Israel: October 30, 2001


American troops on patrol in hostile areas know that they can call on artillery and air support if they end up in trouble. Israeli police operating in dangerous areas of the occupied territories rarely have that kind of firepower on standby, and using it would cause political repercussions since such patrols are a constant activity. Instead, they rely on overwatch by sniper units, which occupy selected observation points (with carefully drafted range cards showing the distance to key landmarks) and use long-range telescopes and binoculars to watch the areas all around such a patrol. The snipers are in radio contact and provide not just fire support, but observation and warnings. The police have no snipers of their own, so they rely on snipers borrowed from the Border Guards or (rarely) the military. When those are not available, they rely on snipers from special units of the Civil Guard.

Organized in the 70s as an armed neighborhood watch, the Civil Guard consists of 55,000 men and women who receive special training, radios, and weapons. They mostly patrol their own neighborhoods in rotating teams during the hours of darkness. Other civil guards stand by as reaction units at the local community center or police station, sleeping on cots one or two nights a month in their uniforms with their weapons close at hand. Civil Guards are called upon to reinforce the regular police during times of crisis. There are numerous special units, such as mountain rescue, desert rescue, scuba divers, and (the most elite of all) the snipers. There are fewer than 100 snipers in the Civil Guard, divided into six units. They are issued Mauser 98K or M14 rifles (paying to replace the government-provided telescopic sight with something better). Only proven expert shots (the Israelis are always holding marksmanship competitions somewhere) are allowed the try out for the unit. Selected marksmen are given regular Civil Guard training, plus extra training on the rules of engagement. Civil Guard snipers are re-qualified every six months, and practice relentlessly. They are provided special match-grade boat-tail hollow-point ammunition, and are expected to deal with targets as much as 800 meters (half a mile) out. The rules of engagement vary, more with the political wind than anything else. Sometimes the snipers leave their rifles at home and provide only observation, other times they might fire a round into a wall near a threat to show that a sniper has the scene zeroed in, and sometimes (by law, when there is no other way to save a policeman under imminent threat) they will take down a target who never knew they were watching him.--Stephen V Cole


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