Rebbetzin Michal Nagen, head of the pre-military school for girls Tzahali, on Sunday, filed a petition with the High Court of Justice demanding an injunction against the IDF enlisting women into the special forces.
Rebbetzin Nagen told Reshet Bet Radio Monday morning that behind her petition is her awareness of many young women who suffered serious disabling injuries, some of them long-term, which makes her demand for an injunction against recruiting even more females into the special forces even more urgent.
In late 2022, the IDF announced it was admitting women into its Special Tactics Rescue Unit 669, and the Yahalom special force of the Combat Engineering Corps. The announcement followed another much-debated IDF plan to start recruiting women regularly to the armored combat units.
The issue of integrating women fighters into the IDF is at the heart of an ongoing public controversy in Israel, and while some women’s organizations see victory for women in female representation in elite units, more conservative organizations, that otherwise encourage women’s military service, strongly oppose it.
Negan demanded from the IDF Chief of Staff refrain from opening new tracks for women in the special forces and immediately close the tracks that had already been opened. She explained that her extensive experience with recruiting girls for combat roles exposed her to the health and physical price paid by the girls who enlist in these units.
It should be noted that Negan and the Tzahali pre-military school have played a significant part in the IDF recruitment revolution of the girls of the national religious community, and during her years of office, Nagen accompanied hundreds of her students into combat units. She is definitely not against women serving in combat units, but not necessarily in combat roles.
Negan has written that “female soldiers in special units will be required to undergo prolonged and extreme physical exertion that is not adapted to the female body structure. Combat duties in elite units are extreme, and a wholesale opening of the special units could cause severe damage to young recruits and harm the important process of integrating women into the IDF.”
Back in 2019, I reported that the head of the IDF manpower division, Major-General Mordechai (Motti) Almoz, was opposed to opening all the combat roles to women (IDF HR Chief: Women Should Not Serve as Infantry Combatants). As he put it: “I don’t want to be the one who fixes the problems of Israeli society.”
In 2016, Major General Yiftach Ron-Tal (res.), the former commander of the IDF Ground Forces, warned that the IDF initiative to integrate women into combat units was “a scandal that will harm anything one might imagine, including the IDF’s ability.” (Former General: Integrating Women in Combat Units a Conspiracy to Weaken IDF)
“Anyone pushing this objective is, forgive the expression, simply nuts,” he said, adding, “Are we off our rocker? The next phase will be not just tanks, but Division 35 (paratroopers), Golani Brigade, Givati Brigade, and the Nahal Brigade (combat infantry units).”
Yes, back in 2016, it looked absolutely outlandish.
Prof. Yuval Heled, the former IDF chief physiologist, said in 2020 that women may be able to serve in special units, but at a heavy price.
“The chance of a woman on average reaching the physical achievements that a man reaches is significantly lower,” Heled said. “The maximum physical fitness that a woman can achieve in terms of strength, endurance, speed, etc. is 20-30% lower than a man’s abilities. The potential to produce a woman warrior at the level of a man is lower. Does that mean there are no women who can do it? No. Some women are capable, but the professional question that needs to be asked is whether a large system like the IDF, whose main task is to win wars, should invest in this and also take responsibility for the majority of women who drop out due to injuries and heartache.”
“The physiological response of a man to training and stress is different from that of a woman. The basic structure of the man’s body allows him to be aggressive, develop muscle mass, speed, and center of gravity immeasurably better than most women,” Heled said.