Female trial tank crew vets petition for chance to do Armored Corps reserve duty
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Female trial tank crew vets petition for chance to do Armored Corps reserve duty

2 former soldiers who completed tank commander course appeal to High Court in second such petition forcing IDF to explain its decision to halt gender integration of armored units

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

Head of the IDF Armored Corps Brig. Gen. Guy Hasson, center, poses on a tank with the army's first female tank commanders, who graduated their course on June 28, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
Head of the IDF Armored Corps Brig. Gen. Guy Hasson, center, poses on a tank with the army's first female tank commanders, who graduated their course on June 28, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Two women petitioned the High Court of Justice on Thursday demanding the right to serve as tank crew members, joining two other women who filed a similar appeal in September.

The High Court petitions were based on a pilot program of all-female tank crews completed in 2018, which the Israel Defense Forces at the time deemed a success.

On Thursday, two members of this pilot program, Osnat Levy and Noga Shina, filed petitions with the High Court of Justice asking to be allowed to perform their reserve service as tank drivers, arguing that they are entitled to do so having completed the necessary training.

Their petition was the second one filed on this issue. In September, two female recruits — Or Abramson and Maayan Halbershtat — appealed to the court to allow them to serve as tank crew members when they are due to join the army in March 2020.

The proposal of all-female tank crews faced considerable criticism when it was announced in November 2016. One former general called it a “left-wing” conspiracy to weaken the military. Others, however, lauded the program as a necessary corrective.

Israel’s 13 first female tank operators, who completed their training on December 5, 2017, pose for a photograph at the Armored Corps’ monument in Latrun, outside Jerusalem. (Israel Defense Forces)

The military launched its pilot program in 2017 to test the viability of all-female tank crews who would operate tanks in routine security operations, within Israel’s borders or just beyond them, not in wars or in fighting deep behind enemy lines.

The pilot program ended in June 2018, with four of the 13 participants completing a tank commanders course. “The training process was a success, from both an instructional and an operational perspective. The soldiers achieved all the goals set for them,” Lt. Col. Benny Aharon, the head of command training in the Armored Corps, said at the time.

Sgt. Osnat Levy, one of the army’s first female tank commanders, who graduated her course on June 28, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Though it was officially deemed a success, following months of deliberations, the military put the process of creating all-female tank crews on hold, where it has remained until now.

Last month, former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, who commanded the military during this period, said he had refrained from implementing the program as he was approaching retirement and felt that it would be inappropriate to adopt such a complicated measure at that time, leaving the decision ultimately in the hands of his successor, current IDF chief Aviv Kohavi.

In April 2019, the military announced that the proposal would remain frozen for the time being, citing budgetary and staffing issues.

Sgt. Noga Shina, one of the army’s first female tank commanders, who graduated her course on June 28, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Since then, IDF officials have downplayed the initiative’s success, with officers anonymously telling the Ynet news outlet that some of the soldiers who took part in the pilot program had in fact not been able to perform all of the responsibilities necessary to operate a tank.

In their petition to the High Court of Justice in September, Abramson and Halbershtat challenged the army to explain why it was preventing women from serving as tank crew in the Armored Corps. They argued that the “failure to integrate women into combat roles is a violation of their right to equality.”

Critics of gender integration 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.

The army insists 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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