Since its founding, and even before, the State of Israel has repeatedly called upon its civilian population to assist in addressing and repelling any threat to its security and existence. Thus, at its inception, when challenged by conventional, nation-led military forces, Israelis served in their citizen army. Thereafter, in response to constant threat and sporadic attack, Israelis remained, and continue to remain, on “reserve,” notwithstanding the myriad sacrifices such service entails.
When assaulted from rockets above, Israeli civilians assisted the government in their own protection by taking to bomb shelters. When threatened by the possibility of chemical warfare, Israelis donned gas masks. In their own defense, as well as the defense of their neighbors and nation, the Israeli populace has always been prepared to step forward and respond as the situation requires.
The current “knife intifada” has, since September, resulted in the murder of 30 innocent Israelis as well as injury to another 352. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports 179 stabbings and attempted stabbings, 38 vehicular ramming attacks, and 74 shootings.
The “knife intifada” represents a new terror stratagem, one that focuses almost entirely on “lone wolves,” who forego large casualty attacks for isolated acts of violence that not only kill, maim, and spread fear and paralysis within communities, but are almost immune to both intelligence gathering efforts and effective preventive action.
Thus, argues security expert as well as former MK and member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Yoni Chetboun, the current paradigms for confronting terrorism are “no longer relevant in the face of the Intifada of the knives” and to “defeat it, Israel’s basic security doctrine must undergo a radical shift.”
That shift, according to Chetboun and many others, is to tap into “the Israeli fighting spirit to facilitate a grassroots counter-mobilization of citizens to protect their own communities,” and institute, beyond the still-necessary conventional military and counter-terrorism tactics, a new, third level of civilian defense. This added component to Israel’s anti-terrorist strategy would include the infusion of armed civilians in the anti-terrorist effort.
Proponents of enlisting licensed firearm owners to be on-site first responders, note numerous incidents where quick thinking and adequately armed civilians prevented further carnage by eliminating terrorists before security forces could arrive or even be notified. Supporters of increasing the number of armed civilians, readily available to step in and engage spontaneous attack include many police chiefs, the Mayor of Jerusalem, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, and the Knesset Caucus on Firearms Policy led by Likud MK Amir Ohana.
Plans include allowing licensed gun owners to carry their side-arms with them at all times and easing the current restriction on gun ownership, which is deemed onerous by many. Unlike the United States where the Second Amendment cites the “right” to bear arms, in Israel owning a weapon is not deemed a right but rather an intensely regulated privilege. As a result, despite the obvious threat to its citizenry, there are only 7.3 legal civilian-owned handguns per 100 Israelis. Currently those seeking a gun permit must be trained, pass a rigorous investigation, can only purchase a weapon from a licensed gun shop, be of a certain age, present a medical note and a specific reason for the request, and agree to be limited to owning only one firearm and an unreplenishable lifetime supply of only fifty bullets.
Under MK Ohana’s plan, those allowed to obtain a gun license would now include anyone without a problematic criminal or mental health record, who has attended an annual session at a shooting range, and who performs reserve duty. Given that there are 445,000 reservists, this plan could increase the number of legally-owned civilian handguns within the State of Israel by almost two-thirds, thereby enhancing Israel’s internal security dramatically.