TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ A U.S. presidential commission on women in the armed forces is in Israel to check out the myth of the fighting Israeli woman soldier.

''We've heard many stories and we've come to get it straight,'' said retired Maj. Gen. Mary E. Clarke after visiting an Israeli women's army base Wednesday.

The truth is that since Israel's early years, when a few women saw combat, the policy is to keep them off the battlefield.

But old legends die hard.

''In the United States there's a myth that the Israeli women are up front in the infantry, the tanks, the armor, fighter pilots and so on. But we found that's not so, they're not really in combat ... and that's going to be a valuable finding as we go back,'' said Darryl Henderson, a retired colonel.

Clarke, a former women's corps commander, has traveled with Henderson to Canada, Britain, Holland, Denmark and Israel as members of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces.

On Tuesday their travels brought them to Zerifin, a military base outside Tel Aviv where female recruits arrive for their mandatory two years in uniform. At Zerifin, they undergo basic training and learn to fire weapons.

The soldiers visited by the Americans had been in the army for 14 days.

''How's the food?'' asked Clarke. ''Bad 3/8 Bad 3/8'' the women chorused.

Clarke was surprised to hear that the women get up at 5 a.m.

''My, that's late 3/8'' she said. ''I was just in Denmark and they get up at about 4 o'clock in the morning, so it's pretty easy here, isn't it?''

''They are spoiled,'' said Col. Tova Hoffman, the base commander.

A soldier dismantled her Uzi assault rifle for Clarke. Another demonstrated applying a bandage. One said she was a volleyball player and hoped to be stationed near home so she could keep up her training. Another wanted a navy job. A third hoped for an air force posting.

Hoffman said some recruits would like to join combat units. ''I tell them the reasons why they should not go in a combat situation.''

As a colonel, Hoffman is one of the highest ranking women in the army. The top female soldier, who commands the women's corps, is a brigadier general.

The army is frequently accused of being a male chauvinist bastion which uses its womanpower solely to type and serve coffee. It has sought to counter the image by admitting women to jobs once reserved for males.

Lt. Col. Moshe Fogel, a military spokesman, said women now train men as combat engineers, artillery gunners and tank operators. ''But they are not in the front line in active combat,'' he said.

There is no pressure to put them into combat.

Fogel said the government had decided long ago to keep women off the battlefield. ''Israeli society has decided through its elected government that women will not serve in active combat,'' he said.