foreign army is the integration of women into the Armored Corps. In Norway, most of the armored corps is made up of women, women have already been integrated for years in submarines, ships and ground forces. They made tanks accessible to women and changed their structure to robotic in order to ease the physical burden."