Close quarter combat // Tzviel (BK) BlankchteinLess-than-lethal options and riot control in maritime environment

Published 18 June 2010

The Israeli soldiers who fired their weapons on board the Marmara in order to defend themselves when attacked by multiple individuals, some armed with blunt objects, edged weapons, and even firearms, cannot be criticized; the important question is why the soldiers were not equipped with less-than-lethal-options — options which are available to law enforcement and the military for use in riot-control situations; these options have their drawbacks, but their use may have prevented the loss of lives

In light of the events that took place off the Gaza shore in three weeks ago, and the ongoing discussion about the various options the Israel Defense Force (IDF) had with regard to alternatives the use deadly force, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit some of the less-than-lethal options available to law enforcement and military today.

Note that the term used is “less-than-lethal.” No type of ammunition or device on the market today is completely non-lethal — if for no other reason than stunning devices may cause an individual to die from injuries not directly related to the device itself. For example, an electric stunning device, such as Taser, may not be fatal on its own, but if the individual on the receiving end falls, hits his head, and later dies from internal head injuries, then the death may be “related” to the use of the stunning device.

When a small tactical unit boards a vessel with hundreds of people on it, the question arises as what was the game plan? Most of the information will not be available for a while, so we must rely on media coverage of the event, and read between the lines, as to what truly went on board of the Turkish flotilla.

Here I will not entertain assumptions regarding faulty intelligence, which in turn resulted in an inadequate mission planning, and ultimately poor field command and decision making. Monday morning quarterbacking is easy. In this article I will just offer another option, allowing that the information in advance was more accurate.

It is fairly obvious that the team that boarded the vessel was small and ill-prepared for the resistance it encountered. The team would have been sufficient for a basic “board and secure” mission, which would have led to seizing of the bridge and turning the vessel around. When a small group of soldiers, no matter how well trained and equipped, is being attacked, however — and for the purposes of this discussion, “attacked” can mean anything from mob-rushing to being fired upon — by hundreds of people, numbers alone will put the military force at significant risk.

It is my opinion that the military force did what it had to do to protect itself. After being attacked by stun-grenades, rushed with axes and knives, and even fired upon, the soldiers had to escalate their use of force options and return fire to protect themselves. Even if they