An IDF General Reflects on Her Service

The Fellowship  |  March 12, 2019

Several soldiers in uniform and face paint lined up together.

Brigadier General Sharon Nir has served and protected the Holy Land for more than three decades, including as commander of a combat unit. To honor Women’s History Month, and to inspire the next generation of strong women, General Nir reflects on her service to Israel:

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, in the era of resistance movements and military organizations of The “Yishuv” (pre-state Israel) in the land of Israel, women have served in key positions and have been a crucial part of the IDF.

Since the establishment of the IDF, one of the most prominent elements making the IDF the “people’s army” was the decision to mandatorily enlist women and men alike. It was Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, who said that “…The highest level of equality is equal obligation, and the highest level of obligation is defense… any time that women don’t have the same obligations- they aren’t truly and fully equal to men…”

In 1949 the Defense Service Law was enacted stating that women are to serve in the IDF, but that the jobs and length of service are to be different than those of men. In the first few decades, women were put in assisting positions such as nurses, teachers, secretaries, etc.

My service began about 3 decades ago, as a decoder in the C4i & Cyber Defense Directorate. At the time there weren’t female combat soldiers and positions open for women were limited. Only about 55% of all positions in the IDF were open to women and there were very few high-ranking female officers.

The fact that so few jobs were open to women at the time didn’t strike me as an obstacle, but rather as a challenge. It was clear to me that I would serve in a significant position and that I wouldn’t give up. I started in officers course and then went into several positions in the field, instructions, most of them were ground-breaking. The most meaningful position I held was when I was a communications battalion commander in the Central Command.

For the first time in the IDF, a woman, wife, and mother of two served as a combat communications battalion commander. Right away as I started my job as a commander of a combat unit I felt an overwhelming sense of duty and responsibility like no other. Along the way I was made the commander of the C4i & Cyber Defense School, where thousands of IDF soldiers are trained. I got very emotional every morning seeing the soldiers’ dedication and desire to serve in such a meaningful job.

Thankfully my personal journey was simultaneous to organizational changes in the IDF in the last two decades which have pushed the subject of women in the IDF into a new era. Nowadays, 86% of all jobs in the IDF are open to women, both in the Headquarters and in the field. Utilization of women in these jobs is still a challenge to face and we need to allow supportive infrastructure and a work environment that encourages success.

In 2019, we can see among female soldiers in the IDF high levels of motivation to serve as combat soldiers. I want to use this as an opportunity to thank all combat soldiers, female and male alike, stationed in the frontlines and who conduct operational activity day and night. Their performance is absolutely crucial to the state’s security.

In honor of International Women’s Day, I want all of us women as a whole, and especially as commanders and soldiers in the IDF to continue doing our work well, believing in ourselves, and aiming as high as possible.