As the eerily familiar scenes of international terrorism continue to dominate the headlines we are incessantly deluged with frightening images of such insidious groups as ISIS, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda and many others of that ilk. Throughout the world, security measures have been drastically heightened as the war on terror continues unabated. While a feeling of vulnerability seems to have proliferated, there are those who have dedicated themselves in assiduous preparations for future terror attacks and to train others to do likewise.
On a crisp, autumn day in Brooklyn, New York, the Jewish Voice was afforded the opportunity to sit down and chat with Sharon Gat, founder and CEO of the Caliber 3 Academy in the Gush Etzion region of Israel. Reminiscent of a scene in a James Bond movie, I meet Mr. Gat in an upscale apartment of an American supporter, as he works on his laptop in the early hours of the morning. There is an international aura of gravitas in the room, but the work being done by Mr. Gat is as far from a Hollywood set than one could imagine. Rather it represents the nuts and bolts of the stark reality that engulfs the free world.
As a Colonel in the Israeli army with 24 years experience in the Special Forces unit, Mr. Gat has commanded units in Lebanon, Judea and Samaria and Gaza. Because of his vast experience in guerilla warfare, Mr. Gat was selected by the Israel Ministry of Defense and the IDF to head a special counter-terrorism project in high risk areas.
It is with this formidable resume that Mr. Gat established the Caliber 3 Academy in 2002 and several years ago it opened its doors to tourists from around the world who wish to be trained in counter terrorism techniques.
"We train professionals and amateurs alike," says Mr. Gat. "I would describe Caliber 3 as a special academy for counter terror training as well as security training and we also have contracts with the Israeli police all over the country," he adds
With over 6000 visitors each year, Caliber 3 offers a 2-hour IDF shooting adventure for tourists in several languages including English, Russian, French and Hebrew. Additionally, tourists can also sign up for infantry training, paintball sessions, urban warfare, survival courses and a full day handgun and rifle course, among a selection of similar courses. Participants also have the opportunity to personally interact with their trainers and hear their personal stories of combat.
Mr. Gat intones that, "our trainers are seasoned veterans and each day they instruct security personnel, Israeli citizens (both adults and children) in emergency response tactics and such highly vaunted self defense methods as "krav maga" that was especially developed for the Israeli military. It consists of a conglomeration of varied self defense modalities with their sources in the oriental martial arts such as judo, muay thai, wing chun, and jiu-jitsu as well as boxing, wrestling and good ol' fashioned street fighting.
Dedicated to Captain Hagai Hayim Lev, a 24-year-old Israeli soldier killed in 2002 during a military operation in southern Gaza, the Caliber 3 academy includes three shooting ranges, a dining room, a krav maga gym and a tactical training center, all outfitted with state of the art equipment.
Of the tourists that attend his academy, Mr. Gat says that, "they want to understand what it means to live in a climate of war where you must defend 24/7 from the Palestinians."
Stressing that the training that the academy provides is not intended to teach people how to launch an attack or to provoke terrorists, Mr. Gat says that the training is exclusively for protection. "Even if the targets are Arabs and they don't like Jews, we don't shoot people that are not intended to make a terrorist act," he adds..
Currently, Mr. Gat has devoted much of his time to training security personnel at the Jerusalem Light Rail system that has come under attack by Palestinian terrorists in recent days leaving several Israelis dead including a three month old baby. "These rail stations are very dangerous as they are completely open," says Mr. Gat. "Concrete bags are necessary to help stop vehicular attacks and we must give passengers an awareness of crimes that could occur," he adds.
Because traveling to Israel to attend the Caliber 3 Academy is not a viable option for many people, Mr. Gat has made the establishment of an American counterpart the focus of his recent trip to the United States. With the help and inspiration of an American backer named Solomon Ben Dayan, Mr. Gat will begin training people in February of 2015 in such places as Arkansas and Texas. "The truth is, gun laws in these states make it much easier to set up this kind of academy. says Mr. Gat.
"Without the driving force of my partner, Mr. Ben Dayan, I am not sure this school would become a reality and I am grateful to him for pushing me in this direction," says Mr. Gat.
Mr. Gat says that his mission is predicated on his strong Jewish identity. "Because I am Jewish, I see this project as in a very important light. I want Jews living everywhere to be aware of their surroundings; to see what is going on around them and to be prepared for any possible scenario. I want Jewish communities in the United States to be a safe place for everyone," he says with a palpable conviction resonating in his voice.
In addition to state of the art weapons training, Mr. Gat has plans to offer hand- to- hand combat training with experienced instructors and with the highest level of safety.
"With or without weapons, our large scale goal is to create awareness amongst our participants. If we are walking in the street and we see a suspicious person, what do we do? What if we see a bag or package left by itself, how do we handle that? Those are the questions we will be addressing and we will train people to deal with such things," says Mr. Gat.
He adds that he also plans to train law enforcement personnel throughout the United States as crime and terror attacks ominously increase with each passing day."Because Caliber 3 specializes in the construction and training of rapid response and SWAT teams with an emphasis on inter-agency operability and the careful analysis of security assets and needs, we can offer invaluable assistance to police forces around the country as well as first responders and others," says Mr. Gat.
In terms of addressing the pressing need for tighter school security in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut massacre and other deadly school attacks, Mr. Gat says, "In israel we work in close cooperation with the security establishment in training for potential terror attacks in high density civilian areas with an emphasis on schools and kindergartens as well as shopping centers, and major public institutions, so there is no doubt we can contribute quite effectively to strengthening school security in the US."
A police officer from a counter terrorism unit who identified himself only as "C" said of his experience at Caliber 3 in Israel: "The level of training, expertise, and professionalism was at a very high level. The part of training that stood out the most was the Israeli mindset. Like all things in Israel it is practical, and with no nonsense. This was unlike training received in the US because this was given by real operators who have been there and done this in real life."
For more information, please visit the Caliber 3 web site at: www.caliber3range.com