The Israeli army, while seeking to advance the integration of women into its combat ranks, will nonetheless bar them from service in tanks, the Israel Defense Forces acknowledged earlier this week.
The degree of physical strain and the proximity imposed by the tanks’ closed quarters were the two factors that led the army to decide against integration, the Ynet news outlet first reported Sunday.
In a statement to The Times of Israel, a senior officer said that the “possibility of opening additional combat positions to girls is being tested all of the time” and that each position is examined from “a physiological and mental perspective.” As of today, he said, “infantry and the armored corps were ruled out for women.”
The decision came seven months after Brig. Gen. Yigal Slovik, the head of manpower in the IDF ground forces, told the army’s website that, “cognitively, physiologically, mentally, women are as fit for the task as men.”
Slovik was referring to a plan, announced in October, to train women to serve in times of emergency as tank commanders. The soldiers, under the 2014 plan, were to undergo eight months of training and then command a mixed-gender tank, where the driver, loader, and gunner were to be male.
In nixing the plan, the army said that “the goal today” is to build up “the envelope” for female soldiers, investing in “suitable clothing, a suitable screening process, and proper nutrition” in order to cut down on the high dropout rate for women in combat roles.
In addition, the army intends to increase the number of women serving in the combat posts that have already been cleared for female soldiers. This includes IAF positions as fighter and cargo pilots; reconnaissance posts as field intelligence troops; border patrols along the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, with the gender-mixed Karakal and Jordan Valley Lions units; and, among other roles, as operators of the Spike, or Tammuz, missile and the Artillery Corps’ hand-launched Skylark UAV, which played a central role during the summer’s combat missions in the West Bank and Gaza.
The officer noted that 92 percent of positions in the army are open to women.
Some found that statistic misleading.
“That’s a manipulation,” MK Ayelet Nahmias Verbin of the Zionist Union said in a statement, “because it does not say that the eight percent are the core combat roles” from which the majority of officers rise.
“The needs of the army are important,” she said, “but equality, in whose name and under whose authority it acts, is important, too.”
Barring women from certain roles, she said, particularly those that serve as springboards to posts in the civilian world, constitutes an “ongoing discrimination.”
A senior armored corps officer in reserves said he agreed with the sentiment but found the conclusion untenable. “There is no place for a woman in a tank,” he said.
Asserting that religion and fitness likely played a secondary role in the army’s ultimate decision, he said that during training and on ordinary patrols there would be no problem serving in a mixed-gender tank, but during a mission or a war soldiers must spend entire nights trapped in the hull of the tank. They urinate and defecate in bottles and bags. He described the tank as “a matchbox” and said it offered no privacy at all.
“I’m a big feminist,” the officer said, “but this won’t fly.”