Struggling with the definition of a "terrorist attack" has become a sport in many circles. Some seem to think that it is much like the definition of porn, "I know it when I see it".
Strictly speaking, the attack on the USS Cole was not a terrorist attack in and of itself, as it did not use terrorist means or attack a civilian target.The problem is that now it's popular to apply the term freedom fighter to terrorists and defend, if not justify, their actions while downplaying the suffering, mutilation, and death of their victims.
However, when engaging in this sort of exercise, it is useful to remember what a terrorist is. A terrorist is a combatant that does not discriminate between military or civilian targets. Either is legitimate, in the eyes of the terrorist, if it advances his goals. The fact that he may choose a military target on one particular occasion does not change his doctrine. [emphasis added]
Considering this simple fact, it becomes unnecessary to agonize over whether one attack was on a "legitimate target" or if it was a "terrorist attack" or not. A terrorist attack is an attack committed by a terrorist organization.
The World Trade Center was a terrorist attack because it targeted civilians. The Cole was a terrorist attack because it was conducted by an organization with a terrorist doctrine. That they happened to be a military target on that particular occasion is of no consequence.
Thus the New York Times has no reservations claiming, in "How Clumsy, Inaccurate Gaza Rockets Could Start a War":
...On the Palestinian side, Hamas is being forced to evaluate the transition it has made from a resistance group that carried out deadly attacks against Israeli civilians, to leader of the Palestinian government. [emphasis added]"Hamas is being forced to evaluate"? Five days earlier the Washington Post reported that Hamas had already decided to continue doing what it does best:
"We have decided to make Sderot a ghost town," said a spokesman for Hamas who only gave his name as Abu Ubeideh. "We are not going to stop launching our rockets until they leave."If Hamas was a legitimate government of an actual country, making threats like that against a neighboring country--there would be some sort of reaction in world opinion. But a terrorist organization in control of a territory that has independent control only as the result of concessions from the country that it has openly claimed it wants to destroy--no problem.
'Clumsy' does not begin to describe it.