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Pondering the Israelification of our airports 31, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, UK.
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I wrote an article earlier this week for the Daily News Egypt looking at the trajectory of would-be suicide aviation hijackings. I concluded that authorities need to stop ‘fighting the last war’ as one commentator put it, recognize that our luck after two failed attacks has now ran out and that there needs to be some serious changes in the way that we ‘do’ security. I posited that the argument over profiling needs to be had again. When I say profiling – calm down – I do not mean picking out of a line ever ‘dark colored fellow with a beard’ but an intelligence led assessment by security staff of the people in the airport. In the back of my mind as I wrote this was Israel’s airport security. Cue, bang of time, an article on exactly this topic: the Israelification of western airports.

The article begins by claiming that Western airports should be more like Israel’s because they “deal with far greater terror threat with far less inconvenience.” Leaving aside the problematic question of whether Israel faces a greater threat of airline terrorism, it nevertheless offers an intriguing hypothesis. What is it that Israelis do at their airports? [Also see this]

The chirpy reporter discusses exactly this question with a cowboy of an Israeli security consultant. It is, it seems, all about the layers of security.

  1. Drivers arriving at the airport are automatically asked two questions: How are you, and, where are you from? The trained staff asking these questions are looking for signs of distress – this is the main criteria for their profiling, not race or gender.
  2. Armed guards at the terminal itself pay close attention to all the passengers, again, looking for distress or otherwise curious behavior.
  3. Some passengers are then taken aside and their things searched on a random basis for heavy metals or indeed anything else bizarre.
  4. Passengers then get familiar questions at the check-in counter. However, the article gives the impression that the staff trained in Israel are doing far more than running through the motions, staring into your eyes – apparently (?) – for one thing.
  5. Luggage is then immediately scanned in a bomb-proof area so that if something is seen it can be contained without the whole terminal or airport shutting down.
  6. Then, as you go through into departures, comes the body and luggage check. It is, apparently, very quick in Israel. Instead of focusing on shoes, liquids and tweasers, the guards are concentrating on you as a person, again, profiling you.

All of this means – allegedly – that you can get from car park to duty-free in 25 minutes.

All these measures are in addition to the myriad of checks and routines that Israeli security and intelligence services perform 24/7.

This does, indeed, sound very good. The best thing to be said about it is that it clearly works well so why aren’t we in Europe and the States following such a model for greater security and for less inconvenience?

Israel is a small country with a comparatively tiny amount of international airports and thus an absolute fraction of the staff to train in these profiling arts. It would take a mammoth and hugely expensive effort for, for example, international airports in the US to convert to the Israeli method and the same goes for Europe. Nevertheless, this does not mean that we can not still learn and adapt techniques from Israel. Whilst I am no expert on airport security in the West here are a few things that I suggest:

  • More random, obtrusive bag checks.
  • Whilst there are – I assume – plenty of police at airports ‘profiling’ passengers, the more the merrier.
  • US intelligence dropped the ball to a horrific degree by not getting messages from one end of their security apparatus to the other in the Christmas Day attempted attack. Perhaps if, like in Israel, airport security was under the auspices of, for example, a new branch of the CIA, this would help. (Though I’m sure that this may well open a whole other can of worms that I can’t think of just now…)
  • Have another ring of security and another set of eyes on every car entering the airport. The more trained eyes the better.
  • Don’t invade any more Muslim countries…seriously, that would help.

Many of my suggestions would, I imagine, cost a huge amount of money and involve significant difficulties, of this, I am under no illusion. Please comment below if you’ve got any better ideas.

Hat tip: the not so hidden Imam