Israeli Knife Attacks: What Can We Learn?

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Knife attacks have been trending in Israel. Trevor Thrasher of 88 Tactical weighs in with what he believes we can all learn from this. Mad Duo



Israeli Knife Attacks: What Can We Learn?


Trevor Thrasher 

1. Recognizing a knife attack is difficult. If the bad guy wants to ambush you, and you are caught unaware, you might not even know it is a knife until you are injured by it. Most of your initial response training should use the same TTPs against an unarmed and knife armed attack. Having enough time to evaluate a variety of attacks and pick a perfect specific defense will be a luxury.

2. Against a spontaneous knife attack, you most likely will not have time to draw a gun and respond to the initial attack. It may take a full 3-5 seconds before you can get it done. That will seem like an eternity. You need to have hand to hand skills.

3. It is extremely difficult to draw your gun while defending against an attack. You may only reliably draw it once the attacker is stunned, off-balance, attacking someone else, or you have gained time, distance, and safety.

4. Shooting on the move in a complex and cluttered situation will require mobility. You can’t be locked into a stylized stance, especially from the hips down.


5. Your instincts will often take over in the first moment and will largely consist of flinching, moving your body parts out of the immediate way of the knife and bringing your hands up trying to keep the threat away from you as you backpedal. This is nearly universal against spontaneous attack whether it be a snake, charging bull, or crazed person with a knife.

6. More warning with appropriate conditioning creates more options. After the initial response it becomes a fight or flight emotional response that can be conditioned; then and only then will a high brain response occur. Fractions of a second combined with realistic retained training can make a huge difference and allow this transition to occur very quickly. An unconditioned response, one that is not repeatedly practiced and kept current, is going to happen late (if it happens at all). You will be stuck in lizard brain or cave man mode until you can improvise.

7. Once the situation becomes an active stabbing spree, you will have to get close enough to engage the threat accurately through a potential crowd of people in a complex situation. This reverses traditional advice on distance. At this point you have to go direct to threat and end it. There is a balance to be had. You have to manage distance by getting close enough to ensure good hits that don’t unnecessarily jeopardize others but stay far enough away that you can maneuver and protect yourself.


8. It will be very hard to avoid shooting third parties. The choice will often come down to shoot now to prevent one more attack or move or wait so you don’t risk shooting someone else and let him attack at least one more time. There is no good choice here. Life and death combat isn’t easy.

9. Target lock will make it realistically difficult to know your backstop with 100% certainty. This is a limitation of human performance under duress. Blaze away uncontrollably? Of course not. Try to get a clean line of fire? Absolutely. But, hesitate waiting for a 100% clear shot letting yourself or an innocent get killed? That doesn’t sound like a very good risk assessment to me.

10. Having to rack your slide after you draw is an antiquated TTP, and is unsound advice for first responders who face spontaneous threats and are expected to openly carry firearms. Keeping the chamber empty and having to rack a round before firing will make it even harder to employ the pistol if attempting to fend off an attack, and will allow one more attack or the bad guy to move a considerable distance. Use a quality retention holster, practice basic retention skills, and keep a round in the chamber.

Instructor train up using full protective armor to practice multi-dimentional gun and hand versus knife responses. With Bill Kipp from Fast Defense.

11. People will close with you much quicker than you think, they may keep coming after being shot, and they may get up and keep coming after you with a weapon. Confirm that the threat is down and get some space and use obstacles. If you choose to remain close to the threat, you better verify the threat is incapacitated and unarmed. The Tueller drill is at best a starting point when you are prepared for attack. Don’t rely on the 21’ rule to keep you safe.

12. As always, once the first known threat is dealt with, look for the next greatest threat, which is the one you don’t see. Terrorists and criminals sometimes run in packs. Target focus and lock will have to be dealt with. Include purposeful scanning in your trained responses.


13. Practice point shooting. Practice it while moving and shooting around third parties and if possible, find a way to use moving threats and third parties. In spontaneous situations like these it is highly unlikely that an officer will be able to use their sights. Point shooting, just like any other skill, requires training. Don’t buy into the myth that it doesn’t. By all means keep up the sighted fire work for situations that will allow it. Be competent and as quick and accurate as possible with both methods. If you want to debate it, just go pull twenty spontaneous knife attacks on video and see how much sighted fire is used.

