Air force names first female deputy commander of fighter jet squadron

Air force chief Amikam Norkin also appoints 2 women to senior positions in military’s drone units

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Illustrative. Female aviators in the Israeli Air Force pose in front of a fighter jet on December 26, 2012. (Israel Defense Forces/Flickr)
Illustrative. Female aviators in the Israeli Air Force pose in front of a fighter jet on December 26, 2012. (Israel Defense Forces/Flickr)

The Israeli Air Force appointed its first female deputy commander of a fighter jet squadron on Sunday, some 16 years after Roni Zuckerman became the first Israeli woman fighter pilot.

The newly tapped deputy commander, whose name cannot be published for security reasons, will serve in the air force’s Spearhead Squadron, which flies F-15 fighter jets out of the Tel Nof air base in central Israel, the army said on Monday.

The military also announced that IAF chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin had appointed two other women to deputy commander positions in the military’s drone squadrons. (Their names also cannot be published for similar security concerns.)

The head of the Na’amat women’s organization, Galia Wolloch, lauded the appointments, but said “the path to equality is a long one.”

As if to underline her point, also on Monday, the army announced 14 new appointments for colonels and brigadier generals throughout the military, only one of whom was a female officer — Lt. Col. Tzipora Erez-Sabati, who will be promoted to head the Home Front Command’s Planning and Doctrine Department.

While women flew fighter planes in the 1948 War of Independence and 1956 Sinai War, they were eventually booted from the program (as well as from other combat positions in the Israel Defense Forces).

In 1993, Alice Miller asked to try out for the IAF’s vaunted pilots’ course, but she was rebuffed. She then turned to the High Court of Justice, which ruled that she should be allowed into the program. However, Miller was eventually dropped from the course, after being deemed medically unfit.

In 1998, five years after Miller’s request, and five decades after Israel had its last female aviator, Sheri Rahat graduated from the pilots’ course, becoming a navigator for the F-16 fighter jet, but not technically a pilot.

Three years later, Roni Zuckerman, a granddaughter of Zivia Lubetkin and Yitzhak Zuckerman, two leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, graduated as Israel’s first fighter jet pilot.

Despite those strides, the overwhelming majority of fighter pilots in the Israeli Air Force are still men, mostly because of the physical fitness requirements. (As drone pilots are typically pilots’ course washouts, they too are mostly men.)

The air force’s announcement of new female deputy commanders came hours after reports emerged of a growing rift between the religious Zionist community and the IDF over the military’s policies toward male-female army service.

On Sunday, a group of leading Orthodox rabbis decided to present IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot with an ultimatum at a meeting planned for Tuesday: Either he make significant changes to the way men and women serve together in the IDF or they’ll encourage their students to boycott the IDF’s officers’ training course.

In her statement, Wolloch alluded to the threat, saying that “at a time when women in the air force are breaking glass ceilings and proving that even the sky isn’t the limit, there are still attempts by some people to keep women out of the nation’s army.”

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