In the weeks immediately following the catastrophe of September 11, 2001, countless articles appeared in the MSM and on the Net suggesting dire predictions for the future of American air travel, and proposing possible solutions to these continuing threats of terrorist attacks on our vulnerable airlines. Many of these authors looked to Israel's El Al Airline as a prime example of successful security measures for us to emulate in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. How, they wondered, does a country who has been the object of more terrorist threats than any other nation on the face of the earth fly the safest airline in the skies? What follows are some of the answers to these important questions.
In Radarsite's preceding article al Qaeda's Magnificent Obsession we attempted to outline the threats and the source of these threats. Here, we consider some possible answers. As you will see, these are not new answers, but they have, lamentably, yet to be seriously considered, let alone vigorously adopted.
El Al receives threats daily, yet it has not had a terrorist incident in more than 30 years, according to David Hermesh, El Al's president.
"Unfortunately, the system we put in place was not because we wanted to, but because we had to because of our situation, and the threats we get," said Hermesh.
El Al attributes its record of safe travel to its tough security measures.
"If you're a passenger on El Al, most likely you will be observed from the minute that you left your car or you have been dropped off ... and then you will have met the security agent before you go to check in to your flight," said Issy Boim, president of Air Security International.
When El Al passengers arrive at Israel's Ben Gurion airport or any other airport that services the airline, they undergo an extensive interview by trained security personnel.
They are asked several questions, such as:
-- Who paid for your ticket?
-- What is the purpose of your travels?
-- Did anybody have access to your bags before you arrived to the airport?
-- When did you book this flight?
During the interrogation, ticket holders are also psychologically evaluated. Their entire makeup is judged by tone of voice, mood and body language.
The information is sent by computer to international law enforcement agencies, such as Interpol or Scotland Yard, for instant evaluation.
If there are doubts, the passenger is not allowed on the plane.
Security experts said El Al Airlines leaves absolutely nothing to chance.
In the United States, cleaning and maintenance crews are allowed to move freely around aircraft, sometimes without supervision, conditions open to the threat of an "inside job," experts said.
By contrast, El Al planes are heavily guarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even during cleaning and maintenance.
All El Al pilots are veterans of the Israeli air force and are trained in handling weapons and in hand-to-hand combat.
They do not, however, carry guns in the cockpit.
The cockpit has bulletproof doors activated by a keypad from inside the cockpit.
"Remember, we are dealing with sophisticated enemy," said Issac Yeffet, former head of security for El Al.
"This group who hijacked the four aircraft [on September 11], they had to go many times through the airport, learn the airport, to learn the terminal, to learn the check in, to learn the sky cab, to learn the security checkpoint, even to learn some of the FAA regulations," Yeffet said.
At least two undercover air marshals are on board every El Al flight. They sit among the passengers. They dress in plain clothes. They are armed and licensed to shoot and kill.
Most of EL Al passengers expect such security, given the threat of terrorist activity against Israeli interests.
Industry observers said they believe such measures need to become the standard in the United States, and Hermesh said he is willing to share El Al's security techniques with the FAA and U.S. carriers.
Security controversy and passenger profiling
The airline was also criticised by the Hungarian courts for refusing to search luggage with the passenger present, acting against Hungarian domestic laws which stipulate that only authorized officials are able to undertake such searches. A civil case was brought to Israel's Supreme Court on March 19, 2008 alleging that El Al's practice of ethnic profiling singles out Arabs for tougher treatment.
Despite these criticisms, it has been as a result of these stringent security measures that no El Al aircraft has been successfully hijacked since 1968. El Al's security protocol has proven highly effective and is now a model for airlines around the world.
Jeff Jacoby - Boston Globe
No sensible person imagines that ethnic or religious profiling alone can stop every terrorist plot. But it is illogical and potentially suicidal not to take account of the fact that so far every suicide-terrorist plotting to take down an American plane has been a radical Muslim man. It is not racism or bigotry to argue that the prevention ofIslamist terrorism necessitates a special focus on Muslim travelers, just as it is not racism or bigotry when police trying to prevent a Mafia killing pay closer attention to Italians.
The difference it seems between the Israeli approach and the present day American approach is the difference between realitly and idealism, between philosophical theorizing and practical analysis. This, then, brings us to our big question: Have we still not yet found the will to adopt these proven tactics? And, if not, what further catastrophes will it take to bring us back into the hard world of Reality