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Two Israeli elite combat units accept female recruits for the first time

Illustrative - Israeli Air Force 669 unit participates in a drill (Photo: IDF)

The Israeli Defense Forces will recruit female soldiers to its 669 airborne search-and-rescue unit and Yahalom engineering unit for the first time.

“The Air Force will open its doors to women to apply for combat roles in the 669 Unit, thus enabling the better utilization of human capital in the IDF,” read a statement released by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit on Friday.

IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi announced the new policy last May, with the recruitment of females into the Yahalom engineering unit to begin this April and November.  

A total of 130 female soldiers are expected to be integrated into the Yahalom unit and Airborne Combat Rescue and Evacuation Unit 669. 

The IDF described two paths it will use to integrate women into the Yahalom unit. The first path selects candidates based on personal data and then subjects them to selection through physical training. The candidates not selected will be assigned to other combat units within the army. 

Per this track, the military is able to learn how best to protect the womens' health, said Brig.-Gen. Itamar Reichel, head of the Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) personnel division.

“We will not compromise on the health of women combat soldiers,” said Reichel. “I want the most suitable and high-quality people in the unit, and if there are women, I want them, too.”

The second path is for women that have been trained as pilots and already meet the required physiological criteria. They will be given an additional exam in order for them to join the unit.

The screenings for Unit 669 will follow current operational requirements, which have been determined in accordance with the instructions of the chief medical officer, the chief infantry and paratroopers’ officer, and the IAF’s 7th Wing for Special Forces.

The IDF indicated in a press release that it already deemed 11 candidates suitable for the 669 tactical rescue unit, demonstrating the physical capabilities required and receiving medical approval. This week, there will be another selection day involving physical tests.

This is the first time women are being recruited into the IDF Special Forces units in combat roles. In 2016, women were allowed to join Rescue Unit 669 but only as paramedics or in other non-combat roles. It is estimated that 90% of the positions in the IDF are now open to women.

The army’s 669 airborne search-and-rescue unit is one of the military’s four Special Forces. On average, about 1,200 cadets apply to this unit annually, but only a fraction manage to graduate the 18-month course. It is considered particularly intense, with cadets training in the air, on land and at sea.

The course includes training in combat medicine, parachuting, scuba diving, counterterrorism, rappelling, rescue under harsh conditions and navigation. Recruits also are eligible for a commanders’ course.

Those that serve in this unit must sign for an additional 16 months of service on top of the required 30 months.

In an interview, the IAF personnel division head said that this unit, in particular, demands a great deal from those that serve in it and that the Air Force “will not compromise on the standard.”

“As for the physiological aspects, the demands of a fighter in such an elite unit are related to the need to save human life. If the requirement is not met, neither men nor women will pass,” Reichel said. “A fighter is a fighter is a fighter. Those who meet the standard will be integrated into the team.”

Unit 669 was established in 1974 following the Yom Kippur War and initially was charged with extracting Israeli pilots shot down in enemy territory. It later undertook rescue missions of soldiers, as well as injured or stranded Israelis, both at home and abroad.

The unit continues to rescue soldiers on the battlefield under fire and in all situations, including during the war-between-the-wars campaign and in routine operations.

Over the 50 years since this special unit was formed, it is reported to have rescued over 10,000 people throughout Israel and the world, and has received several IDF chief of staff commendations for its work.

Read more: IDF

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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