An IDF soldier stands atop a tank near Alonei Habashan on the Golan Heights, close to the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Just one month into a pilot program to study the possibility of integrating women into the armored corps, two recruits have dropped out with no reason provided by the IDF.
The program, which began in August with 15 female recruits training in southern Israel, will end in March after which the IDF will study the results and decide whether or not to admit female soldiers into the Armored Corps’ tank brigades.
The main focus of the pilot program is 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 are accompanied by experienced tank commanders, doctors, nutritionists and fitness experts.
The soldiers must prove that they are able to operate every aspect of the tank, including lifting shells, driving and firing. Although the IDF did not elaborate on the reasons why the two recruits dropped out of the program, it is likely due to physical difficulties.
Although female soldiers already serve as tank instructors, the IDF announced in November that it was considering the possibility of having women serve in tank brigades in the Armored Corps, a controversial move that was opposed by former high-ranking officers and religious groups.
Former commander of the ground forces Maj.-Gen. Yiftah Ron-Tal said integrating women into the Armored Corps would do nothing for gender equality, and only endanger women’s lives, while former IDF chief rabbi Yisrael Weiss criticized the idea, saying: “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 tanks crews and that female tank crews would not be part of battalions that operate in enemy territory, but only would be deployed to the borders.
According to IDF figures, 38% of female recruits have asked to be evaluated for combat service, which is one of the reasons the army is opening new fighting positions to women. The IDF expects to see at least 2,500 women enlist in combat units in the coming year.
The most popular units for female combat soldiers are the Home Front Command and Border Police, but many also join combat-intelligence units, the artillery corps and in the army’s infantry units.
The Armored Corps, in recent years, has become one of the least popular units for new IDF recruits because it is said to have the worst service conditions and fewer weekends off than other corps. In November, 86 of 200 soldiers who were assigned to the Armored Corps refused to board the buses to their bases after induction. Half were sent to the detention facility at the induction center and the other half were sent to various military prisons after receiving jail terms ranging from four to 20 days for refusing to obey orders.
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