Israeli Army Reviews Enlisting Women in Tank Combat Units

Six months ago, the IDF decided against allowing women to serve in the units, but the issue will now be revisited.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Israeli soldiers walk by a tank near the Israel-Gaza border on Wednesday, May 4, 2016.
Israeli soldiers walk by a tank near the Israel-Gaza border on Wednesday, May 4, 2016.Credit: Tsafrir Abayov/AP
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The Israel Defense Forces is taking another look at allowing women to serve in Armored Corps combat units. About a year and a half ago, the IDF decided it would not allow women into the units, after an examination of the physiological demands involved. Recently, however, it was decided to revisit the issue, according to Brig. Gen. Eran Shani, head of the Manpower Directorate, who noted that the range of positions that have been opened up to women has been growing in recent years.

Shani added that IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot has already given approval for women to serve in the Israel Air Force’s prestigious search and rescue unit, Unit 669, and to be recruited for military service involving the use of heavy equipment in the Engineering Corps.

“This trend is expanding and includes combat positions that until recently would have raised eyebrows,” Shani told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday, noting that as additional roles are being offered to women in general in the army, this is also making many want to serve in combat units, in particular.

In response, Knesset member Merav Michaeli said the steps that the U.S. military is currently implementing with respect to women “were on the table at the IDF a decade ago,” but there are still obstacles keeping women from assuming new roles in the IDF.

As part of the plan to allow more women in combat positions, the IDF is launching a new recruitment interview process to identify possible candidates. About two months ago, a pilot program was launched at army induction centers, as part of which 1,500 women were interviewed to determine their suitability for placement in such units. Such interviews have traditionally been a significant part of the recruitment process for male soldiers, but not for women up to now.

Pending the success of the pilot program, as of September 2017, all female recruits will undergo such an interview in 11th grade, Shani announced.

At present, there are about 2,000 female soldiers in IDF combat roles and the number of women in so-called field positions is increasing every year. The army has seen mounting interest among women to serve in combat roles and their placement in such units is generally not seen to be problematic. Four years ago, just 3 percent of all female soldiers were serving in combat posts.

According to the information presented to the Knesset committee on Monday, about 35 percent of the women interested in such service ask to serve in the Border Police, and thus the IDF is working to expand their number in that force as well. It should be noted that the Border Police has recently become the most sought-after place to serve among male recruits.

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