A deadly shootout last week along Israel's border with Egypt has shone 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 who 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.
Yesterday, 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. Women in Israel were barred from combat until 2000, the year Caracal was introduced as a way to ease females into combat duty; 60% of its soldiers are women, and the unit has grappled with widespread skepticism from a male-dominated military. "I feel proud to know that finally people are coming to recognize and know what we are worth and what we are able to do," one former Caracal company commander told Israel Radio.