JERUSALEM (AP) — A deadly shootout last week along Israel’s border with Egypt has shined a spotlight on Israel’s only mixed female and male combat unit, granting some recognition to a group that has faced much skepticism and often been the butt of jokes since its inception.
The Caracal battalion’s response to the militant attack on Friday — which left three gunmen dead, including one whom Israeli officials said was killed by a female soldier — marked a major test for the unit that typically handles tame operations. One Israeli soldier also was killed.
On Sunday, Israeli newspapers and radio broadcasts glowed over the news that the co-ed battalion played a decisive role in thwarting the assailants’ attack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted about the work of the unit — named after a medium-sized cat native to the Middle East and Africa — in his weekly Cabinet meeting. Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz traveled to the scene of the attack and congratulated the soldiers.
“If the Caracal force wasn’t there in those critical moments, it’s clear to everyone that we could have faced a difficult attack,” Col. Guy Biton, the commander of the Sagi Brigade that oversees the battalion, told the Maariv daily newspaper.
Most Jewish Israeli citizens are drafted into their nation’s defense forces when they turn 18. Women, however, typically serve less time than men and usually away from the battlefield, in administrative or technical positions. A minority serve in combat roles.
By contrast, 60 percent of Caracal’s soldiers are women.