IDF sees surge in female conscripts seeking combat roles since start of war with Hamas

Massive rise in women asking to join border defense, artillery, border police, search and rescue and other units; in first, two women pass selection for elite 669 rescue unit

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

Female soldiers during training, in an undated photography published by the military on June 7, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
Female soldiers during training, in an undated photography published by the military on June 7, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday it has seen a massive spike in female conscripts seeking to join combat units during the war in the Gaza Strip that began in October.

Over the last week, the IDF has drafted young women to various combat units where female soldiers are currently able to serve.

The army said it has seen a draft turnout above 100 percent — meaning the numbers it had initially planned for — and that 12% of women now joining combat units had asked to change their placement to those fighting roles during the war.

It said that the Border Defense Corps’ light infantry units saw a 116% draft turnout, and the corps’ Combat Intelligence Collection units saw a 133% turnout.

The Artillery Corps saw a 132% draft turnout; the Air Force’s air defense array saw 101%; the Home Front Command’s Search and Rescue units saw 122%; and the Border Police saw 119%.

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.

Illustrative: Female soldiers during training, in an undated photography published by the military on June 7, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Some 3,000 terrorists burst through the border with Gaza to rampage murderously through southern regions. The attackers overran IDF positions and communities, killing more than 1,200 people. At least 240 people of all ages were abducted and taken as hostages in Gaza.

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 IDF responded to the attack with a military campaign aimed at smashing Hamas, removing the terror group from control over Gaza, and returning the hostages.

Female soldiers operate a tank in the Negev desert in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

Separately, the IDF said Wednesday that two female recruits had for the first time completed screening tests for the Air Force’s elite Unit 669, a helicopter-borne search-and-rescue force, and will be drafted to the unit later this month.

The pair will then undergo 20 months of training, and if they complete it, will be the first female soldiers in Unit 669.

The unit opened its ranks to women in May 2022, following an appeal to the country’s top court.

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.

Unit 669 carries out a medical evacuation from the Gaza Strip during Israel’s ground offensive, in an image published November 13, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

In September this year, the IDF said that women would also be able to join the top commando unit Sayeret Matkal, as well as two other units that were previously closed off to them.

The move came after the High Court of Justice in June demanded that the IDF explain why it had not opened all units to women.

Also, the IDF plans to open up the elite Unit 5515, a combat mobility unit, to female recruits starting in 2025, provided the IDF has enough women soldiers who pass the various screening tests. The unit is tasked with special driving-related operations and often works in tandem with other elite units. Finally, the IDF said it aims to begin a pilot program for female soldiers to serve in the Armored Corps sometime in 2024.

Female soldiers operate a tank in the Negev desert in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

Currently, female soldiers can serve in tanks in the IDF’s Border Defense Corps, as part of an all-female tank company in the Caracal mixed-gender light infantry battalion, which operates along the Egyptian border — not in wars or in fighting deep behind enemy lines. It was that tank company that was called into action on October 7.

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 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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