Former IDF Commanders Argue in Favor of Women’s Service in Elite Units

'Sayeret Matkal is losing potential maximum value by limiting enlistment to men only,' former head of elite unit and his deputy tell High Court

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
Members of the mixed-gender Caracal Battalion preparing for a training exercise, 2018.
Members of the mixed-gender Caracal Battalion preparing for a training exercise, 2018.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

The former head of the elite Sayeret Matkal reconnaissance unit and his former deputy commander urged the High Court of Justice Sunday to permit women to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces’ elite units.

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Col. (res.) H.P., who commanded the unit from 2016 to 2019, and his then-deputy Lt. Col. (res.) A. H., had been asked to submit their opinions as part of a petition filed in May by four young women seeking to serve in Sayeret Matkal, the IDF General Staff's elite special operations force; the Navy's Shayetet 13 unit; and undercover counter-terrorism unit Duvdevan, as well as the Golani Reconnaissance Unit and the Paratroopers Brigade.

“We believe that women can successfully serve as combat soldiers in Sayeret Matkal and that their integration as fighters would yield a unique and significant contribution, both from an operational perspective and an organizational perspective to Sayeret Matkal in particular and to the IDF in general. In our opinion, Sayeret Matkal is losing potential maximum value by limiting enlistment to men only,” the officers wrote.

According to foreign media reports, women were among the fighters in their command at the time of the incident in Khan Yunis in 2018, in which Israeli forces had to be extracted from Gaza after being exposed in an incident in which an officer was killed.

In their opinion, submitted by attorney Inor Bertental, the commanders argued that “giving up in advance on such a substantial percentage of the population constitutes a substantive blow to the pool of initial recruits and from there a dramatic limitation of the potential to locate talent needed for the unit.”

They added that they are aware of the screening process and the challenges that could be expected if women were drafted into Sayeret Matkal, but added that “gender diversity brings with it a broadening necessary for creativity, and it also widens the pool of those with thinking, analysis and problem-solving abilities.”

The officers further wrote that “it is clear that a mistaken perception has taken hold that the ability to withstand physical pressure is the most meaningful parameter of a combat soldier in Sayeret Matkal, and as such to think that women, because of physiological differences, are inferior in this regard and thus will not fulfill such missions. But a fighter in the unit requires many varied abilities and physical resilience is not the most important of them.”

“Just as today, the professional and medical accompaniment in the unit protects the health of the fighters and tailors the appropriate load and efforts required of each one, so the women’s health can also be maintained,” they wrote. The commanders also noted that “just as it would be unthinkable to block the drafting of gay men into the unit because sexual tension might be created on the team, this concern about men and women serving side by side should also be removed.”

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