History In The IDF

Army to appoint its first female tank commanders as gender integration pilot program comes to an end, following months of training and combat deployment
Women in the IDF Photo: IDF

The Israel Defense Forces declared its pilot program of all-female tank crews a success on Thursday, hours before four of the participants were due to complete the Armored Corps’ tank commanders course.

“The training process was a success, from both an instructional and an operational perspective. The soldiers achieved all the goals set for them,” said Lt. Col. Benny Aharon, the head of command training in the Armored Corps.

The pilot program was designed to see if women could make up the four-person crews necessary to operate a tank in “routine security operations” within Israel’s borders or just beyond them if necessary — not in wars or in fighting behind deep enemy lines.

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The pilot program has faced considerable criticism since it was announced in November 2016, with former commanders of the IDF’s Armored Corps railing against the plan and calling it a conspiracy by left-wing “freaks” to weaken the military. Others, however, have lauded the program as a necessary corrective.

The trial began last year with a four-week selection process, pulling candidates from a crop of recruits who came into the military looking to serve in a mixed-gender combat unit.

The soldiers needed to show “high levels of motivation to serve in combat roles,” Aharon said.

Fifteen soldiers were chosen. Two of them dropped out during the eight-week basic training they performed with other recruits for mixed-gender combat units.

The remaining 13 were sent to the Armored Corps’ Shizafon base deep in the Negev desert. There they performed six weeks of professional training, learning to operate the Merkava Mark 3 model tank, followed by 14 weeks of advanced training.

The advanced training for the female recruits was somewhat different from that of their male counterparts, Aharon said.

As the pilot program was designed to test only their ability to perform routine border security, their training did not include all-out war exercises, he said.

During this training period, three more soldiers dropped out of the program. According to Aharon, the five soldiers who washed out were either found to be incapable for medical reasons or were found to be unfit “professionally.”

Throughout the training, they were monitored by nutritionists, doctors and exercise instructors to determine if they could handle the challenges of the position. The army also routinely gave them and their commanders questionnaires to determine their levels of motivation.

The army determined that “the percentage of soldiers who didn’t complete the program is reasonable considering it was a pilot,” the lieutenant colonel said.

The remaining candidates were then deployed to the army’s 80th Division, which is responsible for the southern Negev and Arava deserts, and guards the southern borders.

The female recruits were not formally integrated into the Armored Corps combat brigades — like the 188th, 7th and 401st Armored Brigades — but instead served under the mixed-gender Caracal Battalion.

Four of the soldiers were then chosen to take part in the Armored Corps tank commanders course, a grueling training program that teaches soldiers about the larger strategies of using armored vehicles in warfare.

During that course as well, some slight changes were made to account for the different types of missions the female tank commanders would be given compared to their male counterparts, Aharon said.

The other six female tank operators were sent with the rest of the Caracal Battalion to a deployment in the West Bank, the tank officer said.


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