Israeli female soldiers walk in front of a tank during an exercise at the end of their tank instructors course at Shizafon base.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Four female combat soldiers will begin a tank commander course as part of the IDF’s pilot program aimed at studying the possibility of integrating women into the Armored Corps, the military has confirmed to The Jerusalem Post.
As first reported by Kan, the four female soldiers who successfully completed their training are expected to serve together as a team that will serve on the southern borders. They will spend the next four months at the Armored Corps’ Shizafon Base in the Negev.
The pilot program had begun in August with 15 female recruits training in southern Israel, but two recruits dropped out from the program in September. The 13 remaining recruits then moved to Shizafon where they completed their training on the Merkava Mark III tank, which they would be operating.
In December, the recruits finished their training and were applauded by the head of the corps training brigade, Col. Moran Omer, during a ceremony at the monument for fallen soldiers of the Armored Corps in Latrun, outside Jerusalem.
“We’re standing before a bit of history. For the first time, a tank operator medal will be pinned on the uniform of female IDF soldiers,” he said.
“You stood up to the difficult physical challenges, learned the profession and, no less importantly, you learned to love the power of metal,” he said. “We demanded you complete the full and long training program... after you were fully trained as fighters in the Border Defense Force – no simple mission in itself – and you did so successfully.”
The IDF announced in November that it was considering the possibility of having women serve in the Armored Corps, a controversial move which saw former high-ranking officers and religious groups come out against it.
Former IDF chief rabbi Yisrael Weiss also criticized the idea of female soldiers serving in tanks, stating that “if we put two people into a closed box, there’s no way something won’t happen. We can’t put a couple, a man and a woman, a male soldier and a female soldier, into a closed box for a week and expect that nothing will happen. You’ll get a little tank soldier in another nine months.”
The IDF has responded to the criticism stating that even if the pilot program is deemed successful, there would be no mixed-gender tank crews and female tank crews will not be part of battalions which would operate in enemy territory, rather they would only be deployed to the borders.
Earlier in February, MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) came out in favor of the integration of women into combat units.
“Not only do I not oppose it, I think it is terrific. It’s good for the army and for Israeli society,” he told the Arutz Sheva news site. “I don’t buy the claim that it’s not good for female soldiers to be in the same tank as male soldiers, because you could also say it’s not good for them to be together in university or any other public place.”
The soldiers, who enlisted last March, must be able to prove that they are able to operate every aspect of the tank, including lifting shells, driving, and firing.
While the IDF did not elaborate on the reasons why the two recruits dropped out of the program, it is likely due to physical difficulties.
The main focus of the pilot program is to test the physical abilities of the female recruits who are divided into teams led by a male soldier commanding a Merkava Mark III tank. Throughout all phases of the program, the recruits will be accompanied by experienced tank commanders, doctors, nutritionists and fitness experts.
Following the completion of the pilot, the IDF will study the results and make a decision on whether or not to have female soldiers in the Armored Corps’ tank brigades.