Former head of elite IDF unit backs legal bid by women to serve as commandos

Former head of elite IDF unit backs legal bid by women to serve as commandos

Ex-chief of Sayeret Matkal says integrating women into reconnaissance, general infantry units will contribute to operations; another former head says ruling is for army, not court

Soldiers from the IDF Commando Brigade take part in a large-scale training exercise in November 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative: Soldiers from the IDF Commando Brigade take part in a large-scale training exercise in November 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

A former commander and his deputy in an elite reconnaissance unit in the Israel Defense Forces on Sunday backed the legal claim of women who want to serve as commando soldiers and in general infantry units.

According to a report by Army Radio, Colonel Het, who for security reasons can only be identified by his rank and first Hebrew initial of his name, said he “believes their integration would contribute to the operations of the Sayeret Matkal unit.”

The commanders called on the High Court of Justice to order the recruitment of women into general infantry units as well as Sayeret Matkal.

In response, retired general Amiram Levin — who at various times headed the IDF Northern Command, commanded Sayeret Matkal, and served as deputy director of the Mossad spy agency — attacked the two officers, telling Army Radio that the decision was one to be made by the army and not by the court.

Former head of the IDF’s Northern Command, Amiram Levin (Flash 90)

“These two commanders stumbled. They need to shut their mouths. Only the chief of staff and commanders can decide if they want women. All this talk — it will end with our warriors being hanged. The High Court has no right to discuss it,” Levin said.

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.

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.

The IDF in January announced it was restarting its pilot program to allow women to serve in tanks, reversing its decision to freeze the trial last year and expanding it to include some actual deployments.

A group of female soldiers take part in a training exercise in the tank commanders’ course, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

In February the High Court of Justice dismissed a lawsuit that called on the army to allow women to serve in tanks, ruling that the expanded trial tank program made the suit unnecessary.

In a petition filed at the beginning of January, Osnat Levy and Noga Shina had claimed that the army’s refusal to let them serve as tank drivers was a violation of equal rights. A similar lawsuit was filed by Or Abramson and Maayan Halberstadt, both 19, demanding an opportunity to try out to serve in tanks.

The new pilot program will set higher weight and height requirements for women who want to serve in the Armored Corps. A final decision on the future of female service in tank units is slated to be made after the pilot program concludes in 2022.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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