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Posted on Jun 9, 2015 Print this Article

Israeli Defense Force Decides: Armored Tanks Will Stay All-Male

Women Defend Israel in Border Patrols and Other Support Missions

While some American military leaders are preparing to order women into combat arms units such as the infantry by January 2016, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) are moving in the opposite direction.  The Israeli and British decisions to keep certain land combat units all-male reflect extensive field tests and U.S. Marine Corps research confirming major differences in the physical capabilities of military women and men in the combat arms.      

Israel exists under constant threats, so most able-bodied citizens are conscripted to serve in the military.  On May 18 the Jewish Press quoted the Hebrew-language in reporting that even with personnel shortages, IDF officials have decided that women will not be assigned to armored tank units:

“After extensive field tests to explore the issue, the IDF has decided that female soldiers cannot serve in the tank corps. . . .The trials, carried out in coordination with the Medical Corps, concluded with the decision that ‘integrating female soldiers into tanks was harmful,’ a senior IDF officer told Ynet in an article titled  IDF Rejects Female Integration in Armored Corps.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in a May 18 article titled IDF Rules That Tanks Are Still No Place for a Woman, quoted researchers saying that women can be integrated into the fighting forces, but only in keeping with physical limitations:

“The attempt to train female soldiers for combat on the front line beyond their physiological limitations, simply in the name of equality, is liable to end with a large number of injured soldiers just to find the one soldier who can withstand the load required.”

The Israeli field tests were done as part of an effort to expand the number of female combat soldiers in the IDF, in which most citizens must serve but with different requirements for men and women.  According to news reports, the IDF has lost thousands of combat troops after reducing the mandatory service period by four months. 

Personnel Directorate officials have noted encouraging signs in female combat recruits' motivation to serve in the new light infantry brigade called the Lions of Jordan, which will be permanently assigned to guard the eastern border of the Jordan Rift Valley.  This unit is similar to the Caracal Brigade, which patrols the border with Egypt

Both of these gender-integrated units perform important missions on borders with countries that have signed treaties with Israel, but IDF officials have confirmed that they do not mobilize to seek out and attack the enemy with deliberate offensive action. 

Israel Counters Amazon Warrior Myths

Washington Times reporter Rowan Scarborough researched the largely-unreported news from Israel and wrote a front-page story that should give American policy-makers pause: [1]

Women's Combat Roles in Israel Defense Forces Exaggerated, Military Traditionalists Say

In the article Center for Military Readiness President Elaine Donnelly commented, “Uniformed Israeli women patrol the borders or help to train men for combat positions, but these important missions do not involve ground combat, meaning deliberate offensive action against the enemy.  None of America's allies, much less potential adversaries, are treating women like men in the combat arms.”

Israeli defense officials who made a final decision to exempt women from service in tanks may have reviewed data published in the December 2014 report of the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), which was analyzed in two-section CMR Policy Analysis in February 2015. [2]

The British MoD explained with unusual clarity exactly what Ground Close Combat (GCC) units face when they “close with and kill the enemy.”  Quoting qualitative studies into load carriage conducted by the Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (DSTL), the report stated:

“Women exhibit disproportionately lower strength on the single lift, with 5.4% achieving Infantry/RAC (Royal Armoured Corps) standards.  Lifting involving upper body strength is a principal (88% of all tasks) manual handling task of the British Army.”

Israeli officials also may have been aware of preliminary findings produced by the American military’s Women in the Services Restriction Review (WISRR).  The September 2014 Interim CMR Special Report titled U.S. Marine Corps Research Findings: Where Is the Case for Co-Ed Ground Combat?  CMR was the first to publish interim proxy test findings that are highly relevant to armored tank communities: [3]

  • In the 120 mm Tank Loading Simulation, a gunnery skills test, participants were asked to lift a simulated round weighing 55 lb., 5 times, in 35 seconds or less.  Quoting the report, “Less than 1% of men. . . [compared to] 18.68% of the women . . . could not complete the tank loading drill in the allotted time.”  The report added, “It would be very likely that failure rates would increase in a more confined space [such as a tank].”
  • In the 155 mm Artillery Lift-and-Carry, a test simulating ordnance stowing, volunteers had to pick up a 95 lb. artillery round and carry it 50 meters in under 2 minutes.  Noted the report, “Less than 1% of men, compared to 28.2% of women, could not complete the 155 mm artillery round lift-and-carry in the allotted time.”  If trainees had to “shoulder the round and/or carry multiple rounds, the 28.2% failure rate would increase.”

The Israeli Ynet news service reported that concerns about physical deficiencies contributed to the decision to keep tank crews all-male:  

“The physiological trials included a test of the abilities of an average female young adult inside the combat compartment of the Merkava tank, specifically in fulfilling the two duties which require significant physical effort ˗ the ‘loader,’ tasked with carrying the hefty artillery shells, and the ‘driver,’ who must press down on the heavy peddle with considerable strength.”

Officials also expressed concerns about the Armored Corps lifestyle, in which men are forced to spend several days locked into a small cabin while on operational duty.  Instead of adding complications associated with gender-integration, which would make deployments more difficult and more dangerous, IDF officials decided not to assign Israeli women to armored tanks.   

The IDF decision to have all-male tank crews appears to have been based on sound military principles that assign highest priority to military necessity, not social agendas or political considerations.  In 1992 Hebrew University scholar Martin Van Creveld spoke of these principles when he testified before the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces.

Dr. Creveld told the Commission that in Israel, social agendas are not taken seriously in Israel, which is surrounded by enemy forces: 

"For us, the military is a question of survival.  We would not survive probably for five minutes if it weren't for our superb, well-trained, well-prepared, combat-ready forces.  Everything in the Israeli armed forces is geared towards that.  Everything. . . .To me, the very fact that this issue is being discussed and this meeting being held simply shows that you really don't take the military seriously. . .[Y]ou can afford to make all kinds of social experiments, which we cannot."  (Transcript, June 26, 1992) 

None of the research done in the United States military to date has made the case for treating women like men in the combat arms.  It is time to affirm sound priorities that improve mission capabilities while benefiting both women and men in America’s All-Volunteer Force.

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The Center for Military Readiness, founded in 1993, is an independent public policy organization that reports on and analyzes military/social issues.  Please consider making a generous contribution to the Center for Military Readiness by clicking on the easy-to-use, secure website, linked here.  Readers also can help by sharing this article and “liking” the CMR Facebook page.

[1] The Washington, D.C. ˗ based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) posted a commentary praising Rowan Scarborough for his coverage of a subject that 

“. . . many people may think they know but perhaps do not: The role of women in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).  Israel is the only country that requires mandatory military service for women, and the IDF says that 90 percent of its jobs are open to them.  But the picture is more nuanced than that summary might suggest. . . [T]he role of women in the Israeli military is more complex than many note: ‘Israeli women’s assignments are far more restrictive than the roles envisioned by advocates in the United States who anticipate an American military that opens all ground combat units to women.’  The Times says ‘a closer look shows Israeli women are not in direct combat special operations such as the Green Berets.  Nor are they in front-line combat brigades mobilized to engage in direct heavy combat.’ ”

[3] Interim CMR Special Report, September 2014, U.S. Marine Corps Research Findings: Where Is the Case for Co-Ed Ground Combat? pp. vi, vii, and 9. 


Posted on Jun 9, 2015 Print this Article