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by Bernice Lipkin



How do we respond to an enemy who has no fixed address, no recognizable uniform? There is no obvious hierarchy, no one in particular is giving orders. Their appearances vary. Like water changing to steam or freezing, the members of a single group may look different one from the other. Or they may be hard to tell from the ordinary civilian population. When Hezbullah took over civilian homes in southern Lebanon from which to bombard Israel, they dressed in casual civilian clothes, so they could easily fade into their surround.

In the United States, there's the lone-wolf killer. The FBI swears the loner awoke one morning with what Daniel Pipes calls Sudden Jihad Syndrome. We are told there is absolutely no connection between him and any other lone-wolf or terror group. He is just deranged or he is responding to how badly society has treated him. The Press routinely ignores that these loners do seem to have some commonalities. They are usually born Muslim or are recent converts to Islam. They have a history of frequenting mosques run by rabid mullahs who have ranted on and on about the importance of making Islam supreme in the world. They often yell allah akbar as they commit murder -- a fact seldom reported in the news. They seemed to have more money than they could have earned. Or they had no money but yet take trips to the Middle East and Far East. They seem more clever than the media in understanding that 'Islam is a peaceful religion' actually means its opposite. Islam sanctions violence. Islam gives meaning to their warped lives. To date, we have been lucky. In most cases little damage has been done by the loners and they have been quickly apprehended.

There are two places infested by terrorists with inadequate identification where damage control is more difficult. One is in Israel. The other is on the high seas. They are the subject of this essay.

In Israel, the loner Arab climbs onto a tractor and mows down civilians, shoots families -- including babies and toddlers -- asleep in their beds, snipes at passing cars or knifes his boss, who has been a friend to him for years. His major targets are areas of religious or historic significance: Hebron and the rest of Biblical Israel, and Jerusalem. The accepted excuse isn't that the terrorist is crazy or environmentally bruised but that he's revenging some injury or other, so it's all Israel's fault.

On the water -- the Somali pirates are a dreaded example -- it's not a single person, but a small group. Multiply the number of these small groups, and it's amazing how much damage they can cause to commercial shipping and recreational boating. It is a puzzling fact that unlike the Arab terrorist in Israel and the Lone Wolf Muslim terrorist in the West, the Somali pirates attract few groupies. The news media have yet to provide us with heart-rendering reasons why the pirates are forced to do what they do.

The problem of dealing with an enemy that wears no distinguishable clothes or weaponry is difficult enough in asymmetrical warfare -- when the Civil Authority is forced to fight against a guerilla group or one or more lone terrorists or a rush of unknown attackers. It is even more difficult when the potential victim, a civilian, has to face the difficult-to-identify terrorist with inadequate resources because, for one reason or another, his government is reluctant to deal effectively with the problem.


The Somali Pirates and the Arab murderers of Israeli men, women and children have in common that they only appear to be unconnected independents. In point of fact, they are sponsored, trained, equipped and payed by organizations: states such as Iran; terrorist groups such as Fatah or Hamas who have been given governing authority; or by powerful groups and government officials in dysfunctional entities such as Somalia.

J. Peter Pham (see here) has pointed out that

"[w]hile it is wealthy Somali businessmen who provide the operating capital necessary to acquire and outfit the pirate 'mother ships' and skiffs and to recruit and arm their crews — and, ultimately, reap the largest share of the ransoms paid — enough of cash flows to the rest of society to obtain widespread social buy-in. [...] Subcontractors — ranging from the elders of local clans who permit the pirates to operate in their territory or to bring the vessels they capture there to the gunmen guarding the hijacked ships, caterers serving food to captors and prisoners alike, and even prostitutes providing assorted services while the ransoms are being negotiated — also get a cut of the proceeds, as do corrupt government officials and even Islamist insurgents."

The Arab loners or small bunch who come to murder civilians are also trained and equipped. And they have the wholehearted support of their family and the local community. The Palestinian Authority (PA) names streets after them and teaches the children to emulate them.[1] The PA even spends millions of dollars in monthly payments to Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails. Recall that the PA and Hamas are supposed to hate each other so much they kill each other's ground troops. They do kill each other. But they also cooperate. So if the USA gives funds to the PA, and the PA gives funds to Hamas people, then we in the States are supporting Hamas.[2]

The quandary is that we haven't developed good ways of fighting the culprits managing the terrorists. We don't have good ways of fighting the instigating governments and virtual governments and religious clerics, because they do not declare war in a traditional way. They don't put their country on a war-footing and mobilize the troops. They do not directly control the sequence of processes and events between policy making and implementation.

