Learning to Fight Like an Israeli

Feature: 17 hours of training with the Israeli Tactical School

March 11, 2016

On December 27, 1985, gunfire and explosions erupted at the El Al ticket counter inside the Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport in Rome. Four gunmen from the Palestinian terrorist group Abu Nidal entered the terminal at 9:10 am and opened fire. By 9:11 a.m. three of them were dead and one survivor was in custody.

This was thanks to a single Israeli agent named Moshe.

The carnage wrought by the Islamic radicals was mercifully cut short by the agent’s quick action and sophisticated training—exactly the same training that the Israeli Tactical School attempts to disseminate to the military, law enforcement, and private citizens in America.

Recently, I was able to receive a portion of the group’s training. After 17 hours of the most intense shooting drills of my life, I have a new appreciation for the tactics and, more importantly, the mentality employed by Israelis to combat the ever-present threat of terrorism.

Aggression is the key. Take the initiative. Surprise the attacker while you have the upper hand. Once you hear those gunshots you sprint to the scene, ready to do anything it takes to stop the attacker. You must be able to flip the switch in your mind and go from zero to 100 in an instant. When responding to an active shooter situation, whether as a concealed carrier or a law enforcement officer, you don't need to rely on a checklist or follow a progression of force to decide how to respond. When somebody is using deadly force against innocent people, you can and must counter with whatever force is necessary to stop them as quickly as possible.

At first, this training seemed like stark contrast to the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund training I received not long ago, but I think they're actually complementary. Police often rely on a continuum to make decisions about what force is appropriate to use in any given situation. This is necessary for the myriad everyday interactions police have with suspects, but in an active shooter situation it is largely irrelevant. The question in an active shooter event isn't whether deadly force is appropriate—it clearly is—but how the threat can be stopped with as little injury and loss of life to innocents as possible.

According to Tomer Israeli, the owner of Israeli Tactical School, that's where his program comes in. The school offers a variety of classes across the country and around the globe. I took four tactical classes at a training facility just outside the Beltway in southern Maryland.

Tomer was knowledgeable and charismatic, patient when the occasion called for it but authoritative when it was necessary, even with your humble correspondent. Even though he was only average height and weight—both smaller and older than me and most of the other students—I couldn't help shake the feeling that he was easily the most deadly guy in the building.

Given Tomer's background, that feeling made a great deal of sense. Tomer started his career in the Sayeret Matkal, which is basically Israel's Delta Force. That unit is specially trained in operations behind enemy lines and hostage rescue—skills that the Israeli Tactical School also teach. Later, he became a Chief Security Officer in the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. He served as the team leader at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. for years before leaving to found the school in 2013. It was his training in counterterrorism and diplomatic security during that time that informed the training I went through.

And that training was informed by Israel's own unique experience. An FBI report concluded that there have been 160 active shooter incidents in the United States between 2000 and 2013—an average of 11.4 per year. Most of those weren't terror related, and some resulted in zero casualties. A recent Free Beacon analysis found that there have been six successful terrorist attacks on American soil since September 11, 2001.

The Israeli Security Agency, on the other hand, reports that there were 169 terrorist attacks on Israeli soil in the month of January alone.

That's actually down significantly from October, when there were 620 attacks across the country. In that month 11 people were killed and 80 injured by attacks with knives, guns, rockets, and firebombs. This daily threat is practically unimaginable in the United States, and it occurs in a nation the size of New Jersey.

The frequency with which Israel has had to deal with active shooter situations and terrorist attacks has pushed its security forces to develop their tactics so far. Israel has developed the best tactics for dealing with threats through extensive trial and error.

"I'm nothing special," Tomer said. "The tactic is simply very mature. It's not like we know something you don't know. We simply experienced all the mistakes already. We did all the mistakes that you didn't do. We've already done it. You see that through the training. There really is an answer to everything. We really crossed all the roads."

Tomer imparts his lessons through a combination of live fire and dry fire drills in constantly changing scenarios. They are centered around what he calls the individual warrior concept. While the class does incorporate training with a second responder, it inculcates in its students the mentality that they are not reliant on anyone else.

One drill features Tomer sprinting at students as they reload a gun to show exactly how much distance between you and an attacker is necessary to complete a reload—it's a lot more than you might expect. Another drill teaches how to properly clear a room by quickly but methodically moving around a corner to see what's inside the room without exposing more of your body than is necessary. Still another has students shoot a terrorist until he falls to the ground, then sprint toward him to ensure, either through gunfire or Krav Maga, that he's unable to continue fighting.

Once the basic tools are in place, they're combined in a series of high-octane scenarios. Tomer created a myriad of different scenarios using moveable walls and targets. We had to complete each scenario correctly and quickly to earn praise. If not, you'd do it again until you got it right.

Running through the scenarios sounded something like this: "Contact!" Fire fire fire fire. "Down!" Finger outside the trigger guard, flip the gun slightly toward the sky and look at the slide to check for malfunctions. Sprint to the attacker. Ensure that he's out of the fight. "Neutralized!"

If there was more than one attacker, you didn’t wait around after neutralizing the first one.

"Contact!" Fire fire fire fire. "Down!" Finger out, check the gun. Sprint to the attacker. Shoot again if necessary. "Neutralized!" Sprint toward the sound of further gunfire.

Communication becomes especially important when doing the drill with a second student. It is vital that each participant know where the other is and what he is doing. Usually that involves yelling out information; sometimes it involves physical contact to avoid crossing the other participant’s firing line.

Once each student has learned all of this during dry fire exercises, the whole operation is moved to the range for live fire drills. The scenarios are changed again. Sometimes they even require students to smash through targets they have just engaged.

Of course, since many terrorist attacks occur at night, the whole thing is then repeated again in the dark—a kind of training that is hard to find elsewhere.

This training isn't cheap—the first four tactical classes taught over the course of a weekend costs $1,200—but it is a remarkable value. Not only do you get world-class training from a top-flight operator, you get very personalized training. This isn't a class of 30 people with a single instructor like you might see at an average pistol course. During my time at the school, there was an instructor for every two students. The instructors were able to provide a great deal of personalized attention so each student could work on their own weaknesses.

This is training that can be adopted and employed by a wide variety of potential first responders to attacks. Police, military, and civilians can all benefit from knowing how to properly handle an active shooter situation. If the closest good guy, regardless of who they are or whether they have a badge, doesn't hesitate to engage, more innocent lives can be saved.

Published under: Feature , Guns , Israel