"Don't ask, don't tell" has made things more complicated not only for gays but also for straights in the military. In the Israeli military, the lack of a legal penalty for disclosing one's sexual identity means that "over-affectionate" pals can choose to confirm or deny homosexual preferences to their fellow soldiers. But when "telling" is not an option, suspicion and paranoia of prevail.
The paradox is that when gays are allowed in the military, but not allowed to identify as such, everyone becomes suspected of being gay. It is no wonder that a rise in sexual harassment and homophobic crimes have been reported in the U.S. military ever since the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was introduced. When intimacy and sexuality -- which are, like it or not, key features of masculine military culture -- cannot be negotiated, cannot be told and discussed, they may be turned inwards, transformed into an urge to hunt fellow soldiers.
Israel's experience is a valuable starting point for the Pentagon as it begins to study what overturning "don't ask, don't tell" would mean. First, it is by now well-acknowledged that the mere participation of gays in combat units of the Israel Defense Forces has had no bearing on military performance and unit cohesion, whether or not soldiers come out. Second, Israel's experience shows that the presentation of the debate as a problem of accepting "open gays" is misleading. The dilemma of "exposure" is merely a distortion produced by the current U.S. policy. Israel has prevented sexual orientation to become a source of cause disruption by treating it as a fact of life rather than a problem to be addressed.
In Israel, military authorities have kept gay enlistment a minor concern by sticking to a minimal strategy: officially acknowledge the full participation of gays and at the same time ignore them as a group that may require special needs. Gay soldiers do not receive, and do not expect to receive, any special treatment in combat settings. It is simply a non-issue. If the U.S. government will adopt a similar course, it could enjoy not only a more liberal military, but also, perhaps, a more combat-effective one where the focus is on defeating the enemy rather than questioning fellow soldiers.
At a time when Americans are attempting to lead a campaign against terror and foreign dictatorships in the name of democracy, they should be more apprehensive of what is happening in their own military backyard.