I learned about Nahshol (the Hebrew word for “large wave”), the world’s first unit dedicated to combat intelligence missions that is comprised only of women, this week from this article in Ynet. Trained as intelligence gathering combatants in the Israeli Defense forces, the women in the unit undergo basic training as well as a four-month training on the operation of advanced scouting and observation equipment. They are sent out in ambushes based on army intelligence information, and specialize in camouflaging themselves, their weapons, and their surveillance equipment. Their main jobs are to spot enemy forces and to guide IDF troops and gunships to their target. They focus on preventing illegal immigrants, drug smugglers, and smugglers of women from entering into Israel. According to the IDF website, what makes Nahshol different than other intelligence units is that the women gather intelligence from the field, rather than from a command center.
The unit sounds really cool—it was started four years ago as a pilot project, but because it has been so successful it has become a regular part of the IDF. It was hard to find information on Nahshol, and there did not seem to be any kind of explanation as to why an all-female intelligence unit was necessary, as opposed to a co-ed one, and I wonder. But according to the IDF website it’s been successful, and has allowed women to play an important role as a part of the Field Intelligence Corps, so it seems to be a good idea.
The one thing I found weird was the way that the article in Ynet was written—one of the sections in the article was called “Back home we wear high heels,” and the section includes, among other similar quotes, this quote from unit member Gal Bero:
“My nickname here is ‘the cosmetician,'” she says. “There is no way anyone here would see me unkempt.”
I would guess that the author is trying to show how even women who have traditionally male roles, such as combat and intelligence positions, can still be feminine. However, I found that section to be incredibly superfluous—most likely, some of the girls are feminine in the traditional sense, and some of them are not. But being feminine or not being feminine while not on duty really does not matter in terms of how they can perform in the field. Personally, I was put off by that whole section.
I was surprised for similar reasons by this quote:
Beyond the physical and mental difficulties inherent in their mission, female fighters also need to contend with adverse weather conditions, sleepless and showerless nights, and long hours of sitting in lonely ambushes (they’re not allowed to stand) that often bring no results.
Clearly, female fighters do need to contend with unpleasant conditions. But their being female has nothing to do with it—men in similar units have to face those same conditions. I found it weird that the author tried to paint the difficult parts of the Nahshol experience as one that is unique to women, while really what they are going through is an experience that is unique to the army as a whole.
I think that while it is important to have women serving in intelligence and combat units, it is also important to treat those women’s experiences not as womanly experiences, but as military experiences, or Israeli experiences. Doing so allows women to be seen not as a separate part of the IDF but rather as soldiers, just like all other soldiers, who are serving their country.