Israeli women stepping up as men lose interest in combat roles

2,656 women enlisted as combat soldiers in 2017, an increase of 300 from 2016.

December 3, 2017 17:50
2 minute read.
female soldier

Female soldier, Lotem Stapleton, a physical education officer, demonstrates a move during a training session in Krav Maga, an Israeli self-defense technique, at a military base in the Golan Heights March 1, 2017.. (photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)


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Despite the continued trend of IDF draftees being less motivated to serve as combat soldiers in the IDF, the increase of motivation by women and the shortening of service has allowed combat brigades to fill up, the army has announced.

“Without a doubt, as of today, the shortening of service in the Israeli army has given the IDF more fighters,” a senior officer in the Manpower Directorate said on Sunday during a briefing with military journalists at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Nevertheless, according to the overall data, there remains a slight decrease in combat recruitment from last year and it is expected to continue to drop, the senior IDF officer said, stressing that the main units feeling the pressure from this lack of motivation are Combat Engineers, the Armored Corps, and Artillery.

The Armored Corps has in recent years become one of the least popular units for IDF recruits as they are said to have the worst service conditions and have fewer weekends off than other units.Happy Women's Day from the IDF (YouTube/Israel Defense Forces)

The senior officer explained that last week an electronic survey was given to draftees who were heading towards their basic training. They were asked whether or not they want to be combat soldiers – 17.70% of armored corps draftees said no.

Nevertheless, according to the senior officer, despite the relatively quiet security situation that the country currently finds itself in, the most popular units in the army remain combat units, with the Border Police, Air Defense and Homefront Command the most popular units for new draftees.

“For someone to press a button and launch a patriot missile towards a threat, they feel like they are protecting their country,” he said, adding that “the new generation wants everything as soon as possible, and they want a meaningful and fulfilling service.”

Figures from the IDF showed that there has been an increase in the motivation by female recruits to serve in co-ed combat units as compared to last year’s enlistment, with 301 more female combat soldiers this year.

According to the senior officer, there has been a significant increase in the past five years in women wanting to join combat units, from 547 in 2012 to 2656 in 2017.

The IDF’s three coed battalions were first formed in 2000 with the creation of the Caracal Battalion stationed along the Israeli-Egyptian border. The two other battalions, known as Bardelas and Lions of Jordan, were formed over the past three years and are stationed in the Jordan Valley and the south of respectively.  A new fourth mixed-gender battalion became operational in November partly due to the increased interest by women to serve in combat positions.

And while there has been an increase in female combat soldiers the IDF has no plans to open up any more coed battalions in the Israeli army in the near future, the senior officer said.

According to numbers presented by the army, only 51% of Israeli youth enlisted in 2017, a 1% increase from 2016. Of those who did not enlist, the most common reason was religion, with 35% of women exempt and 15% of men. Other reasons included health (7% men, 3% women) or being abroad (3% men, 2% women).

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