Israeli tank
© AFP / Jack Guez
The Israeli military has announced that it can't afford to train female tank crews, months after 10 young women proved that they could operate and command tanks on par with men in a pilot program.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) put a lid on the prospect of having women as armor crews on Sunday. The decision was explained by reference to a cost-benefit calculation.

"The assessment of the situation in the Ground Forces with the Armored Corps revealed that the next stage in the experiment requires a significant increase in manpower and infrastructure for the realization of the process," the IDF said in a statement.

"In light of this, it was decided that at this time it is appropriate to strengthen the integration of combat units in existing units, and not to establish new combat units. The knowledge to implement the process, if it is decided in the future, has been acquired and exists."

The 10 female soldiers, who successfully passed an experimental training course last year, will now likely continue service in non-armor positions in the mixed-gender Caracal Battalion, in which they have trained, the IDF said. The decision was reportedly taken several months ago.

Due to historical and demographic reasons, the IDF is one of the most gender-inclusive military forces in the world. Women are allowed to occupy virtually all combat roles in Israel and are required to serve in the military by the nation's conscription laws. But tanks were long viewed as being no place for girls. In 2015, the IDF said women were not suitable to crew tanks due "to physiological limitations."

The pilot program that attempted to integrate women into the Armor Corps was launched in 2017 under former chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot. Of the 15 women recruited to train as tank operators, 10 succeeded and four became tank commanders. The program was described as a great success by the IDF when it finished last June. But the military said it was a trial and that a decision on whether to expand it was yet to be taken.

One of the reasons the IDF was suspending the program was that it was not prepared for mixed-gender tank crews, while having all-female tank crews would pose challenges. For instance, an adequate number of trained female tank operators would be needed to replace women who got injured or left the service.

Detractors of the gender integration initiative, which include more conservative top military brass and religious groups, said the IDF was sacrificing efficiency for the sake of pursuing a social agenda. Former IDF chief rabbi Yisrael Weiss, for example, argued that if men and women are put "into a closed box for a week... you'll get a little tank soldier in another nine months."

The IDF has had to make quite a few appeasing gestures for Israel's religious minorities when it comes to female soldiers. For example, serving women have to abide by modesty rules, which include a ban on smoking and removing bras near fellow ultra-Orthodox Jewish soldiers.