Israeli female soldiers carry the "injured" with their male counterparts during a live-fire drill in southern Israel on Dec. 13, 2012. (Xinhua/Yin Dongxun)
JERUSALEM, July 16 (Xinhua) -- A few weeks ago, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced the completion of a successful trial of training four women as tank commanders, who underwent rigorous sessions and will soon begin their operational services.
For some, it was another step forward for Israeli women who were already subject to conscription like men decades ago, despite the fact that they can only serve in non-combat positions, mainly as clerks or providing logistic services.
Even for the four female tank commanders-designate, they will not be sent to infiltrate enemy territory in the event of war.
Still, the army's attitude toward women has been changing. Since the mid-1980s when more roles became available for women, their participation in military positions has been increasing, with even a five-fold sharp rise in the past five years.
In an exclusive interview with Xinhua, Brig. Gen. Sharon Nir, gender affairs adviser to the Chief of Staff, voiced satisfaction with the direction where the Israeli army is moving.
"We are in a more utilized position where we are using our human resources in a more precise way," said Nir, a female military officer who has almost 30 years of service in the army.
"As time goes by, women are no longer 'the other' in the organization," she said. "They are an integral part of it and are measured by their skills and abilities."
Edna Lomsky-Feder, a female professor from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, pointed to Israel's aim to "integrate women further" into the army.
"Women have been labelled as a strong labor force that has unfulfilled potential," said Lomsky-Feder.
According to the Israeli military, 85 percent of the roles in the army are now open to women. As opposed to men, women must volunteer for combatant positions. They are not legally bound to do so.
Meanwhile, the controversy over female participation in the army has never faded away.
There have been calls from prominent Jewish rabbis for prohibiting women from serving combat roles, saying they are not fit to do such jobs.
For religious Jewish men in combat units, the close proximity to women during their service is problematic.
For the army, it is also a tricky path to follow, as it strives to create an inclusive environment for its religious soldiers despite the policy of further incorporating women to the army.
It is also worth mentioning that the army has attempted to recruit more ultra-orthodox Jewish men, who are legally entitled to exemption from military service in order to continue their religious studies.
"The challenge is to bring everyone to know how to co-exist side by side in a respectful manner. All this can happen with the condition that women will not be excluded," Nir told Xinhua.
Last week, the military denied reports that there has been gender separation in smoking areas on military bases and a ban on female soldiers to wear shorts during their free time.
However, with religious commanders holding key positions in the military, there is probably some truth to them.
"There is the policy and there is what happens on the ground," said Lomsky-Feder, who is doing research on the military experience of women in Israel.
She believes the room for inconsistency is large, since there are officers who are more liberal and also those who are more stringent.
It is hard to envision that all roles are open to women, and even harder that lawmakers will pass a law that makes combat service obligatory for women.
"As long as not all the positions are open to women, women will always be in a lower status and this is a problem," Lomsky-Feder noted.
Despite more high-ranking female officers nowadays, the ratio is still disproportionate to women's share of the population.
The military is a place where almost all walks of life meet, so that its stance on gender issues is critical and could reflect on the social trend.
"The IDF has a meaningful position in everything that has to do with gender issues in the Israeli society," Nir said. "Military service has a huge influence on how a person developes throughout life."
"Israel is a military society ... and the army is a mirror of the society," explained Lomsky-Feder.
With warfare and militaries becoming more and more technological, the Israeli army is making efforts to increase the presence of women in the technological units and has achieved progress to a certain degree.
But the glass ceiling still exists. More legislative and military changes are needed to follow the bumpy road to narrowing the gender inequality in the army.