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In time of war

The Israeli answer to terrorism

By Massad Ayoob

Massad Ayoob

Issue #81 • May/June, 2003

When war seems imminent, citizens think about protecting themselves. The war of the moment involves a declared enemy that has already used unconventional tactics to murder some three thousand innocent civilians within these borders. Closer to their own turf, they have a long and well-documented history of using terror tactics—mass shootings and suicide bombings—directed against innocent and unarmed women, children, and men rather than military targets.

We have seen the previews in Israel and Pakistan. We have seen them in captured Al-Qaeda training tapes. In one such tape, a carload of guerrillas is pulled over on what appears to be a four-lane highway. As a police officer approaches, the trunk lid pops open and he is sprayed with automatic weapons fire. One guerrilla walks up to the downed policeman's body and executes him with a head shot, then gets in the car and drives away with the rest of his band.

With current terrorism alerts, readiness for many will include being constantly armed, if only with a small handgun like this light S&W Titanium .38.
With current terrorism alerts, readiness for many will include being constantly armed, if only with a small handgun like this light S&W Titanium .38.

There are not a whole lot of four-lane highways in Afghanistan. It is clear that this is training for atrocities committed within the United States.

Early in the wake of September 11, 2001, the Israeli intelligence service Debka warned that Osama bin Laden had probably acquired at least four small, "dirty" nuclear devices, known as "suitcase nukes," from sources connected to the Russian Mafia. In a recent book, a researcher suggested that the Al-Qaeda arsenal of these devices might number more than 30. Given the history of other contraband brought into North America in ship containers and by other smuggling routes, there is ample reason to believe that nuclear bombs are already in place here, waiting to be triggered by the fanatics who control them.

The problem is clear. It's time to look at solutions.

When homeland security hits home

Since 9/11, a popular bumper sticker has circulated among gun owners. It reads, "The Second Amendment Is Homeland Security." This is more than just empty rhetoric.

In the last two years especially, street terrorist attacks in Israel have repeatedly been shortstopped by armed Israeli citizens. A terrorist opens fire at a crowded bus stop; a passing Israeli motorist draws his 9mm pistol and cuts him down. A late-arriving security man with an M-16 hoses the twitching terrorist just to make sure.

The 1911 .45 automatic remains the quintessential American combat handgun. This one is the excellent, affordable Kimber Custom II.
The 1911 .45 automatic remains the quintessential American combat handgun. This one is the excellent, affordable Kimber Custom II.

Another terrorist attempts to trigger an explosive device in a public place. An Israeli housewife draws her pistol and shoots him dead before he can detonate the bomb. The would-be martyr dies alone.

A third terrorist opens fire with an automatic weapon in an Israeli school. What could have been a mass murder on the scale of Columbine or greater is limited to a very short casualty list when Israeli parents and grandparents, who have provided volunteer armed security after receiving state training, open fire and kill him with their concealed pistols.

Note that in each of these episodes, it was an armed citizen who stopped the terror. Not a soldier. Not a security guard. Not a police officer. Just as wolves do not try to seize a lamb under the nose of the sheepdog, terrorists do not strike where armed protectors are known to be present. They scout the turf and select their victims more carefully than that.

Israel began the program of armed citizen guards in the schools after the Maalot massacre in the 1970s, when a large number of children were slain in a terrorist incident. The volunteer parents work in plain clothes, armed with concealed semi-automatic pistols, and are trained by Israel's home guard. It is significant that in the more than a quarter century between Maalot and the incident mentioned above when the citizen guards shot down the terrorist in the school in 2002, not a single child was murdered in an Israeli school!

The reason is that Israel wisely publicized the fact that the civilian volunteer guards, indistinguishable from the regular teaching and administrative staff, would be in place. It served as a tremendously effective deterrent. No Moslem fanatic who wants to go to Allah as a successful warrior who has slain many infidels visualizes himself making the trip after having been shot down by some geriatric with a gun before completing his mission. Any head trip as arrogant as that of a self-styled martyr cannot tolerate the thought of an ignominious death at the hands of an ordinary victim. It would be like a wolf picturing its own throat being torn out by a sheep: simply unthinkable, and therefore a natural deterrent.

More cops are carrying guns off duty than ever with current terrorism alerts. Here, author has been practicing 'surgical' brain shots with a Kimber .45.
More cops are carrying guns off duty than ever with current terrorism alerts. Here, author has been practicing "surgical" brain shots with a Kimber .45.

Of course, the politically correct hand-wringers want nothing to do with this. Sadly, being helpless themselves, sheep tend to instinctively fear anything with canine teeth. Many of them cannot distinguish between the wolf and the sheepdog, and thus fear them both equally. We have seen this phenomenon in the knee-jerk reaction against arming pilots, for example, in the wake of 9/11. Never mind that it has worked remarkably well for the commercial air fleets of Israel and Russia in preventing hijackings. We have seen it in the adamant refusal of many to even think about armed protectors inside schools. Never mind that from Peru to the Philippines, as well as in Israel, institutional arming of school personnel or selected volunteers with appropriate training has put an end to murderous armed attacks on school grounds.

