With women enlisting in increasingly greater numbers for IDF combat positions, a female Israel Air Force squadron commander is not far off, a senior IAF officer told The Jerusalem Post during an interview at the Sde Dov airport in Tel Aviv, between the city’s Port and Ramat Aviv neighborhood.
“We are living in an interesting time and the base is a microcosm of Israel,” the officer said over a cup of ice tea, explaining that the number of women requesting to serve in combat units – including in the air force – has steadily increased since 2000 and “we are now seeing the fruits of that.”
“I hope that the first female squadron commander will be from here. I’m not the one to decide, but I have a name I would recommend,” the source said, adding that perhaps the next base commander in Hatzor would be a woman.
According to the senior officer, there are 10 female pilots at the base and with courses in the air force still male-oriented, female pilots need to be very strong mentally to finish their course and “overcome all obstacles that may be in front of you,” he said.
In 2014, a woman was named deputy commander of an operational squadron, serving as second-in-command of the Nachshon Squadron at the Nevatim Base in the country’s south. While women have served as deputy commanders of support squadrons, the promotion of “Maj. Gal” (name not disclosed) made her the highest ranking woman in the IAF to date.
According to the army, there has been a 5% increase in motivation –as measured by requests – of female recruits to serve in these units as compared to last year’s enlistment, and the army is expecting a spike in female combat recruits in 2017 which will see over 2,500 female combat soldiers enlisting, a senior IDF officer in the Manpower Directorate told the Post.
But a recent Defense Ministry report by IDF Ombudsman, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, found a significant decrease in the motivation of women to serve in combat positions. According to Brick, there is a discrepancy between the expectations of soldiers and the reality they face once placed in operational battalions which led to the decrease in the motivation of fighters.
The percentage of female soldiers who leave the battalion at the beginning of their training makes the decrease in motivation “evident” as they feel that their skills and abilities are being constantly compared to those of male soldiers, he wrote.
The senior Manpower Directorate officer disagreed with the findings of the report, telling the Post that the motivation in female combat soldiers continues to increase as well as the need for them to fill positions that have opened up due to the shortening of army service.
“There is a significant jump in the recruitment of women into combat roles, and this is all due to their motivation to serve in those positions,” he said, adding that 15% of women volunteer to serve as long as their male counterparts.
“That’s something we didn’t see in previous years. We should have put women in these roles even if we didn’t shorten the service period,” he said, stressing that the army “gives them the opportunity and they succeed.”
But it’s not only the demand for women to fill combat positions that continues to increase, so does the demand for intelligence gathering in light of increased threats on Israel’s borders and the continuing wave of violence in the West Bank and across the country.
The IAF’s first operational mission took off from the airbase in December 1947 to rescue an injured soldier south of Beersheba, it has since carried out thousands of missions and trained hundreds of thousands of soldiers.
Israel Air Force’s intelligence gathering aircraft are increasing their number of complex reconnaissance missions in the air, with the “First” Squadron clocking at least 6,000 hours in 2016 alone.
“We fly where and when we need to and are managing the risks around us while knowing where the enemy is,” the senior officer said.
The “First” Squadron and the “Kings of the Air” Squadron from Sde Dov execute reconnaissance missions with the Beechcraft- 200 “Zofit”, Beechcraft King Air C-12 “Kukiya” and Beechcraft A-36 “Hofit” aircraft. The aircraft are versatile, gathering both visual intelligence as well as signal intelligence with advanced cameras and electro-optic sensors installed on their underbellies making them some of the most advanced manned surveillance planes in the world.
The intelligence gathering planes of the “First” and “Kings of the Air” Squadron based out of Sde Dov take off several times a day and operate alongside other divisions of the IAF, such as the UAV and Helicopter Divisions. According to the senior officer, these planes alongside UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles, are instrumental in Israel’s intelligence gathering capabilities, “making our part of the puzzle as clear as it can be.”
While some weather conditions might negatively affect the cameras, intelligence gathering missions take place at all hours of the day, with several reconnaissance planes in the air at all times.
“Israel is a UAV superpower, one of the best in the world,” he said, emphasizing that “the fusion of UAVs and piloted aircraft gives Israel the best possible intelligence coverage. We are able to get the best intelligence for leaders to make the best decisions in a region which is filled with upheaval.”
According to the senior officer one of the main challenges for the next generation of pilots is to train for the next war which will be completely different than in the past.
“We are living in a historical decade where everything in the Middle East is changing, the superpowers, the local powers, and religious powers are all changing,” the senior IAF officer said. “What happened in 2010 across the Middle East, you can call it ‘Arab Spring’ or now the ‘Arab Winter’ but I call it ‘50 Shades of Black,’” he said, referring to the various jihadist groups across the region.
“We cannot ignore what is going on around us. Each side is learning and therefore we must not only stay one step of our enemy but 100 steps ahead of the threat we think the enemy might have,” he said. “We are very adaptive and rational in facing regional steps and revolutionary steps are being taken to keep our qualitative military edge.”
But the base is set to close and be moved to Hatzor Airbase near Ashdod in January 2019.
“I’m very enthusiastic about the move, operationally it’s better, there are longer runways and it’s not hybrid (referring to the civilian part of the airport). While there may be logistical issues at the beginning, in the end, the air force will have better operational capabilities.”