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IDF to increase number of top female officers by 50% in 5 years, army chief says

Kohavi has nominated few women for senior positions in his time as head of the military; announcement comes in honor of International Women’s Day

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

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and the IDF General Staff hold a meeting to discuss the role of women in the military's upper ranks, in the IDF's Tel Aviv headquarters on March 8, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and the IDF General Staff hold a meeting to discuss the role of women in the military's upper ranks, in the IDF's Tel Aviv headquarters on March 8, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi announced Monday that he intends to put forward a plan that would see the number of female senior officers rise by 50 percent within the next five years, which would have been a bolder objective had the already low number of promotions of female officers for top positions not fallen dramatically in recent years.

In his more than two years as chief of staff, Kohavi has promoted no women to the rank of major general and only one — who was tapped to serve as the chief intelligence officer of the Central Command — to the rank of brigadier general. According to a recent Haaretz tally, of the nearly 200 officers promoted to the rank of colonel under Kohavi, 19 have been women.

There are currently no female major generals in the IDF, nor have there been since 2014, when the only one so far — Maj. Gen. (res.) Orna Barbivai — retired from the military. There are also only six female brigadier generals, some of whom have not actually received their ranks officially, but — for bureaucratic reasons — are only permitted to wear them ceremonially, as their positions demand them.

Kohavi’s announcement came on International Women’s Day, when the military often rolls out such initiatives. The military said the chief of staff’s plan would be put together within the next three months.

From left, then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, Maj. Gen. (res.) Orna Barbivai, Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolanski and former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz raise a toast in a ceremony as Topolanski takes over as head of the IDF Manpower Directorate, at army headquarters in Tel Aviv on September 8, 2014. (Israel Defense Forces /FLASH90)

“We must act to increase the number of female senior officers by 50% within the next five years and to increase the number of women serving in technology and cyber roles,” Kohavi said.

While the advancement of women in the upper ranks of the military has lagged in recent years, there has been a growing trend of women serving in combat units and in other roles previously held by men.

The increase in the number of women in combat units — a 250% rise in the past six years — has not been without criticism, as conservative voices in Israel have accused the military of endangering national security by lowering standards in order to include women to appease progressive demands of gender equality. The IDF has rebuffed those allegations, saying that women are serving in those combat roles because they are needed in them, not due to a liberal agenda.

Facing a lawsuit by four female recruits demanding full gender integration, the military announced last year that it was forming a committee led by Ground Forces commander Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick to consider such a move.

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