August 10, 2012: Over the last few years Israel has had problems maintaining the strength of its only female infantry battalion and female combat jobs in general. Currently 1.6 percent of Israeli combat jobs are filled by women. The army wants to increase that to two percent and to that end is staffing the new Iron Dome anti-missile units with women. Israeli law forbids sending women into combat but does allow for giving them jobs that might lead to combat situations.
Over the last few years fewer women have volunteered for combat jobs. So the military is experimenting with new screening and training methods, to address common complaints among women inclined to volunteer for these jobs. So far these efforts have led to a 15 percent increase in volunteers but more are needed. Part of the problem is that a growing proportion of potential recruits are young men and women from ultra-orthodox Jewish families. The men are exempt from conscription and the women usually marry early. This exemption is under heavy political attack by the majority of Israelis but so far the exemption stands.
Israel has, over the last few decades, expanded the number of combat jobs women can volunteer for. Israel conscripts men (for three years) and women (for two years). But women have more exemptions (especially marriage). Women who volunteer for combat duty are hard core because not only will they have to undergo some strenuous training but will have to serve three years on active duty, plus several years as reservists. This is necessary to justify the longer training required.
Like many other countries Israeli military police units contain men and women. Same with dog handlers, border guards, artillery units, and some search and rescue units. Women have long served as flight instructors, as well as trainers for tank crews.
There is also a largely female infantry unit, the Caracal Battalion. Part of the 512th Brigade in Southern Command, the battalion was formed in 2000, to provide a place for women who wanted to be in the infantry. It's a light (not mechanized) infantry unit that mainly serves along the Jordanian or Egyptian borders. The battalion took part in safeguarding Israeli civilians and troops during the 2005 evacuation of Gaza. Initially, about half the troops in Caracal were female, as are most of the officers and NCOs, and, usually, the commander. Now about 70 percent of the Caracal members are women, although it was 90 percent three years ago. While many troops see Caracal as a publicity stunt and a sop to the feminists, the unit has performed well and has a reputation as a no-nonsense and reliable outfit.
During their independence war in 1948, Israel had female infantry units but these were withdrawn. Not because the women couldn't fight but because Arab units facing them became more fanatical, and less likely to surrender, when they realized they were fighting women. There has long been pressure from conservative Jewish clergy in Israel who want women to be barred from combat jobs, while Arab radicals are urging more women to get involved in terrorism operations, including suicide bombings.