America's approach to its own fledgling Homeland Security program has been marked by some counterproductive decisions. I write this in Missouri, a couple of days after teaching a class to local police. I spent much of yesterday on the range, shooting with SWAT cops from the area.

Until 9/11, these officers had frequently trained at the Army's Fort Leonard Wood. They were grateful for the opportunity, and considered it some of the best Special Weapons and Tactics training they had ever received. "Your tax dollars in action" in a very effective way.

Alas, shortly after September 11, these services to local police were cut off and military facilities were dedicated strictly to training the military. Certainly, when America's response to Al-Qaeda ramped up, it was necessary to take maximum advantage of extant facilities for training designated personnel. At the same time, however, are not the domestic police the first line against terrorism in a homeland security program? It was law enforcement, not military, who captured those Al-Qaeda operatives who were arrested in the United States and are now in custody. It was an Oklahoma state trooper, not SEAL Team Six or Delta Force, who captured the most infamous of home-grown terrorists, Timothy McVeigh, after the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City.

Shutting off US Government training to the cops, the front-line troops in the Homeland Security effort, is not a good thing. It also gives you an idea where Federal support for self-reliant American citizens stands on the current list of official priorities.

"By their nature": tools for the task

For decades, Israeli citizens in what Yanks would call "tough neighborhoods"—communes where there had been heavy terrorist activity—were allowed to check out Government-owned Uzi submachineguns. Are we going to see that in the United States? Not bloody likely. But, don't worry about it. You probably aren't going to need an Uzi.

In use by counter-terrorist groups world wide, the Glock 17 holds 18 rounds of 9mm in pre-ban magazines. Author strongly recommends high speed hollow point ammo if 9mm is chosen.
In use by counter-terrorist groups world wide, the Glock 17 holds 18 rounds of 9mm in pre-ban magazines. Author strongly recommends high speed hollow point ammo if 9mm is chosen.

The overwhelming majority of terrorist incidents in Israel that have been shortstopped by armed citizens have involved one particular type of defensive firearm: the 9mm semiautomatic pistol, usually with a high capacity magazine design. By its nature, the handgun is portable. It can always be with you when danger threatens without warning, and remember, by their nature terrorists strike without warning at times and in places where they know the attack will not be expected. By its nature, the handgun is concealable and invisible until deployed. Remember that by their nature, terrorists scope out their battleground before they initiate violence there, and make a point of avoiding attack sites that are conspicuously well-defended. It's that "wolf and sheepdog" thing again.

Fortunately, the last 15 years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of jurisdictions in which law-abiding private citizens in the United States can obtain a permit to carry a loaded and concealed handgun in public. The trend continues, with Missouri and some other states actively fielding legislation this year that would grant them the privilege. Given the profile of the threat, the timing is excellent.

A defensive firearm is a special purpose tool, and the selection of the tool must always be tailored to the task. The terrorists under discussion here seek target rich environments. Crowded schools. Crowded marketplaces. Crowded restaurants and nightclubs. This means that the private citizen engaging one in defense of himself and others will have a very narrow "firing corridor" through which the rescuing gunfire will have to be delivered without harming any of the many innocent bystanders who will predictably be at the scene.

Anyone carrying a firearm that might remotely be used for this purpose should spend plenty of time training in what is often called "surgical" shooting. The sights on the pistol should be true, that is, the gun should be perfectly sighted in to deliver the bullet's point of impact exactly to the handgun's point of aim.

We are talking about hitting very small body parts to instantly shut off the lethal danger which the target organism poses to a large group of innocent humans. A shot to the chest may not be enough. A man shot through the lung can stay up and running for a considerable period of time. If the brain is fully oxygenated, even a man whose cardiac function has been completely shut off by a bullet through the heart (and not every gunshot wound of the heart will shut that organ down completely) can continue purposeful, violent activity for as much as 14 or 15 seconds.

'Old-fashioned' service revolvers have the match-grade accuracy for surgical rescue shooting in capable hands. This is S&W's classic Combat Masterpiece .38 Special, with Remington +P 125 grain hollow points in a Safariland speedloader.
"Old-fashioned" service revolvers have the match-grade accuracy for surgical rescue shooting in capable hands. This is S&W's classic Combat Masterpiece .38 Special, with Remington +P 125 grain hollow points in a Safariland speedloader.

A shot to the upper central nervous system is more certain to stop violent activity immediately, but is also much more difficult to deliver. The spinal cord is only about as thick as its owner's little finger, and is encased in a serpentine column of bone. Even a shot to the brain is not 100% guaranteed to instantly shut off the action. The only certain "instant one shot stop" is a hit to the stem area of the brain, which destroys the medulla oblongata or pons. This is in line with the ears when aimed at from the side, and with the base of the skull when the shot must be fired from behind. The external anatomic landmark for a frontal shot will vary depending upon the position of the head.

If the head is erect in the normal posture, the deep brain target will lie directly behind the nose. If the head is forward in an aggressive posture, the level of the eye sockets will be in line with the primal brain target that must be hit. If the head is thrown back as in a triumphant shout, aiming through the mouth will guide the bullet to the brain stem.

