Despite great strides in adding females to the mix, the IDF has experienced issues integrating female tank crews.
Featured photo courtesy of Stephanie Horwitz
After facing various legal pressures, the IDF’s new Chief-of-Staff, Aviv Kochavi, recently decided to reinstate a pilot program that would test the possibility of integrating female tank crews into the Armored Corps. The pilot’s goal was to train all-female tank crews and ultimately deploy them to the Jordanian and Egyptian borders. Of the 15 women in the pilot, 13 completed the training, four of whom also became tank commanders. Although deemed successful upon completion in 2018, the pilot’s continuation was put on hold, as its next phase would require more funds and resources that were unable to be allocated. (Haaretz, 2020)
The announcement of the pilot launch in 2017 was controversial and immediately became a “hot topic” in the media, as well as in my social circle. As a former Lone Soldier who served in the IDF as a tank shooting instructor, and someone who has fired tank cannons and taught soldiers shooting techniques, I felt an enormous amount of pride. While my friends who served as tank instructors felt empowered, many voices across the country were outraged. Aside from the concerns over immodesty from ultra-Orthodox leadership, male soldiers and officials claimed that women lacked the level of physical fitness needed to fulfil the duties of a loader or to conduct frequent tank maintenance routines.
Most frustrating of all, many claimed that the integration would lower the morale and motivation of the male soldiers in the unit, and that soldiers would feel emasculated if women could work the job with them. Despite the great strides that the IDF has made over the past few decades to include females in various combat units — such as accepting women as pilots in the Israeli Air Forces’ Flight Academy for the past 22 years (Israeli Air Force, 2017), these reactions were alarming.
Women have been serving as tank instructors since 1976. From the get-go, they have been the most knowledgeable about the tank and have had to first do or simulate whatever it was that they would teach to others. Today, a male soldier in the Armored Corps is trained by a female instructor from his first day on base, through his advanced training, throughout commander school, and even in officer school. Alongside his commander, it is the (female) tank instructor who teaches him to be a skilled and successful tank crew member.
When I was selected to be a tank instructor along with 30 young women in 2013, my service began with an intensive three-month basic training. After learning the “101s” of dozens of technical tank topics, my friends and I underwent screening in order to be assigned to the specific profession that was most fitting to our capabilities. I spent another nine months training as a simulator instructor and became fluent in topics such as ammunition choice, optimal shooting methods and ballistic trajectories. My friends and I who were shooting instructors learned to successfully fire tank shells at targets from more than a mile away. Day in and day out, I witnessed the astounding capabilities of my fellow female instructors and their physical and mental strength.
Just as instructors are tested and then placed, the capabilities of male recruits are also assessed. A soldier who is fit may be selected as a loader, while a less imposing soldier who scores highly in psychotechnical tests is more likely to be a gunner. Being a man doesn’t guarantee that he is physically fit enough to load shells into cannons. Why is the Armored Corps discriminating by gender, instead of selecting the most qualified individuals who can do the job properly?
The Armored Corps today no longer enjoys the elite status that it did during the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War era. The 188th “Barak” Brigade achieved both lightening successes during the Six Day War and devastating loses on the Golan Heights in 1973. The shooters and commanders entrusted to me became the backbone of today’s 188th. The resistance to integrating women seems to be an issue of institutional ego. Maybe the Armored Corps is nervous that doing so will undermine the “macho male image” that the unit is trying to project to bolster its current reputation. The notoriously poor conditions found at its training base, coupled with the role of tanks in today’s warfare and the Armored Corp’s more lenient physical standards all contribute to its current less-than-stellar standing in the IDF pecking order.
By raising the bar and requiring higher standards and a more competitive screening process open to all – especially women, the IDF can recruit more motivated, passionate, and talented recruits. When the pilot relaunches later this year, hopefully the IDF will set aside male ego issues and put forward the resources needed to restore the Armored Corps to elite status.
Stephanie Horwitz, originally from West Bloomfield, served in the IDF as a tank instructor from 2013-2015. She lives in Tel Aviv and works as the Value Creation manager of SAP.iO Foundry Tel Aviv, SAP’s strategic business unit that focuses on start-up engagement and innovation.