Milestone decision on women in IDF marks 25th anniversary

New Israeli TV series explores the question of how the integration of women in the IDF combat units will go.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel is marking the 25th anniversary of a landmark court decision that forced the Israel Air Force to allow women to apply to be combat pilots, and Israel’s public broadcaster noted Sunday that while that concept seems to be outdated in 2020, controversy continues as women integrate throughout the IDF.

In 1995, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the Israel Air Force had to allow South African immigrant Alice Miller to try out for pilot school. Miller was already an experienced civilian pilot and aeronautical engineer whose application to be a pilot was rejected by the IAF because they only accepted men.

Following the court ruling Miller went through the initial training, but washed out on medical grounds. However, the landmark court case paved the way for other women who now serve as pilots, including the cream of the crop who fly fighter planes.

Miller’s efforts were so significant that the IDF has a page on its website documenting the history of the decision. Last year the air force promoted its first female air squadron commander, who IAF commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin called a role model and an object of admiration to thousands of women in the State of Israel.

The Channel 11 documentary will deal more with the current issues surrounding the opening of more combat units for women, including a recent petition by a woman seeking to try out for the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fought in. Another key issue is women being part of Israel Navy ship crews almost half a century after women started serving on U.S. Navy ships, which were built beginning in the 1990s to accommodate women sailors.

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In late 2019 the IDF announced that six female naval combat recruits had enlisted in the Navy for the first time to serve on the new Sa’ar 6 corvette missile ships. The new corvettes, currently being built in Germany with the first delivered earlier this month, will have a separate section for female soldiers, complete with beds, showers, and toilets.

The situation in armored brigades still arouses controversy. Earlier this year the IDF decided to continue its experiment in using all-female tank crews, and there have been several mixed gender combat units for several years in which thousands have already served. Women served in combat roles beginning in the pre-state militias before 1948 and since then hundreds have died in combat.

The controversy over women serving in combat roles still roils discussions not just within the IDF, but also in the Knesset. Right-wing Yemina Party member Bezalel Smotrich, when serving as Transportation Minister last year, claimed “mixed units is service that damages the IDF operational capability,” but his comments were dismissed by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff who at the time of Smotrich’s comment was opposition leader. He is now Defense Minister.

“I have news for Smotrich … women will be in any place where they can contribute, in the IDF and in general,” Gantz said.

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The “Warriors” documentary series to be aired on Channel 11 will show interviews with the candidates for military service who are ready to fight to reach the IDF’s elite units, and examines the barriers, prejudices and political pressures that prevent the integration of women as combatants in the IDF.