14. Keep trauma supplies close at hand and know how to stop bleeding. A tourniquet and some type wound packing should be in your car, or on your person if you are an armed professional.

15. So what works? Let’s start with some basic avoidance. Take a look at the Israeli Border Patrol Officers right before the attack. Out of the twelve tactical errors I list in my “foot stops and approaching dangerous persons” presentation, here are eight that apply:

  • Approaching potentially armed suspects without “cover and contact”
  • Getting too close, closing without need, closing without compliance
  • Being too friendly (cameras can kill us)
  • Being too complacent- rarely using force
  • Believing more officers/people around you protects you from the first attack
  • Non-attention to threat indicators and the suspect’s reactions
  • Not seeing and controlling the hands
  • Approaching from the wrong side


16. How about techniques themselves. I believe this is a good start for what you need to deal with spontaneous knife attacks:

  • Hands-only initial response when you are caught at close range or in close confines. This response should allow you to control the attacker’s arm and should be aggressive and damaging to the attackers vulnerable areas. After some control is established, you will have choices. It needs to be extremely simple. Honestly, a minority of officers will have the physical ability and skill to pull this off, but with some dedicated training and physical ability, it can be effective.
  • Hands on first, then “go to gun” response that stuns or off-balances the attacker and gets you off the line of attack giving you time, distance, and safety to draw your weapon. Again, it needs to be extremely simple.
  • Highly maneuverable shooting response that involves rapidly drawing, maneuvering around third parties to gain a reasonably clear shot, and shooting with precision until the threat falls and drops the weapon. This “draw gun with lateral movement” response will also work for your own defense when given a little warning.
  • Fail-safe response. This will draw a lot of scrutiny. One of the most successful things I have seen in response to a sudden attack is falling to the ground and using the legs to keep the attacker at bay for a short period of time allowing you to draw or your partner to shoot. Obviously if you can draw and maneuver away do it, but it is good to have a conditioned fail-safe when it’s too late or you fall anyway.
  • Non-spontaneous response: draw your gun, get some distance, use a barricade, and come up with a plan. If you know the suspect has a knife and he isn’t immediately charging you, your response in the grand scheme of things should be pretty simple: time, talk, and tactics. Shoot if the threat becomes immediate. Use a less-lethal weapon when it is smart. As easy as it sounds, you would be surprise how few officers will immediately draw their weapon in these situations. If you watch enough videos you will too often see one officer out of many shooting while others run around unarmed.


17. If you are of the belief that a gun always wins against a knife, there is a stack of bodies to prove you wrong. Don’t be one dimensional with your training. If you can shoot but can’t fight or are out of shape and never practice tactics, then you aren’t really serious about your safety. Responding to spontaneous attacks knife attacks is a critical skill often bridging a gap from fighting to shooting that shouldn’t be ignored.

Don’t be an ignorant “I’ll just shoot them” guy. Train hard and stay safe.

Trevor Thrasher

Trevor Thrasher 4

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Trevor Thrasher 2About the Author: Trevor Thrasher is a currently serving Operations Sergeant (18Z) with 19th SFG whose uniformed deployments are frequently interspersed with OCONUS contractor jobs. He’s also been a cop for over two decades, serving in just about every imaginable tactical billet. Among his many specialties is an uncanny ability to create butt hurt and angst across the wilds of the internet with his blatant disregard for worship at the altar of accepted range lore. He’s worked PSD in non-permissive environments, conducted CT DA missions both unilaterally and with foreign SOF personnel and achieved numerous instructor certifications in some of the most severe schools available to US or allied SOF soldiers. Among these many disciplines are two of his own; the High Threat Method, and Reality Behavior-Based Training©. You can contact him (or take one of his courses) via 88 Tactical Group, of which organization he is both partner and COO.


6 thoughts on “Israeli Knife Attacks: What Can We Learn?

  • October 31, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    I see in the news today that Amnesty International says shooting the knife attackers is an inappropriate use of force.

    Apparently, you’re supposed to work your way up from, “You really shouldn’t do that!” to, I dunno, trying to disarm them, and only shoot as a very last resort.

    They obviously didn’t have my academy instructors, who taught only one knife takeaway:

    “Bang! Any questions?”

  • October 30, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    I always use reality to drive my training. In this case we have solid video evidence. I would watch the Israeli Border Police Stabbing and see how many of those guys pull the weapon in a stylized manner up to eye level before racking it. I would bet that none of them did it. At least not the ones originally responding, but I could be wrong.