If we can't readily identify the instigators -- or perhaps accuse would be more accurate -- how do we deal effectively with the unpredictable, the seemingly random act of terror? We don't know when it's coming. Or when.


States insist they, and not individual citizens, be the ones to protect their citizens. They have the legitimate power. But often they are not eager to use their power. The situation may be complex because a proper response would involve international agencies or other countries. A State may be reluctant because the regime in power disapproves of the particular citizens in need of protection. The State may not have the resources. It may not want to open a can of worms. Israel, for example, is reluctant to act against Arab terrorists shielded by "world opinion"; they know they will need to face yet another hasty, unfair and time-wasting resolution by the UN blaming Israel and ignoring the terror. For many reasons, denying there's a serious problem or letting it age slowly in committee is easier than dealing with it.

So for many reasons, the State may do a poor job protecting the citizen at the INSTANT he needs help. Avenging his death afterwards doesn't bring him back to life.

When a State is incapable of protect its citizens engaged in legitimate business, it would seem logical that it encourage the citizen to help protect himself. It doesn't work that way. Partly, it's because States fear the chaos of vigilantism. But vigilantes usually don't operate during an attack. They act after the fact to prevent future acts of violence or to punish a guilty person who's escaped punishment. And there have indeed been cases where a vigilante mob hung the wrong man. But does vigilantism apply when a boat captain sees a fast boat heading right at him? If he warns the boat off and it keeps coming, is there any way he could be identifying the wrong boat?

On the high seas, where order is maintained by ships authorized by local countries or multinational organizations, yachts and freighters may not be well protected. When not actually forbidden to protect themselves when attacked, they are hamstrung by well-intentioned but unrealistic rules and regulations that restrict their weaponry and weaken their ability to respond in a timely fashion.

Defending Ships From Somali Pirates:

On the face of it the armed ships of the some 20 nations that patrol the gulf of Aden and Western Indian Ocean to thwart piracy have all the advantages. But the pirates of Tunisia and Somalia have no problems circumventing them, as J. Peter Pham points out in his article in this Section.[3]

In 2010, while attacks in the Gulf of Aden dropped off by more than 50 percent due to the naval patrols and better security measures by commercial vessels, overall the number of attacks by Somali pirates increased and a total of 49 vessels being successfully hijacked. The marauders seem to be more than on their way to besting these figures with more than a dozen seizures so far this year. According to the most recent report by the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR), Somali pirates currently hold 32 hijacked ships and an estimated 692 hostages, not counting "an unknown number of unconfirmed dhows and smaller vessels."

"SELF-DEFENSE" does not appear in the 202 pages of "United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea" (UNCLOS) of Dec 10, 1982 produced by the U.N. Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea. It was last updated July 21, 2010.[4]

There is a section "Piracy Under International Law" updated September 9, 2010.[5] It defines piracy -- it's just what you think it is -- and it tells us: "The General Assembly has also repeatedly encouraged States to cooperate to address piracy and armed robbery at sea in its resolutions on oceans and the law of the sea." Gee. That's helpful.

American merchant ships have traditionally been armed[6] provided the arms were few in number and gun caliber was no more than 6 inches. And they weren't allowed much ammunition. Moreover, within another country's territorial waters, American law doesn't apply. The National Rifle Association has encouraged training merchant mariners to defend themselves.[7] But the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) continued to discourage carrying firearms for personal protection because it could escalate an already dangerous situation![8] As if the pirates were salivating over the prospects of seizing some personal weaponry. As if they themselves didn't already have superior heavy armament. And just a few weeks ago, six U.S. seagoing unions opined it was the responsibility of the government to suppress piracy but they did urge the Coast Guard to develop standard rules for self-defense.[9]

The Coast Guard recognizes the need for carrying arms especially when attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia, but "deadly force may only be employed when lesser means have failed or are not reasonably available ..." and so on and so forth, and the crew is subject to prosecution.[10] So the crew needs always to decide which is worse: being hijacked or doing the paper work entailed by defending themselves. The amount of paperwork in itself becomes a deterrent to mounting an effective response to piracy. On the other hand, the pirates have speed and superior weaponry. They are ruthless. They don't worry about justifying their actions in the future.

