Sunday, January 3, 2010

Defending Air Travel from Bad Guys

Normblog links to a couple of items about the Israeli method of protecting air travel. The more systematic item is this one (published in a Toronto paper, hence the repeated allusions to Pearson, an airport in that town).

"Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don't take s--- from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for — not for hours — but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, 'We're not going to do this. You're going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport." That, in a nutshell is "Israelification" - a system that protects life and limb without annoying you to death.

It's an informative and interesting item. On the positive side it should be added that the last time an El Al plane was successfully attacked by a passenger was in 1968 - and the security layers at Ben Gurion really aren't very intrusive, you don't have to take off your shoes, no-one measures how much liquid deodorant you have in your bag and the duty-free area at the airport is chock-full of consumers who weren't held up on their way in. El Al doesn't forbid folks to go to the loo before landing (and if they try they really will have something to fear from the passengers).

On the negative side it ought to be added that while the system does work, it also severely aggravates innocent travelers who none-the-less do get caught in the net. Someone like myself will always sail through the six (or more) security layers, since I'm obviously not who they're looking for. A single Israeli Arab male is likely to be held up for a while, even though in 99.9% of the cases he'll be as innocuous as I. I've never heard of an Arab family with children being held up. Single non-Jewish Europeans will likely fall in the middle: they'll be questioned closely for a few minutes before being waved through. Another group who has notorious problems are the radical Israelis: the security types apparently have a shortlist of Israeli Jews they're wary of, and at times of tension some of these people will be interrogated until after their plane has taken off. Still, read the link in my previous post and you may begin to comprehend why an agency that is expected to maintain a 100% success rate for generations, with no slips ever, may not always bend over backwards to be lenient in the cases it thinks it needs not to be.

In the 1980s there was a case where the Israeli security types at Heathrow uncovered a plot where a Muslim man had packed a bomb into the suitcase of his pregnant English girl-friend. He intended to kill her, his unborn child, and all the rest of the passengers. She didn't know of the plot, of course, but the agents figured it out.


Avi said...

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law were on that flight. Since then, for her twice yearly visits to us in Jerusalem from the UK, my mother-in-law only flies ElAl.

Anonymous said...

People who want to take offence will find a way to be offended.
I had three agents taking turns for more than 'a few minutes'. It was fascinating. I'm not very good at verbal jousting, but one of my uncles thoroughly enjoyed it.
All the agents were better educated and more professional than the local detective I had to speak to a couple of weeks after I got back from Israel.
I'll take El Al anytime to Israel, even after fiinding halfthe seat belt missing when I boarded the plane for the flight back.

Anonymous said...

So, Yaacov, do you know for sure that Israeli security people are NOT involved in other airlines from the UK that fly to Israel like British Airways and especially EasyJet?

There's a practical side to this question, for I'm hoping to holiday in Tel Aviv in the coming year but need to keep the costs down as far as possible!

Best wishes,

JG Campbell

NormanF said...

They figure out things at Ben-Gurion very quickly. They don't try to get into a race with Arab terrorists over what they might bring into the airport or on board a plane. They try to determine who high risk individuals might be and neutralize them as fast as possible. That's why its redundant to check people's belongings. Its the intent of the person that matters most in the end - and its the critical determinant of whether an airline flight will be secure.

Yaacov said...

I don't know Jonathan. I do know that a year or so ago, while waiting in a European airport to board an El Al flight to Tel Aviv, the check-counter at the adjacent gate, flying to Moscow, was manned by... two Israeli women. I have no explanation.

Menachem Mendel said...

I was once actually stopped by security near the entrance to the terminal at BG. I had on this old wool hat that my grandmother made which I used to wear and I guess it made me look a bit suspicious. My wife saw that as proof that it was time to get a new hat.

Menachem Mendel said...

I also should add that profiling definitely goes on in the United States. I have a good friend who grew up in Israel but was born in Tunisia and every single time she flies within the US she gets pulled aside for a "random security check."

Anonymous said...

There are two reservations I have about Israelis working for other airlines. If it’s a private company, they may be trading on ‘Israeli’ cache without the expertise. Although many Israelis know more about security than other Westerners, not every Israeli is a security expert. Secondly, even if the people have a solid background, there are usually curbs on the full people-behaviour-centric El Al method.

AKUS said...

The objections to profiling usually make the explicit or implicit assumption that Israel's profiling systems are racially based and target those with darker skins. of course, this is idiotic,since it would mean that about half of all Israelis would be targeted for this reason.

There is a difference between the behavioral profiling used by Israel and El Al, and the reasonable assumption, based on experience and data of attacks on airplanes, that single Arab males traveling are more likely to blow up a plane that a silver-haired grandmother from Kansas, and racial profiling.

In addition, there is too much reliance on process at airports outside Israel at the cost of allowing the security staff to use some common sense. Just because the traveler complies with the (stupid) rules such as taking off one's belt clearly didn't stop the Xmas bomber from stuffing a bomb into his underwear. I strongly suspect he would never have made it onto a plane at BG or onto an El Al flight somewhere else as his behavior, lack of return ticket, etc. would have flagged him immediately. But sine those weren't on the check list in Ghana, Nigeria or Amsterdam, he sailed through the security.

Victor said...

It's good but it's not all gravy. I've seen an old arab woman who could barely hear, much less understand English, having an entire suitcase full of mostly sweets and carefully packed dresses dumped on the floor. The arab men behind her were laughing with the Israeli agent as he was directing her to make piles. I always get randomly selected for security checks too, in the US.

Victor said...
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