The Israel Defense Forces plans to create a new women-only border defense platoon later this year specifically for religious female soldiers who want to serve in a fighting unit but are concerned about serving alongside men.
The plan was first revealed by the Kan news broadcaster and was confirmed to The Times of Israel by the IDF.
The first conscripts will be drawn from women enlisting into combat troops this coming March. The unit will be established within an existing, otherwise mixed-gender border defense unit, the military said.
According to Kan, the request for such a unit came from the heads of several national-religious seminaries, where many women study after completing high school and before performing national service. While women who are not considered by the state to be religious are required to enlist in the IDF, those who are seen as religious women can choose to perform national service in a civilian vocation — and indeed many do so to avoid the modesty challenges of serving in the army alongside men.
Seminary leaders told the IDF that there was a strong desire among their female students to serve in combat roles, but the existing mixed-gender units present issues for religious women who observe strict modesty laws, which they believe prevent them from serving alongside male soldiers.
Army officials deliberated over the matter and finally decided to open such a female-only platoon.
Military units already exist for religious men who request to keep their interaction with women to a minimum for similar modesty reasons.
There are four mixed-gender infantry units within the IDF’s Border Defense Corps, which is responsible for defending Israel’s borders with Jordan and Egypt. Though Israel maintains peace treaties with Amman and Cairo, these frontiers see regular drug smuggling and gun-running attempts as well as occasional terror attacks, particularly along the border with the Sinai Peninsula, which is home to a small but capable branch of the Islamic State terror group known as the Sinai Province.
Last year, for the first time, the IDF began deploying a company of all-women tank operators along the Egyptian border as part of an ongoing pilot program to assess the feasibility of female armored crews.
Critics of gender integration in the military often decry 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 have been lowered for female combat soldiers — which they say is a sign that effectiveness is being sacrificed — and that servicewomen suffer stress injuries at a higher rate.
Some religious leaders have also come out against women serving in combat roles.
The army insists that it is allowing more women to serve in combat positions out of practical considerations, not due to a social agenda.