Jerusalem Truck Attack Raises Some Interesting Questions

The brutal Palestinian-Arab truck attack on a group of largely female Israeli officer cadets earlier this week raises a number of interesting questions. These may impact the way Americans approach gender issues and rules of engagement in the military and also how we respond as a society to this increasingly common form of Islamist terror.

Video of the attack shows the truck plowing into a group of cadets at high speed, then backing up and attempting to run over some of the stricken soldiers again. It also shows most of the cadets fleeing the scene, both from the group that was attacked and a nearby group (in the video foreground.) About 25 seconds into the attack a few soldiers led by a civilian security guard (who was initially knocked over) charge the truck and open fire. The security guard, armed only with a pistol, is credited with killing the driver and stopping the attack.

Among other things, Israeli military authorities are now examining why most of the soldiers fled the attack, rather than immediately charging the terrorist. Not all ran, and it appears that although the soldiers carried rifles, many or most were unloaded at the time of the attack. As the security guard and some soldiers are seen moving on the truck at the end of the video sequence, several other cadets who initially retreated can be seen taking cover and then loading their rifles. Nonetheless, the image of Israeli soldiers fleeing is a boon to Palestinian and Islamist propagandists, and disturbing to a lot of Israelis who expect otherwise.

One possible reason for the poor response of so many of the soldiers is the effect of a recent manslaughter conviction of an IDF sergeant for shooting a wounded terrorist after a knife attack on a fellow soldier. The convicted sergeant testified that he believed that the terrorist still posed a threat. A military court and his command disagreed but many Israelis sided with the soldier. In any event, the message to IDF troops as a result of the conviction was “open fire at your own risk.” Like American troops Israeli soldiers operate under very restrictive rules of engagement. The truck attack is not the only recent incident in which IDF troops faced with extremely restrictive rules of engagement have withdrawn from confrontations with Palestinian-Arabs. Fairly predictably, the IDF is already denying that this happened in the Jerusalem attack.

Another factor might have been the presence of so many female soldiers. The IDF is well-known for its integration of women into military service (though sometimes this is overstated), and about half of eligible female Israeli eighteen-year-olds are drafted every year. Like in America, women as of yet don’t serve in most ground combat units (with the exception of a couple of gender-integrated infantry battalions that are mostly assigned to quiet areas), though a female officer at the scene was one of the soldiers who advanced and fired on the truck. Was the apparently panicked flight affected by the presence of so many female cadets? Is it politically correct to even ask? Will Israeli authorities look into that or look away?

One thing the attack definitively illustrates is that being in uniform is not a guarantee of rapid and effective response in a crisis. A corollary to this is that civilians under attack will not necessarily panic, and can act with more courage and dispatch than soldiers. During a string of similar attacks in Israel a few years ago, on a number of occasions off-duty reservist soldiers took the initiative in foiling terror attacks rather than active on-duty troops or police. Likewise, in the current spate of knife attacks in Israel, armed civilians have stopped many. This strongly reinforces the idea that armed concealed carry civilians in the United States are a both a deterrent to such terror, and can be effective means of stopping attacks.

Nobody knows how they will react to such an attack, and it is even harder to predict the reaction of groups of people to such a sudden, violent and shocking incident. While it is too soon to draw hard conclusions about the reactions of the soldiers and civilians at the scene of the Jerusalem attack, we ignore the possible lessons at our own risk.