Defending Israeli Towns From Marauding Arabs:

A good way to protect Israeli citizens living in towns in Samaria and Judea is by manning a nearby hilltop outpost that is on the alert for sneak attacks by Arabs. In Israel, most Jews have been in the army and have been taught how to fire a gun carefully. The young idealistic hilltop settlers[11] are no exception. They put up ramshackle housing or live in trailers or in caves. They can be an early warning system to protect the settled towns and villages. They are also determined to hold the land that is rightfully Jewish by international law, by history, by Bible and by conquest.


Two hilltop youth take time out from building to study an ancient holy text inside the cave at the Shvut Ami outpost, Samaria. The cave has since been destroyed by the Israeli army in the hopes that these kids would give up and leave. They stay. (Photo: Shomrom Central Blog).

But there's an interesting wrinkle when it comes to self-defense by the Hilltop Youth. Over the years, even though some Israeli parties were elected to abrogate the Oslo Accords and to annex Samaria and Judea, they all ended up willing to give up some of the land for a tenuous peace. Under these circumstances, the State naturally objects to anyone that questions its illegal determination to give away Jewish land.

As political nonconformists, the Hilltop youth are treated by the government like irresponsible criminals. At best, they are automatically considered the guilty party in a dispute with Arabs, even though you would think they were entitled to defend their property from Arabs rushing in and throwing stones, using knives, shooting or setting fire to Jewish orchards. Arabs have no problems acquiring and using weaponry.

On the high seas and in Israel, effective self-help seems a long way off.


Another similarity between the inadequate protection of Israeli citizens and the inadequate defense of vessels in the Indian Ocean is that the punishment hardly ever fits the crime. Historically, the punishment for piracy was hanging at the yardarm. But times have changed. As Peter Pham explains:

"[T]o date more than 90 percent of pirates captured are released quickly with no sanction except perhaps the confiscation of their arms, even when there is no reasonable innocent explanation for their behavior when caught in flagrante delicto.    [..]

"Whatever else it might be, the 'catch-and-release' approach to counter-piracy operations is hardly a credible deterrent — not that those the Europeans actually put on trial are much worse off if the five Somalis who last June became the first defendants convicted in Europe in modern times of piracy are anything to go by: Judge Jan Willem Klein Wolterink of Rotterdam sentenced them to a mere five years in prison and at least one of them is already preparing for his parole by applying for asylum under Dutch law."

The Palestinian Authority routinely libels Israel by claiming it tortures jailed Arab terrorists with hot irons, drills holes in their hands, whips them and hangs them by their arms -- these likely are projections of their own practices. In actuality, in Israel, a jail sentence for terrorism is often the equivalent of a full scholarship to college. The prisoner is visited by the Red Cross, he is fed, given medical care and a comfortable environment and conjugal visits. He can enroll in accredited college courses. In fact, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida on Oct. 9, 2010 reported that since 2000, more than 10,000 prisoners have received university degrees, including the MA and the PhD.[12] One of them was Sami Kuntar who smashed the head of a 4-year old child into the rocks in front of her father, then shot him.


This January Somali pirates hijacked a yacht, kidnapped the four Americans on board and later shot them while negotiations for their release were going on. Peter Pham's article provides us with details.[13]

Except that this was a first for American tourists, it was not an unusual event. Any freighter going within hundreds of miles of the Gulf of Aden and the coast of Somalia risks being captured and held for ransom. This has been a major problem for years, yet we haven't devised a good way to stop it. The U.N. is useless -- in fact, I'm surprised they haven't nominated Somalia to the Human Rights Council or one of their other high-toned-sounding worthless groups. Writing indignant letters doesn't help -- it's not certain they can read. Prudently staying out of trouble areas isn't the solution because the pirates change their stalking areas.

