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The Lionesses of Israel

Margot Englander

Centerspread Editor

When everything seemed to stop on October 7, an all-female tank unit took action. Following allegations of infiltration by heavily armed terrorists, Commander Lieutenant Colonel Or Ben-Yehudah ordered her all-female force to "stay alert" as they proceeded to the southern Israeli kibbutz of Sufa. "We are going out to eliminate terrorists," she declared to her twelve soldiers, “Infiltration into Israel is happening, and it’s spreading. Stay alert. We might cross paths. We are a strong squad”.

Israel is one of the only countries where military service is required for able-bodied females (only Jewish women), and they serve for slightly shorter periods than their male counterparts. The IDF’s regulated integration of women began in the days of the Yishuv, when Jewish women served in the ranks of various Zionist paramilitaries during the 1947-1949 Palestine War. In 1999-2000, an amendment was made to the Women’s Equal Rights Law of Israel, under which men and women became fully equalized – although separately – in the Israeli military. Until 2001, all female soldiers served in the Women’s Corps/Chayil Nashim. As of 2011, about 88% of the IDF was open to women, but women only served in 69% of the positions offered to them. Amidst the 2014 Gaza War, the IDF stated that fewer than 4% of their female soldiers were enlisted in combat positions.

In 2020, the IDF confirmed the success of a two-year pilot program for an all-female tank operating team and that the role would become permanent in the military. The company, in the Caracal mixed-gender light infantry battalion (which is in the IDF’s Border Defense Corps), operates along the Egyptian border, and is typically not in wars or fighting deep behind enemy lines (until October 7th). The Border Defense Corps is responsible for defending Israel’s borders with Jordan and Egypt. Although Israel maintains peace treaties with Amman and Cairo, these frontiers normally see frequent smuggling attempts, and on occasion, other violent incidents. The Sinai desert is home to a small but capable branch of the Islamic State terror group, known as the Sinai Province, which has committed numerous terror attacks.

On October 7th, when the team got to the military base near Egypt, they discovered that over fifty Israeli soldiers were being held captive by Hamas following a terrorist raid. The fifty heavily armed terrorists attacked Commander Lt-Col Ben-Yehudah and her squad of twelve women as they closed in on the base. The commander shot a male terrorist at close range after coming face to face with him. When an officer from a different squad showed up and suggested attacking the building where the terrorists were hiding, Lt-Col Ben-Yehudah declined to endanger the hostages' lives. Rather, she aimed her offensive fire toward the terrorists who were dispersed across the base and in the open. Four hours of intense fighting ensued between the terrorists and the female battalion. Later, soldiers from a Navy Special Forces Unit reinforced the Caracal unit. They needed fourteen hours to secure the base. This proves that there should be no more "doubt about female combat soldiers," according to Lt-Col Ben-Yehudah. Her forces' "significant contributions" to the victory, the death of roughly 100 terrorists, and the life-saving helicopter evacuations of injured soldiers under fire were all hailed by her. "They fought valiantly, prevented fatalities, and became heroes." That day, another all-female tank crew under the command of Lt-Col Ben-Yehudah launched another valiant charge against Hamas rebels who had stormed the nearby kibbutz Holit, killing over a dozen residents.

“The all-female tank crew members who were stationed near to our team on October 7th,” according to a fighter in the Peled team (who battled with the all-female team) "were amazing, incredible, they fought like lionesses. They were a huge assistance to us. They ought to be embellished.” Approximately 25% of the 200,000 active soldiers in the IDF are female. Seventy percent of the units in the Caracal Battalion, which is stationed in Southern Israel, are made up entirely of women. On October 7, the Caracal Battalion is reported to have killed one hundred terrorists in all.

Now, following the events of October 7th, Israel is reported to be considering putting more women into higher positions of power within the IDF.

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