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August 22, 1986 - Image 62

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-08-22

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The Woman's Place
In A High-Tech Army

High-tech has transformed the Israeli
army — and the role of its women
soldiers, who now perform a variety of
vital functions.


Special to The Jewish News


t is just 8 a.m. and Ronit

Natan is already hard at
work. Sqatting on top of a
mean, ugly Merkava tank at
a dusty Israel Army base
near lel Aviv, a floppy khaki
hat shading her eyes from the
early morning sun, 20-year-
old Ronit is patiently intro-
ducing a group of young male
army recruits to the user-
friendly features of one of the
most advanced war machines
in the world.
Not even the novelty of a
journalist and photographer
looking on is allowed to inter-
rupt the lesson. "You see," she
says later, "a mistake on my
part could cost them their
lives in combat:'
Sergeant Ronit Natan is an
instructor in the Armored
Corps of the Israel Defense
Forces. A few years ago, she
would probably have filled in
her two years of compulsory
military service operating a
telephone switchboard, typ-
ing letters and making coffee
for senior officers. A recent
revolution, however, has cat-
apulted Israeli women soldiers
from the typing pool to the
business end of some of the
most sophisticated military
hardware available.
Women do indeed still pro-
vide the secretarial services
for the various branches of
the defense establishment.
But now they are also the
drill sergeants and instruc-


Friday, August 22, 1986

tors. They teach male recruits
how to fly supersonic jet
fighters; how to march; how
to strip down sub-machine
guns; how to operate tanks,
huge artillery pieces and com-
puterized rocket launchers.
They are graduates of the
General Staff and Command
College and the Naval Mari-
time Masters' course. They
are drivers and mechanics.
And they manage the bulk of
the sophisticated computer
operations in this super-
computerized army. They also
operate electronic early-
warning devices on *border
outposts and undertake high-
ly classified intelligence work.
They work as military po-
lice, as technicians in the ar-
my, navy and air force, and as
social workers, medics and
teachers, lifting male recruits
from underprivileged and
problem backgrounds to the
minimum level required for
army service.
What separates the men
from the women is combat:
unlike the early years of the
Jewish state, when all hands
were needed on the front
lines, current army regula-
tions bar women from any
tasks that involve the risk of
actual combat. In the Leba-
non war, for example, women
soldiers performed many
technical tasks, but were kept
away from the actual battle
Given the push-button
nature of modern warfare, the
demand for fluency in high-
tech far exceeds the need for


physical brawn. And the
young women soldiers have
been• quick to seize the
challenge. In fact, they have
taken over so many of the
technological and training
functions — and are perform-
ing them so well — that other
national defense forces are
now taking a keen interest in
the Israeli experience.
The West German Bundes-
wehr, for example, recently
dispatched a top-level delega-
tion to study the role of the
Israeli woman soldier. And its
members came away im-
Indeed, young women like
Ronit Natan are impressive.
Attractive and feminine, even
in rumpled fatigues, she
wears the green and black
lanyard of an Armored Corps
instructor and the badge
awarded to those soldiers who
have completed the punishing
tank-warfare course. She also
wears all the jewelry permit-
ted a female soldier: a pearl
pendant, earring studs, a ring
— and a wobbly-eyed dog
brooch pinned to her cap. She
has a presence unusual in a
woman of her age, and the
young men under her com-
mand readily accept her
"Ronit gets more out of
them than a male instructor
would," declares the regimen-
tal sergeant-major at her
base, a clealning surrounded
by rich kibbutz farmland and
cluttered with prefab huts
and tents, "home" to hun-
dreds of mostly male army

recruits. "The men work
harder for women instructors.
There are no disciplinary
"Why not," shrugs an 18-
year old male soldier. "She
knows what she's talking
about and it's nice to have a
pretty face to look at for a
change. Maybe we follow
orders from a woman even
better than for a man."
Ronit, who also trains tank
commanders and officer can-
didates much older than
herself, acknowledges the in-
evitable sexual tensions that
are part of her job. "In the
beginning," she says, "I stand
in froht of each new group of
25 men and I can feel them
looking me over. They are

deciding whether I'm attrac-
tive, whether they'd like to
start up a relationship with
me. I understand that. But I
earn their respect by knowing
my subject."
Ronit s parents were ap-
palled when they learned she
had been selected for a special
tank instructors' course.
"They didn't think it was a
nice job for their daughter at
all," she grins. "But now they
are very proud of me."
Ronit, who plans to study
sociology and Middle East
history when she completes
her two years of military ser-
vice later this year, says her
feelings about the equality of
men and women are even
stronger now. "In fact," she

An Israeli woman soldier, top left, qualifies with a combat
weapon during training for the Israel Defense Forces. At top
right, Brigadier Gen. Amira Dotan chats with a new recruit.
Above, Israeli women soldiers line up at the ready on a rifle
Photos By Richard Nowitz

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