How Has the Israeli Army Developed Its Policy on Women in Combat? Its Own Experts Aren't Sure

Committee chairman didn’t attend the meetings, army had limited information to work with

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
Female IDF combat soldiers near the Gaza border, last year
Female IDF combat soldiers near the Gaza border, last yearCredit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

The military prosecution and the Military Advocate General’s office on Monday presented a periodic update on the work of the committee appointed by the IDF chief of staff on incorporating women in combat roles. The survey was submitted following a High Court of Justice response to a petition by four young women seeking to serve in combat roles in elite units. The court rejected their petition in November 2020, and accepted the state’s position that the chief of staff appoint a committee to examine the issue. However, the court instructed the IDF to submit a report every few months so it could monitor the committee’s progress.

The content reveals that the committee’s chairman did not attend meetings to which experts were invited, his deputy was replaced after a short time and among those called to appear before the committee were rabbis. Experts who appeared before the committee said that its goals, as detailed in the report, include the collection of information that the IDF should have already had, and they believe that the committee’s call to conduct comprehensive research on the matter is a play for time.

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The report submitted to the High Court reveals that the committee’s chairman is Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick and his deputy was Maj. Gen. Eliezer Toledano. So far the committee has held two meetings during which they were addressed by experts they had invited. Strick was not present at either meeting, and Toledano attended one. Toledano was recently appointed head of the Southern Command and it was therefore decided that he would be replced as deputy chairman by Brig. Gen. Dan Goldfus, who had previously headed a subcommittee.

At the first meeting, the committee heard from a representative of an NGO called The IDF Fortitude Forum, Col. (res.) Raz Sagi, who opposes incorporating women in combat roles. It also heard from rabbis Amihai Gordin, Yuval Cherlow and Eli Yeshiva head Rabbi Eli Sadan. At the second meeting, last week, the committee heard from an attorney, Col. (res.) Eldad Peled, who has claimed in the past that women’s fertility will be compromised by service in combat roles, and Rabbi Yair Ansbacher, the founder of a pre-army academy. The chief military rabbi was also present at one of the meetings, according to the army’s report to the court.

A female tank driver participates in a training program, 2018.Credit: IDF Spokesman's Office

The description of the subcommittees’ work raises doubts as to the IDF’s claim that the decision not to incorporate women in special units relied on research it had in its possession and on gender gaps it knows of. For example, the subcommittee on role analysis stated that it was tasked with “mapping all the combat roles in which women are not incorporated at present and analyzing the required skills for these roles.” The subcommittee on physiology was to “first analyze as broadly as possible a foundation of knowledge about the physiological differences between men and women, and to collect and analyze data on attempts by the IDF and foreign armies regarding the physiological aspects of women in combat roles.”

The army decided to incorporate women in combat roles as far back as two decades ago, and many were surprised to find that it did not have this information and wondered what the basis was so far for the army’s decisions on the matter.

“The impression is that they did not study the opinions presented to them,” an expert who spoke to the committee said. “During the interviews they were given data, comparisons and various surveys, and the claim that the information must now be collected and studied is not serious.” Another source who appeared before the committee said: “The whole time the information was being presented, none of them asked a single question or raised an argument.”

The Army Spokesman’s Office responded: “In July 2020 it was decided to establish a professional committee to conduct a serious and fundamental examination out of a broad approach … on the possibility of incorporating women in additional combat roles. It was decided that testimony from civilians, which went on for about two full days, would be given before the deputy head of the team and other relevant senior officials. The rabbis were among those who asked to be heard.”

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