The 9mm pistol has become virtually standard among civilians in Israel. However, that does not make it the best choice. Anecdotal reports of shootings of terrorists there by citizens and by police and soldiers (who have also standardized on the 9mm handgun) frequently show the bad guy to take many hits before he goes down. This is why the high capacity gun has become the 9mm of choice there. The most common brands are the old classic Browning, the Beretta, the Glock, and the Jericho (an Israeli-made clone of the Czech CZ75 design). One cannot help but notice a corollary fact: the high performance hollow point bullets that brought the 9mm Luger cartridge up off its knees and made it an acceptable fighting round are thin on the ground in Israel. Many citizens and police are likely to carry military style full metal jacket ("ball") ammunition. This stuff tends to just punch through the body, making little dimpled holes like ice-pick wounds and endangering those behind the target with exiting bullets.

Recent events in Afghanistan have shown the relative impotence of 9mm ball compared to the same style of .45 caliber ammunition that has been in historical evidence since before WWI. GIs in Afghanistan report that Al-Qaeda fighters are absorbing multiple 9mm ball rounds from the issue Berettas before going down, but tend to drop to one or two solid hits with .45 ball fired from the old 1911 style guns still in use by Delta Force.

The medium-caliber handgun cartridge such as the 9mm (.355" bullet diameter) or the .38 Special (.357" bullet diameter) requires an expanding bullet to best do its job of stopping human assault, while the .45 (.452" bullet diameter) has a long history of shutting off attacks with ball type ammo. Take a quick look at three US shootouts reported in the Armed Citizen column of the National Rifle Association's new magazine, Women's Outlook.

Case One: Finding a home invader in the bedroom of his 18-month-old son, Ronald Dixon "pulled a 9mm handgun out of his closet and confronted the stranger in the child's room. When the interloper advanced on him, Dixon fired his gun, hitting the man twice. The intruder, later identified by police as Ivan Thompson, then fell down the stairs and ran out of the house, but collapsed outside. According to police, Thompson has a record of 19 arrests, mostly for burglary. He was critically wounded in the chest and groin." (New York Daily News, 12/15/02.)

Case Two: US Marine Corps Sgt. James Lowery was at the drive-in window of a McDonalds in Gardendale, Alabama, while home on leave. "That's when a man with a .38-cal. handgun ordered him out of his customized Chevy suburban. Lowery complied and got out of his SUV, but the man then shot the Marine in the face. Lowery reached back into his vehicle, drew a .45-cal. pistol and shot his assailant several times. The robber, Thaddeus Antone, was pronounced dead at the scene. Lowery was listed in fair condition at a local hospital." (Birmingham News, 12/19/02.)

Case Three: Medgar Flowers was home alone with his wife when two armed home invaders entered shooting. Flowers struggled with one of them and finally the homeowner got close enough to the coffee table where he kept his own 9mm automatic. "Flowers was able to retrieve his gun and fired several times at the intruder. 'I didn't even know if I had hit him,' he said. 'There was no blood, and he never fell. It was like I hadn't shot him.' The struggle ended when Flowers' tormentor stumbled out of the house and died a short time later. The second gunman was not found." (Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, 01/04/03.)

In every caliber, author recommends hollow point bullets for safety to bystanders.
In every caliber, author recommends hollow point bullets for safety to bystanders.

Note that the Marine's .45 decisively ended the encounter in his favor. Note that the man shot in the face with a .38 responded by killing the man who shot him, and that two criminals shot with 9mms were able to perform considerable physical activity before collapsing of their wounds. Cowardly predators surprised at being shot in self-defense, they chose flight instead of fight. A committed, fanatical terrorist would be more likely to keep fighting and shoot innocent victims or trigger an explosive device before collapsing.

In a scenario where terrorism has struck the United States hard and ammunition is no longer readily available in stores, inexpensive "ball" ammunition, stocked in quantity for customers who practice with it extensively, will be the last to disappear from the shelves. Ball ammo in a .45 will probably get the job done; ball ammo in a .38 or 9mm often will not.

In any case, all such handguns should be loaded with expanding-bullet hollowpoint ammunition that is designed to stay in the body of the offender and not exit to strike an innocent bystander hidden from view behind him. While exotic high speed, low bullet weight, frangible projectiles can be had, they are too expensive to practice with, they often do not hit to point of aim, and quality control and accuracy are iffy with some brands.

Even a small .38 Special revolver is better than nothing when lethal danger threatens. Snub-nosed revolvers are harder to shoot than larger guns. With a full size service revolver, surgical accuracy is absolutely possible in trained and confident hands. With a small frame snub-nose, the shooter will often have to get closer to make an accurate precision shot. However, in some of our more tropical climates, it's carry a very small gun or carry nothing at all.

Bottom line

Our government has sent us a very clear message: Be Prepared. There is every reason to believe that more terrorist activity will take place in the American homeland. No, a pistol is no defense against a nuclear device that detonates downtown. But looking to the Israeli model tells us that the same monsters they have fought will be fighting us the same way.

Santayana was right. "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it."




Read More by Massad Ayoob

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