The Caracal Battalion, Israel’s co-ed combat unit, wins praise after battle with militants
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.
Women were barred from combat until 2000, the year Caracal was introduced as a way to ease females into combat duty. The unit was positioned in areas along Israel’s borders with Jordan and Egypt. For years, the territory was calm, largely because Israel has peace deals with both neighbors. Soldiers who were there mostly worked to prevent drug and weapons’ smuggling and while they were trained to neutralize an armed threat, they rarely faced one.
But in the last year and a half, since the fall of longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, Caracal’s usual patrolling area near Egypt has become a hotbed of militant activity. Egypt’s vast Sinai peninsula is home to Islamic extremists who have staged attacks against Egyptian and Israeli targets. The Jordanian border has remained quiet.