Maybe we need an overhaul of our thinking on how to make the seas safe for ships and shipping. Maybe the problem calls for a direct response by those at risk rather than relying on inadequate surveillance by the international community. There are some indications that we are slowly starting to implement fighting back by ships at risk of pirate attack. This is from an article by Tom Kovach from AIP News (18Nov2009), entitled "Maersk Alabama crew repels another pirate attack - this time they had guns."[14]

"...the crew of the US-flagged merchant vessel Maersk Alabama repelled a pirate attack off the coast of Somalia. This is the same ship that was boarded by pirates last April. At that time, the captain of the ship was taken hostage and was held by pirates in a lifeboat for five days. The incident ended when US Navy SEAL snipers simultaneously killed all three pirates aboard the lifeboat in a nighttime action. This time, the pirates never got aboard the ship.

"What was the difference? Guns.

"[M]embers of the 'international community' are steadfastly opposed to having armed guards or crewmembers aboard their vessels. And, events have provided a telling contrast between the two positions. On Monday, the chemical tanker Theresa was hijacked and its captain is now dead. (According to the AP report, the captain was not killed during the attack, but rather died later of internal injuries. That suggests a follow-on beating.) On Tuesday, the crew of a Spanish vessel was released after Somali pirates received a $3.3-million ransom. If I were a merchant seaman, I'd want to work only on an American vessel -- and thus live to laugh about 'international opinion'.

The lesson here is simple, but bears repeating. Criminals are predators that prefer 'soft targets'. Weakness invites predators, and advocating a policy against self-defense is merely an invitation to such predators. European shipping companies maintain the position that it is the job of the naval forces of various countries to protect shipping. But, most countries have only limited military and naval resources at best. Even the military and naval forces of the United States are only a fraction of the size that the used to be before the Democratic downsizing craze (which started at the end of the Vietnam War, and continues to this day). Therefore, hoping for a warship to come along and save the day is a high-seas equivalent of trying to call the police during a home invasion. That is why many gun-rights advocates refer to '911' as merely 'government-sponsored dial-a-prayer'.

"Chances are that the surviving crewmembers would never be prosecuted for defending themselves against a pirate attack. But, even if they were, a conviction would be unlikely. An old saying applies: 'Better to be tried by twelve than carried by six.'"

No one has proposed fighting forward, making preemptive strikes on the pirates. The last article in this Section[15] writes of one such possibility. It is satire, of course, brilliant satire. But it does have elements of a practical solution -- preemptive attacks on the pirates. Is it a grotesque article? Yes. Actually, I find it less grotesque that the real and grotesque fact that the New York Times continues to whitewash the Muslim Brotherhood and reassure us it is moderate.[16] I find it grotesque that our Secretary of State sees Al-Jazeera -- the voice of the Muslim Brotherhood -- as a model of effective propaganda for our media to emulate because it offers "real news."[17] If she's right and what Al-Jazeera puts out is "real news" compared to what comes out of our news channels, then the main stream media are in even worse shape than I thought.

What Radicalized Islam is good at is using a mixture of unofficial and official means of fighting their war against the West and Israel. They have learned to fight with different techniques simultaneously. They can send out killers who haven't an ounce of scruples and no red lines when it comes to slaughtering innocent people; and, at the same time, take advantage of our rules of fair play, our respect for the law and our attempts at keeping their civilians out of harm's way; and at the same time have their pet media defend their actions by distorting the facts; and at the same time take the high road and get the U.N. and its agencies to chastise us for defending ourselves. All in all, the West and Israel have a way to go to implement effective self-defense. They need to protect both their citizens and their self-respect under conditions of warfare carried out by unidentifiable terrorists managed by unacknowledged terrorists. It is warfare of a kind that the West hasn't yet learned to deal with.




[3 ]



[6] Maritime_Alert_protecting_Crews_and_Ships_From_PIracy_ by_Arming_Merchant_Vessels_for_Self_Defense_052009.pdf at

[7] and!.aspx



[10] /Maritime_Alert_Protecting_Crews_and_Ships_From_ Piracy_by_Arming_Merchant_Vessels_for_Self_Defense_ 052009.pdf (may 2009, in

[11] This website does an excellent job describing the strategic value of Samaria and why a land-for-peace 2-state solution is untenable. See also:


[13]nbsp; and" in this Issue of Think-Israel.





Bernice Lipkin is editor of Contact her at


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