Is there a problem with women in IDF combat roles?

Is there a problem with women in IDF combat roles?

Can true friends of Israel also be nuanced, or even give constructive criticism? If so, let me say that women in IDF combat roles are not “Israel’s secret weapon,” but the IDF’s not-so-secret vulnerability, putting soldiers and civilians in harm’s way for politics. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the IDF Instagram feed, or most pro-Israel messaging, but it’s true.

Let me say up front that my support for Israel is a conviction that goes far beyond political and cultural issues such as these. It is rooted in the promises and faithfulness of God. I also believe men and women are equally of inestimable value, both created in the image of God and without both men and women, the reflection of God in humanity is lacking. 

Furthermore, my point is not to denigrate the sacrifice of the multitude of women who have given their lives in defense of Israel. Nor is it to say that there are no women doing crucial and necessary work in the IDF. But that does not negate the very real problem of women in IDF combat roles. 

As I walk down the streets in Israel, my daughter will sometimes point and ask about female IDF combat soldiers. I have to gently explain to her that there are infinitely valuable things she will grow up to do, and she will learn to defend herself as well. But what she is seeing is not wisdom. It’s pure foolishness that will get people hurt and killed. 

Some might say, “You’re not in the IDF, you don’t get to talk.” To that, I would say that, while experience is valuable, I do not buy the theory that if you are not “x” you may not speak about matters pertaining to “x.” An outside perspective is not always wrong. To say otherwise is to abandon rationality and objective truth. Secondly, as a non-citizen, I support the IDF in whatever way I can. But I also invest my personal safety by choosing to live the majority of my life in Israel, with wife and children.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is among the only armies in the world that conscript women into its ranks under a mandatory military draft law. Women do not normally have to serve in combat positions, but an ever-increasing number of Israeli women are.

In pre-State Israel, women famously fought in the socialist Haganah underground. David Ben Gurion was a believer in gender equality. But pragmatic reality quickly won out, and early Israeli combat women are more myth than reality. According to researcher Rosenberg-Friedman, within a month of the War of Independence in 1948, women had been quickly pulled from the front. In total, about 100 women were captured by the enemy, and while socialist ideology demanded gender equality, it was sensibly understood that women POWs suffer an infinitely greater risk of sexual assault than men do. The IDF “Women’s Corps” would keep women out of combat, roles that required physical abilities, and service conditions not suitable for women.

But in 1995, Alice Miller petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court because she could not become an IAF pilot. This fundamentally changed the IDF by the year 2000. Women’s role in the IDF was no longer going to be an issue motivated by real defense and security concerns, but based on ideological equality. The separate Women’s Corps was binned and since then, women have continued to petition the secular Supreme Court against the IDF, landing win after win. They are demanding inclusion in the Armored Corps, Duvdevan, and more.

The IDF revealed data in 2021 that in the previous six years, the number of women in combat units has surged by 160%. Women now make up 18% of combat soldiers. Only the “assault echelon” remains exclusively to men—for now.

We live in a time when reality is often ignored, and sometimes flatly denied. Ask yourself if the following has any impact on combat: 

As National Review has pointed out, regarding reflexes and reaction times, tests indicate that men perform significantly better than women. When faced with immediate danger, studies suggest men are “more likely than women to take action.” Motion sickness and vertigo are far more commonly experienced by women. In the US Navy, for example, women go on sick calls at a higher rate, typically ranging from 60 to 70 percent more frequently. Confronted by violent events like battlefield combat, women are far more likely to develop PTSD and to experience the symptoms longer than men. Aside from women’s unique ability to handle the pain of childbirth, “study after study” conclusively shows that men have a much higher overall tolerance for pain. One US Army study showed female troops in Iraq were almost twice as likely to suffer non-combat related disease or injuries, and twice as likely to be medevac’d from the “theatre of operations.” Women developed stress fractures and ACL injuries many times that of men. Men can shrug off blows to the head, or explosive concussions, that would stun a woman or make her lose consciousness. 

It doesn’t stop there. The average fit man has 10-12% more oxygen in his blood, 50% more muscle mass, has a thicker skull, a stronger neck, a bigger heart, bigger and more dense bones, and can jump vertically nearly 50% higher than the average woman. For over fifty years, across dozens of sports, women’s world speed records consistently fall 10 percent short of men’s records. (There is no space here to even touch on what these facts of life have done to fitness requirements in the military.) Then there are the female hygiene issues. An officer may know he cannot place a female soldier on an 8-hour guard post and has to start making tactical compromises. 

I know how the facts make me sound, but that won’t change reality. 

Any one of these factors on their own could mean the difference between life or death. Taken together, they form an insurmountable gap between men and women in combat. Combat units with all females, or mixed genders, will be slower in arriving at the battle, weaker when fighting it, more prone to injury, slower when retreating, and more traumatized afterward. 

More people will die. 

Then there are the “mental distraction” problems, which are possibly even worse.

As Anna Simons has put it: “Men and women have been each other’s most consistent distraction since the beginning of time. To pretend that we don’t know what will happen when men and women are thrown together for prolonged periods in emotionally intense situations defies common sense. Being overly academic and insufficiently adult about adult behavior isn’t just irresponsible but imperiling, and belies the deadly seriousness with which we should want combat units to perform.” One of the crucial factors for military success is a unit’s social “cohesion,” Simons says, and putting women in a male unit instantly ruins cohesion. 

Drive down an Israeli road in Samaria and you will often see IDF women and men paired together for guard duty. There is hardly a breathing male alive that would not be at least partially distracted by such a situation, even if just driven by a biological protective instinct. I have heard of one Jewish widow mourning for her husband who was murdered by a terrorist. When IDF commanders came to pay a condolence call, the young widow begged the IDF for two things: stop letting the soldiers be distracted by smartphones, and stop placing men and women together on guard duty. The commander’s answer was: We will do all we can about the phones. Regarding the second request, we can’t touch it. 

The border police seem to be a favorite place to place IDF women. I have personally witnessed female Magav officers struggle to arrest a suspect, and finally, a male officer had to step in. Why does it matter? Because in real-world situations, it means that female police will more quickly have to resort to the extreme violence of firearms as “the great equalizer,” in situations that men could resolve quicker, with less permanent injury or death. One also has to consider the culture of the Arab street. A man may capitulate to a male soldier, but would fight to the end to resist being apprehended by a female. 

As the IDF’s decision to change in 2000 revealed, this is not an issue based on rational care for human life and national defense, but an ideological ideal. It is a socialist ideal, not an inheritance from Israel’s biblical heritage.

Nearly everyone knows women in combat roles is a uniquely bad idea. But it’s like the emperor’s new clothes. And gender politics are the emperor. The whole thing is a farce that would rather risk lives than offend the naive sensibilities of young women. Offending them would be the immediate end of any career in a Western military like the IDF. Which is why the deadly charade lives on. 

Perhaps Israel will be the unique nation to break the trend. For everyone’s sake, I pray so.  

John Enarson is the Christian Relations Director at Cry For Zion ( He is happy to receive input or questions about his articles.

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