Israeli Army Won't Open Elite Units to Women, Will Allow Applications for Select Roles

In response to a petition filed by soldiers seeking equal opportunity, Israel's military says it will launch a pilot program to integrate women into some combat roles

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

The Israeli military will not open all units to women, it told the High Court of Justice on Tuesday in response to a petition by soldiers seeking equal opportunity to serve as combatants in elite and frontline units.

However, following the recommendation of a panel appointed by Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi on the possibility of more women taking on combat roles, a new "pilot program" will let women apply for the Air Force's rescue unit or for a bomb disposal role at Yahalom, a special ops unit in the Combat Engineering Corps. It would also include a platoon of women assisting ground forces, given that enough women apply to go ahead with it.

The panel advising Kochavi noted that "dozens" of women a year meet the criteria for other combat roles, but recommended waiting with further positions until after the pilot program.

As for elite units, the panel said women should not be allowed to join them "at this point," citing a "very low" number of women who satisfy the physical conditions required for these roles.

Last week, the army told reporters it planned to open the door for female draftees wishing to join its special air force rescue Unit 669. Women will now be allowed to try out for combat roles in the air force’s ultra-elite search-and-rescue unit.

Currently, women serving in the unit are allowed to be paramedics or fill other noncombat roles and are assigned to them.

Two years ago, four women filed a petition in the High Court asking to remove the gender barriers used in assessing candidates for military service. After the petition was filed, the military established a committee to review the issue of women’s enlistment, and it was agreed that it would present a report to the court every few months so it could supervise the committee’s progress.

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