Jérusalem (AFP) – The Israeli army on Thursday graduated the first four women from its tank commanders’ school, a step toward the formation of all-female tank crews.
Another six have completed training as crew members, but actual deployment of any of the women will depend on the outcome of a review by senior officers, an armoured corps commander said.
The project is a pilot programme to test whether women can be an integral part of armoured operations.
Four-member tank crews operate, often for many hours, in cramped conditions where physical strength is needed to handle heavy cannon shells and engine parts which may need to be handled in the event of a breakdown.
Five of the 15 original candidates did not complete training for various reasons.
But armoured corps Lieutenant-Colonel Beni Aharon told journalists on Thursday that over the year-long selection and training process the women had proven themselves fit for the task.
“The purpose of the pilot programme was to determine if four women can operate a tank during routine security activity and the response is positive,” he said.
“The soldiers achieved all of the goals that were set for them.”
Opponents of the scheme, including retired army officers, have denounced the project as a dangerous experiment.
Some also speculated on the pitfalls of possible mixed-gender tank crews confined together for long periods but that was never realistically considered.
Israel does however have men and women serving together in combat infantry units although their accommodation, showers and toilet facilities are strictly segregated.
In December, the army reported a record high of 2,700 women serving in its combat units.
Military service is compulsory for most Israelis, with men serving two years and eight months and women two years.
Aharon said the women have been trained for routine border patrol not for full-scale warfare.
They are seen as most likely to be deployed in southern Israel’s Negev desert, which borders the restive Egyptian Sinai region.