israel tanks
Israeli soldiers stand next to tanks positioned on the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip AFP

Israel's first female tank crews are set to be fielded this week, amid a sexist backlash claiming the women would not be able to deal with the battle conditions.

Thirteen female graduates, who have been training on the first course for all-female tank crews since spring, will be deployed in three tanks on the Israel-Egypt border as part of a trial period. The programme began with basic combat training and then moved onto tank training on the Merkava Mark 3 model halfway through the course.

Each tank will have an experienced male commander, but the long-term goal is not to have mixed-gender tanks, according to Israel Today. Instead, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) want all-female and all-male tank crews operating alongside each other on deployments, although this will mean soldiers cannot be switched between tanks in case of emergency.

The IDF announced just a year ago it was considering allowing women to serve in the Armored Corps. However, army sources told Israel Today that the female tanks will only be authorised to serve in a defensive and stationary capacity. It is not planned for them to ever be called upon to enter and manoevure in enemy territory.

An anonymous tank officer previously told the Times of Israel that the military will review the results of the pilot programme in spring 2018. He said: "We're doing a test. After the test, we'll have answers — if it's possible or impossible for there to be girls [in the Armored Corps]."

According to Arutz Sheva, the IDF's Commander of Ground Forces, Major General Kobi Barak, has said female tank soldiers would have difficulty loading shells.

Israel's nonprofit IDF Fortitude Forum, which says its first and foremost goal is safeguarding the Israeli people and land, criticised the move as a "pointless mock-equality race" and emphasised that those guarding the borders must be capable of fighting.

Referencing the deadly Egypt mosque attack on 24 November, a statement said: "The terrible attack occurred on Friday in North Sinai, only 100 miles from the Israel border, proving again how much the seemingly quiet boundaries could turn a moment into a fight."

"It's time to stop the pointless insisting on combining girls in roles that don't match the physical," they added. "It's time to stop the fictional race and test the ramifications of operational women for operational positions."