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Elite IDF search and rescue unit to be open to women for first time

Israeli Air Force to let female recruits try out serving in Unit 669, amid High Court appeal seeking full gender integration across the military

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Soldiers from the Israeli Air Force's elite Unit 669 take part in an exercise in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)
Soldiers from the Israeli Air Force's elite Unit 669 take part in an exercise in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

Women will be allowed to serve in an elite helicopter-borne search and rescue unit for the first time, the Israel Defense Forces announced Friday, amid an appeal to the country’s top court over the apparent gender inequality.

According to the military, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi approved the recommendation of the Israeli Air Force commander, Maj. Gen Tomer Bar, on the integration of women in combat roles in Unit 669.

“The Air Force will open its gates to women to apply for combat roles in the special Unit 669, thus enabling better utilization of the IDF’s human capital,” the statement said.

In November 2020, four female recruits appealed to the High Court of Justice, demanding full gender integration in the IDF, including in elite units such as Sayeret Matkal, and Unit 669. The court delayed ruling on the case until the military finalized a committee it was forming on the matter.

In a statement Friday, the IDF said the decision on Unit 669 followed an examination of women’s service in combat roles where they are currently barred from serving.

According to the military, female troops who now want to serve in Unit 669 must pass various screenings and meet the necessary requirements, “to ensure that the unit continues to meet its operational tasks and at the required quality.” Thousands of recruits try out for the unit, but very few pass the lengthy training period.

“The air force sees this as a great opportunity. The air force is a pioneer in the field of integrating women in all roles and in particular in combat roles,” the statement said.

Illustrative: Female soldiers of the Bardales Battalion during training, July 13, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Women serve in a variety of roles in the IDF, in many cases alongside their male counterparts. There are also fully integrated mixed-gender combat units such as the Caracal and Bardelas battalions, which are tasked with protecting Israel’s border with Egypt and Jordan, respectively. In the Air Force, women and men serve together in the air defense units, including the Iron Dome — technically considered a combat unit.

Today, some 95 percent of Air Force positions are available to women, according to the IDF.

Soldiers from the Israeli Air Force’s elite Unit 669 take part in an exercise in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

The army has insisted in the past that it is allowing more women to serve in combat positions out of practical considerations, not due to a social agenda, saying it requires all the woman- and manpower available to it.

Critics of gender integration in the military often decry it as a dangerous social experiment with potential ramifications for national security, while defenders generally trumpet it as a long-needed measure, one that has already been implemented in many Western countries.

Detractors note that some requirements for the female combat soldiers have been lowered — which they say is a sign that effectiveness is being sacrificed — and that servicewomen suffer stress injuries at a higher rate.

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