Israeli Women Start Training in Tanks, but Will They Make the Team?

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An Israeli soldier walks past a Merkava tank along the border between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, on July 30, 2014.Credit: AFP

Female Israeli soldiers began training in tanks for the first time two weeks ago, but even the army’s personnel chief is unsure about whether women are really needed for the Armored Corps.

“I think the story of women in the Armored Corps is an experiment about which we can’t say anything yet,” Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz said at a conference last month held by Makor Rishon, a conservative weekly.

“The mere thought that we dare do this experiment created a stir, as if it were supposed to affect us somehow. It isn’t affecting us. I still don’t know if it will work. Maybe it won’t, or maybe it will but we won’t need it.”

Fifteen female soldiers are now being trained in operating a tank at a desert base; the women have been divided into teams, each led by a male soldier commanding a Merkava Mark III tank. Following their course, which is scheduled to end in November, the women are due to begin their service.

From the start the move has been controversial — late last year a retired general said women’s groups were behind the efforts to allow women into tanks and were doing so to weaken the army. Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yiftah Ron-Tal told Army Radio that the idea of putting women in tanks was a “scandal that will harm anything you can think of – including the IDF’s capabilities.”

The army has said women will only be in tanks along the borders for routine security. The women will not take part in combat operations; still, critics question whether the army needs two tank units on the borders staffed by women.

Overall, about 2,600 women are expected to be accepted into combat units during the coming draft year.

According to a source in the Israel Defense Forces’ Manpower Directorate, about 40 percent of female draftees say they want to serve in a combat unit, but after attending a seminar on the topic, only 10 percent decide to stay the course.

The two most popular destinations for female soldiers remain the Home Front Command and the Border Police.

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