In a historic first for Israel, four women became the IDF’s first female tank commanders. While supporters of gender equality are celebrating, there are some voices who believe this is a big mistake.
“The pilot program was designed to examine whether and how women can be integrated as tank fighters in the border defense system.” That is the IDF statement in regards to the first female soldiers that became tank commanders.
Charlotte Davidovitch Peled is one of the four female tank commanders. Peled is 20 years old and lives in Tel Aviv. She immigrated from England two years ago and wanted to enlist in a combat unit.
“I made aliyah to serve in the IDF, and I chose to be in combat. I believe that the IDF should give a greater opportunity to women in all combat functions in the army, even though our physiological structure is different from that of the boys,” she said.
Female Only Tank Crews
Many in Israel were against the integration of male/female tank units. While many reasons were given, one of the strongest was that the intimate and closed space quarters of a tank will be an unnecessary challenge to a mixed tank crew. Instead of being 110% focused on defense, natural sexual tension can seriously harm the battle readiness of a crew.
Instead, the IDF has decided that female tank crew members would only serve in female-only tanks, not mixed. These four female commanders will command the first four female-only tank crews.
Some are not Celebrating
There are many Israelis who also believe in gender equality. However, that does not man that they believe it should translate to identical IDF combat roles.
One of those is Brig. Gen. (res.) Avigdor Kahalani. Kahalani is an Israeli hero for his heroic acts, as a tank officer, in the 1967 war and the 1973 war. Some even call him the #1 War Hero of the Yom Kippur War. He later became a politician in the Labor Party, and acted as a Minister in the late Yitzchak Rabin’s government. Kahalani strongly objects to integrating women into combat roles in the Armored Corps.
“I think it’s a mistake. I also think it won’t happen,” he explained. “There’s no reason in the world to take women and have them charge into the trenches of the Beaufort Castle (in Lebanon) with a knife between their teeth… there are enough men to do this job.”
Kahalani does not base his opinion on the physical differences between men and women. Rather he focuses on the mental toll a combat injury can take. “A girl coming out of a war, some of the wars I’ve been through, she’ll have a completely different mental damage,” Kahalani said. “Besides, just thinking about seeing women injured in war in the way some of my soldiers were, it’s horrifying to me.”
Kahalani on the Role of Women
In the 1967 Six Day War, Kahalani served as a tank commander in the Sinai desert. He knows firsthand what the horrors of tank injuries are about. “When I was injured, I was burned and I couldn’t get out of the tank and I was calling out one thing: ‘Mom!’ … I think a woman’s job is to be a mother and bring children into the world and I think that after enduring the trauma of war, she’ll be a completely different person. A mother’s instinct, a mother’s embrace, that ability to bear children and breastfeed—it wouldn’t be the same, I have no doubt about that.”
Kahalani is a big supporter of integrating women into more roles in the army, just not combat roles. “Anything that requires pulling the trigger and killing a man is the kind of thing men do. What can you do about it?”