Just 18 months after deciding women could not join its Armored Corps, the IDF is now revisiting the issue.
The review of that decision, which is now in the early stage, is largely a response to efforts being made to increase the number of female combat soldiers.
The IDF seeks to open more combat roles for women. In those roles, female soldiers will help replace manpower lost due to a reduction in the mandatory service period for men, from three years to 32 months.
During a hearing before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Brig.-Gen. Eran Shani, head of Human Resource Planning and Management Division, said the army will reexamine the possibility of integrating women in the Armored Corps, as the “scope of functions that have opened up to women in recent years have increased.”
According to Shani, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Gadi Eisenkot has approved women serving in the IAF’s Unit 669, a prestigious search and rescue unit. Women will also serve in the Engineering Corps, where they will operate heavy machinery, such as the IDF’s armored D9 bulldozer, used during ground operations in enemy territory.
The May 2015 decision that kept women out of the Armored Corps, came after a series of trials conducted by GOC Army Headquarters in coordination with the Medical Corps. At that time, the army said changing the policy would have women spending several days, alongside their male counterparts in small spaces while on operational duty, without a way to provide appropriate conditions for female soldiers to retain their privacy.
Other trials tested abilities of young adult women in duties requiring significant physical exertion, such as carrying heavy artillery shells and driving a tank, where the driver must press down on the pedal with significant effort.
Seven months earlier, Brig.-Gen. Yigal Slovik, former head of manpower for IDF ground forces, was quoted on the army’s website saying that “cognitively, physiologically, mentally, women are as fit for the task as men.”
An estimated 90% of positions in the IDF are open to women, including combat roles in the Navy, Home Front Command, Artillery Corps and Military Police in the West Bank. Other combat posts now cleared for female soldiers include fighter and cargo pilot and operator of the Spike (Tammuz) missile and the handlaunched Skylark UAV.
There are close to 40 female pilots in the Israeli Air Force, and in January 2014, pregnant women were cleared to fly as pilots and navigators up until the 25th week of pregnancy, with a limit of four hours in the air per day at an altitude of 8,000 feet or below. Those pilots undergo examination by a physician before each flight.
While the ban on pregnant troops remains in the infantry, there has been an increase of female combat soldiers in the mixed-gender Caracal and Lions of Jordan battalions, assigned to guard the borders with Egypt and Jordan. But while female troops in those two coed battalions undergo the same seven months training as their male counterparts, a gap in physical expectations at the end of training remains. For example, women are expected to carry 20% of their weight for 10 kilometers, compared to the 40% for 30 km. expected of males. According to the IDF Medical Corps, female combat soldiers suffer stress fractures and other injuries at dramatically higher rates than males.
But despite the push for more female combat soldiers, women still account for only 5% of front line troops.
Women around the world are increasingly serving in armored divisions. At least 500 female soldiers in the Ugandan contingent of AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) serve as drivers, gunners and technicians in the motorized infantry division, and on frontlines alongside males soldiers fighting Al-Shabaab.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced last December that the US military plans to open all positions to women, without exception. Until this year, elite combat training, along with the basic and armor officer leader’s courses were closed to women. Eleven female infantry officers and 15 women in elite combat courses, are set to finish at the end of November.
Like Israel, the UK, which lifted a ban against female combat soldiers in 2013, is trying to increase the number of female soldiers, hoping to double its current number by 2020 to 15%.
Starting in January 2017, some 70 female recruits here will begin tank training, following a July 2016 decision that opened the armored corps to women.
“I have always wanted roles in our armed forces to be determined by ability, not gender,” UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said in a statement, adding that “women have already given exemplary service in recent conflicts, working in a variety of highly specialized and vital roles. By opening all combat roles to women, we will continue to build on these successes and improve the operational c