High Court orders IDF to explain why not all elite units are open to female soldiers

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The High Court of Justice on Tuesday ordered the defense establishment to provide answers about why women have not been integrated into a broad array of elite Israel Defense Forces units.

The three-justice panel gave the respondents — the Defense Ministry, the IDF and the IDF chief of staff — until September 6 to answer a series of questions about the roles available to female soldiers.

The respondents were asked to explain why women have not been drafted to serve as drivers or in the mortar squads of certain infantry units or into a wider range of roles in the Armored Corps, as well as in elite units that have special entry screenings.

The justices wrote that the ongoing pilot programs in the helicopter-borne search and rescue Unit 669 and the Yahalom combat engineering unit did not mean the IDF could exclude female soldiers from serving in other units.

“If there’s already an experiment to make such a decision, then why not allow every woman to try to be accepted to additional units?” Supreme Court President Esther Hayut asked during Tuesday’s court hearing, according to Haaretz.

The question of women serving in IDF combat units has been circulating for decades, with a long history of court cases and military pilot programs.

Illustrative: Male and female combat soldiers of the Caracal Battalion train to fight an Islamic State assault on southern Israel in late March 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

A poll released in November by the Israel Democracy Institute suggested that 54 percent of Jewish Israelis believe that all elite IDF units should be open to women, while 35% said they disagree.

In October, the IDF said it would make permanent a company of all-women tank operators following a successful two-year pilot program. The company, in the Caracal mixed-gender light infantry battalion, operates along the Egyptian border — not in wars or in fighting deep behind enemy lines.

The military halted the integration of armored units following an initial 2017-2018 trial, but agreed to restart it in the beginning of 2020 following multiple petitions to the High Court of Justice.

Critics of gender integration in the military often decry it as a dangerous social experiment with potential ramifications for national security, while defenders generally call it a long-needed measure in line with the policies of many other Western countries.

Female soldiers from the mixed-gender Caracal Battalion train in southern Israel on December 10, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The army insists 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 womanpower and manpower available to it.

Recent years have seen a growing trend of women serving in combat units and in other roles previously held by men, with the IDF beginning to draft women to several elite units for the first time last year.

Military service is compulsory for Israeli men, who serve for two years and eight months, and for women, who serve for two years. Some units require troops to stay on longer, due to lengthy training periods.

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