    Also research direct foveal vision and you will see why I believe that behaviorally you will not want to purposefully lose any direct foveal vision in the first moments of a spontaneous high intensity situation. Foveal/Central vision is about the size of a quarter at arms extended distance. There is some good research out there with a lot of video confirmation, but you may come to your own conclusions.

    The Israeli draw stroke requiring a round to be chambered is antiquated and hazardous especially for true first responders, and honestly it doesn’t make much sense for anyone else unless they are more worried about a very small child getting ahold of their gun. That is point #10 in my article.

    I fully understand the original reasons for it, but times have changed. There are a lot of good weapons without external safeties and good quality holsters out there. I have trained more than enough in the Israeli style to have an educated opinion about it. In at least three of the recent cases caught on video in Israel, it appeared to delay the response to the shooter. Use a quality holster and learn to retain your weapon. I would expect that every person involved in those close attacks wished they didn’t have to chamber a round.

    I appreciate your comments. Its good to question the things we are told and either I learn from the friendly discussion or I learn how to better explain myself due to the discussion.

    Here is a list of associated knife attack videos that were left out of the article. They offer a pretty wide variety of content that generally backs up the larger points from the article.

    Officer Disarms and Stabs and Shoots Attacker Trying To Blow Up Gas Station

    Denver PD Suicide By Cop

    2 Guys Attack Ground Defense

    Israeli Border Police Stabbing

    Terrorist Rams Civilians With Van and Hacks Away

  • October 30, 2015 at 10:02 am

    I’m going to have to disagree with both of you to some degree. Having trained on point shooting in the IDF, I guess I can offer an opinion. While I agree with D that a good shooter can naturally transition to point shooting, I also agree with Trevor that this is not something you want to try out in a firefight. That’s not the time to try something that will feel unnatural to you, however slight.

    As to Trevor’s comment, we have always trained to push the gun out in front of you, basically at eye level. Of course, on the initial draw, this is done as part of what some refer to as the “Israeli draw stroke” which chambers a round (not going to get into that debate here). As long as you remain focussed ahead on the threat(s) and don’t re-focus on the gun/sights, I don’t feel that it blocks much information.

  • October 29, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Thank you for your response. Not to turn this into a point shooting discussion, but I will only say that I have heard your point presented before and I disagree. In the real world, point shooting is typically done below a direct line of the sights to the target; too much high quality visual information will be lost if the gun is that high. Therefore the index is off. It is also a different mental and visual process. Doing something you haven’t exactly practiced under duress is going to cause confidence and performance issues. The vast majority of agencies train almost exclusively in sighted fire, but their officers use point shooting about 2/3 or more of the time and they generally are not good at it. To get good at something, try to do that exact thing. Some transfer is possible, but it will not be maximized by doing something visually and physically different. Pull up some motor behavior studies on transfer and specificity.

    That is just some food for thought. The bigger picture is that you need to get good at point shooting in the circumstances needed to defend yourself or another from a knife attack and you should also practice sighted fire when the situation permits it.

    Again thanks for your input and I am always open to well presented opinions and experience.

  • October 28, 2015 at 10:47 am

    Very well said and well reasoned.

    On point shooting however, I think the best way to practice is to build a solid index and awareness of your guns position in space. I’ve found this to be best done exclusively with live and dry fire training in which you always use the sights. With a good index and lots of reps, the gun ends up where you want whether or not you end up seeing the sights. Take a competitive shooter and tape their sights off, they’ll hit just fine at close to mid range even though they never specifically train to “point shoot”. Retention shooting is a different animal admittedly and likely needs practice as well but I just wanted to point out my experiences and what I’ve seen work for others.

  • October 28, 2015 at 9:47 am

    Thanks for one of the most cogent, relevant pieces I’ve read in a long while. Everything mentioned is just as applicable to a street crime here as it is to life in Jerusalem.

    I know far too many that regard the gun as a magic talisman that quarantees their safety.

    In my very humble opinion, a strong radar, a measurable amount of distrust for any one you don’t know, and enough fitness to achieve useful mobility are every bit as important as the gun. Anything that buys me time and/or avoidance is my friend. Immediately next on the list is the mentality (when cornered) of a sow grizzly with cubs.


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