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Israeli Anti-Terrorist SWAT School

Terrorism is not new. Neither are counterterrorism forces. What is relatively new in the U.S. is the concept of law enforcement SWAT teams and first responders becoming anti-terrorism / counterterrorism (AT/CT) operators, or at least AT/CT-capable.

Columbine and 9/11, while very different in nature and scope, have placed a spotlight on the dire need for a new and very specific type of U.S. law enforcement tactical training based on a likewise specific tactical focus and doctrine.

Locate and identify the threat, neutralize the threat, and sweep and clear the area of any additional threats, if they exist—and do it as fast as you can and as safely as you can. This is much easier said than done because you have to kill or subdue every terrorist while preventing severe injury or death to innocent bystanders and/or hostages, yourself, and your teammates.

All this is all old news to the Israelis. They’ve been contending with terrorism on a fairly regular basis since the 1970s, which has given them plenty of time to design and develop a training methodology and combat doctrine for their military special operations personnel, law enforcement SWAT operators, and first responders.

To create the IMS Advanced Counter-Terror SWAT School course, lead instructor Aaron Cohen and his cadre of instructors have adapted the year of training they received and subsequent extensive AT/CT operational experience into a four-day AT/CT immersion course designed specifically for SWAT operators to combat both active-shooter and religious-extremist terrorism scenarios.

The School

On the first day of the course, Cohen gave us a brief explanation of Israeli anti-terrorism doctrine and showed the Israeli point shooting method for rifle / carbine (all dry fire). Standing with your feet an even shoulder length apart, holding the weapon one-handed in the “ready” stance with the muzzle pointed toward the target with a bent arm at chest height, step out with the left foot (for right-handed shooters) at 45 degrees from centerline while pivoting your rear foot so that it looks like you’re surfing at 45 degrees off centerline.

Your knees are flexed / bent, your feet are flat on the ground, and your torso is straight and leans slightly forward from your pelvis. While making this movement and keeping your eyes on the threat, you simultaneously thrust the weapon toward the center of the target and then pull it back aggressively into your right pectoral area while pivoting your torso, bringing your right shoulder forward to meet the weapon.

This creates a secure pocket for the weapon once it’s on the shoulder; that is more difficult to disrupt if the operator is struck or an outside force pulls on the weapon. Now, drop your head to get a proper sight picture. By the time you drop your head down to acquire the sights, the target will already be almost 90% acquired. Now, stop breathing and shoot. This technique is for relatively short distances and is designed for speed, mobility, stability, and shot consistency under stress.

Next, we were taught how to close as quickly as possible on the target, once the target is down. This is the Israeli technique of “sprinting” with the weapon one-handed (weapon hand pumping just like free hand) as fast as we can toward the target. If the instructor yelled “target up,” we’d have to come to an Israeli-style shuffle stop with our feet evenly spread, quickly reacquire the Israeli point-shooting stance, and fire at the target until the instructor yelled “target down.” We then sprinted to the target again to continue to close the distance. Unless the instructor yelled, “target up” again, we closed to contact distance and fired a neutralization shot into the target’s / terrorist’s head (anchor shot).

This sprint-to-the-target, stop, shoot, and sprint again technique is very different from the American shooting-while moving technique. The Israeli’s believe they can close to the threat faster, shoot from a more stable platform, and maintain a better total situational awareness and target focus with this method. In Israel, CT operators train to always attack forward immediately.

We were also taught Israeli “multi-directional terrorist interdiction” aka rapid multiple target engagement (MTE). Rapid directional change capability is pre-woven into the fabric of the Israeli model. The two primary reasons for this are: 1) terrorists may not be positioned directly in front of you, and 2) you must always anticipate more than one terrorist (who may be spread out to inflict the most damage.)

For rapid multiple target engagement when the targets / threats are spaced less than 45 degrees apart, instead of resetting the stance for each target, the stance is maintained, and the weapon is dropped down slightly as the operator visually acquires the new target and the weapon is quickly brought back up to firing position, sight picture is acquired, and the shot is fired. This is called a hook.

The reason for the slight weapon swing down is to get the weapon out of the way (out of the operator’s field of view) and thus free up the operator’s vision so he can better and more quickly acquire the new target. This also keeps the operator from overcompensating when going from one threat to the next, which is often the case when a weapon is swung from one target to the next in a straight line.

The Israelis maintain that the more controlled hook is just as fast as the American swing technique and is more accurate. They’ve also found that hook weapon allows the operator to maintain better eye contact on the threat, which will likely be moving. We also practiced this technique while stepping toward the target.

All of this was done dry fire, i.e., no live ammo. Then, we engaged in some live fire point shooting drills to make sure that we had the technique down. We placed balloons on the head and chest areas of the target to keep everyone honest. We started with static point shooting and worked up to wet multi-directional terrorist interdiction drills.

Day Two

Day Two began with signs to look for in order to spot a suicide bomber: things that are out of place such as a person’s external appearance (clothing, protrusions, etc.); suspicious behavior (nervousness, profuse sweating, filming or photographing sensitive locations, etc.); suspect equipment / gear; and suspicious vehicles.

