IDF sees new surge in female conscripts joining combat units amid Gaza war

Data from latest intake shows massive rise in women joining border defense, artillery, Border Police, search and rescue and other units

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

File: Female troops are seen at an IDF staging ground in southern Israel near the border with Gaza. January 1, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)
File: Female troops are seen at an IDF staging ground in southern Israel near the border with Gaza. January 1, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

The Israel Defense Forces said Thursday it had seen a massive spike in female conscripts joining combat units during the war in the Gaza Strip, releasing data from the first week of the military’s March-April draft.

According to data from the IDF, the draft turnout for female troops in combat units was 157 percent, meaning 57% more than it had initially planned for. For comparison, during the same period last year, the turnout was 102%, according to the military.

The military often funnels more conscripts than it actually needs to certain units, expecting a certain percentage to refuse combat positions. But motivation amid the fighting appears to have changed this.

The IDF said the Border Defense Corps’ light infantry units saw a 158% draft turnout, and the corps’ Combat Intelligence Collection units — where surveillance soldiers serve — saw a 210% turnout.

The soldiers of the intelligence collection unit are tasked with monitoring surveillance cameras along Israel’s borders and in the West Bank, and dispatching forces to potential incidents. The vast majority of those serving in the unit are female soldiers.

Female soldiers serving in surveillance positions near Gaza were among those kidnapped and killed during the October 7 attacks.

Other combat units where female soldiers are currently able to serve also saw a major rise in new conscripts.

The Artillery Corps saw a 195% draft turnout; the Air Force’s air defense array saw 114%; the Home Front Command’s Search and Rescue units saw 170%; and the Border Police saw 139%, according to the IDF data.

Lt. Col. Yarden, commander of the 498th “Shahar” Search and Rescue Battalion (center) is seen with other search and rescue troops in the northern Gaza Strip, in a handout image published November 19, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Similarly, among male conscripts, there has been a rise in soldiers drafting to combat units, the IDF said.

According to the data, the Combat Engineering Corps — tasked with destroying Hamas’s tunnels in Gaza — saw a 122% draft turnout, and the Artillery Corps saw 109%.

The IDF did not release the turnout data for the Armored Corps but said it saw a rise of 130% compared to March 2023’s draft. IDF tanks have led much of the ground operations in Gaza amid the war.

War erupted on October 7, when the Hamas terror group carried out a devastating attack from the Gaza Strip that killed over 1,200 people in Israel, most of them civilians.

Some 3,000 terrorists burst through the border with Gaza to rampage murderously through southern regions. The attackers overran IDF positions and communities, with 253 people of all ages abducted to Gaza, where more than half remain.

Israeli female soldiers pose for a photo on the Gaza Strip border, in southern Israel, February 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Women soldiers were directly involved in battles to defend against the massive numbers of invading terrorists, including an all-female tank unit that fought for hours, killing dozens of attackers along the border and in communities attacked by Hamas. Female soldiers were also among those killed by Hamas and among those taken hostage alongside their male counterparts.

The heroic and effective conduct of female combat soldiers during the attacks  seems to have significantly boosted the argument for further integration into combat roles.

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

Detractors note that some requirements for 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 says 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.

In December, in what was the first draft after the war began, the IDF saw a similar significant rise in female troops seeking to join combat units.

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