We then moved to (CQB/CQC) tactics, with approaching and passing walls and cornering techniques. Here’s where one of the most glaring differences between the American technique and Israeli technique of structural assaults became apparent.

The American technique is to face away from the wall (actually, to face toward the entry point with one’s side facing the wall).

The Israeli technique is to face the wall (and thus the threat behind it) at all times with the weapon at low ready and shuffle-step toward the entry point without crossing your feet. As you reach the corner of a structure, you “pop” it by stepping and leaning out quickly with your gun pointed where you’re looking along the previously blind area around the corner. If you’re a righty and approaching a corner on your weak side, it’s a little trickier, as you have to cant the weapon and expose slightly more of your body.

If you’re approaching a doorway at the corner of a room, the procedure is slightly different. You handle it just like the corner of a structure, accept once you pop the doorway to clear 90 degrees and thus address any threats immediately visible in the room (muzzle not breaking the plane of entry into the room), you have to then address the blind corner inside the room.

So, once you clear the immediately visible area from the doorway, you have to handle the blind corner by inching around until you can pop it as well. Again, you’re shuffling the whole time and popping the blind corner with a fast step, lean and point. If you have two operators, you can employ a two-man pop technique where one takes high position and the other takes low position.

If you have a doorway in the center of the room, you want at least two operators to handle the room. In this scenario, you initially approach the doorway from one side just like you would a corner doorway, and clear the main section of the room from the one side (to 90 degrees).

To clear both blind corners inside the room, the rear operator now has to get to the safe area on the other side of the door. He does this by smacking the point man on the back hard enough to get his attention and let him know he’s moving, and then running past the opening as fast as he can. Once he makes it to the other side, both men pop both corners simultaneously.

We also learned pairing techniques where we formed two-man shooting teams so that we could attack a doorway from both sides with four men simultaneously. We practiced passing walls, cornering, and room clearing using our newly learned tactics dry at about 10% to 20% speed before going live against targets set up in various positions around corners and inside rooms.

Day Three

Day Three began with how to engage terrorists in a heavily crowded area, including selective shooting, verbal commands, spotting the threats / terrorists, and sweeping for additional threats. In order to get to the threat, you have to get through / around innocent people, who can be numerous and spaced very closely together, and you have to do this as quickly as possible.

Multiple paper targets were set up in close proximity to each other, and “terrorist” targets were hidden among them toward the back of the group. The “terrorists” were facing a different direction. That’s how we identified them. The scenario was set up to mimic a mall or crowded street.

When the instructor yelled, “Go,” we sprinted toward the threat while yelling, “Terrorist!” and, “Get out of the way!” to the innocent bystanders whom we had to run around. When we got to the threat, we came to come to a shuffle stop, employed our Israeli firing stance, engaged the threat with a triple tap, and swept the area for any additional threats.

In this situation, sprinting with the weapon held one-handed allows you to physically shove or strike innocent people out of the way as necessary. Sometimes, innocent bystanders might freeze out of fear or actively try to impede you if they don’t know who you are, so you have to be prepared and able to deal with this obstacle quickly and decisively.

Next up was the “gauntlet.” This was just straight physical exertion as each student had to literally fight his way through all of the other students in the class and get to the other side as quickly as possible. This was the roughest part of the course. Things got pretty physical here, and a couple of the students came away with their bells rung. The purpose of this exercise was to promote toughness.

After the gauntlet, it was time for vehicle tactics. The first vehicle tactics drill involved engaging threats with a pistol from the passenger side of a moving patrol car using the Israeli technique. It involved shooting at the threat as the car closed the distance, then exiting the car quickly. Then we finished the threat on foot after coming to a stutter-step / shuffle stop, firing some more, and then moved in to contact distance for the anchor shot.

We were taught how to shoot (pistol) from a moving police patrol / squad as we approached the threat. We then learned how to quickly exit the vehicle, deploy away from the vehicle while continuing to engage as necessary, and engage and neutralize the threat while closing on foot, all the way up to contact distance.

The final live-fire qualifying test, with targets set up at all urban warfare-relevant distances, some in the open, some behind walls, and some in rooms inside a makeshift shoot house. Balloons were set up on all targets to confirm each student’s hits. Being behind the range house, we, of course, had no idea what we would be facing (target positions, distances, number of targets, etc.)

One by one, each student was called to run the scenario as fast as he could. This was a pretty grueling scenario. It involved a lot of running, shooting, and most important, thinking. The IMS course constantly reinforced that fact that the brain is the primary weapon, and that all else is secondary. By this point in the course, all the students already understood very well that AT/CT is a thinking man’s game.

Day Four

The last day involved room entry and clearing in an empty school with Simunition® weapons. This gave us the opportunity to practice our strong-side and weak-side corner pops and different types of potential AT/CT SWAT scenarios: Terrorist takedown (slow), terrorist capture (medium), and hostage rescue (fast). Four-man teams began slowly and methodically moving through the building dry against static targets set up in the myriad rooms throughout the building.

David Crane is the owner of He can be reached at

Published in Tactical Response, Mar/Apr 2007

Rating : 8.6

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