Guest Post: Why Israeli airport security is so effective

This is a guest post by Ralph Goodman. Ralph Goodman is a professional locksmith and an expert writer on all things locks and security over at the Lock Blog. The Lock Blog is a great resource to learn about keys, locks and safety. They offer tips, advice and how-to’s for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals.


Ben Gurion Airport

Ben Gurion Airport

Introduction

Anytime there is a tragedy in the world there is often a propensity within our humanity that leads us to anger and sadness. These are not the feelings that lead to answers. Without answers, there will be no end to the violence. In the wake of the terror attacks in Belgium, and the growing threat of lone wolf attacks across the globe, it is important not to lose sight of the main concern. Priority one should always be security. Keeping human life safe needs to be at the forefront of the world’s priorities well before blame, and certainly before hate. The question then becomes one of practicality. How can the world protect itself from the random violence of a few misguided individuals? The task seems insurmountable. But it is not. In fact, we do not even need to turn the knowledge of history. The answers we seek are being used at this very moment to keep the nation of Israel protected.

30 Years of Success

At this point, it has been more than three decades since any Israeli airliner has suffered a single hijacking or act of terrorism. Compare that to track record to the USA’s own Travel Security Administration (TSA), that when tested by Homeland Security failed to detect deadly threats 96% of the time. From these shockingly different rates of success, most people would assume that it must take an eternity to get through Israeli airport security. But that is not the case. Every passenger flying from Israel is not forced to take off his or her shoes and belts. There is no blanket pat down procedure for all travelers. You do not have to pour out your water, and there is not a body scanner that projects a simulated naked picture of every person’s body.  In fact, most passengers pass through the security of Israeli airports faster than they would in the US. How is this possible? What are their policies? And is it possible to scale the success of this security to larger volume airports?

How They Do it

1. Personal Screening

The most glaring difference between Israel’s security and all other airport security is the personal attention every person receives. If you have never traveled through an Israeli airport, then this may seem invasive, and time-consuming. But with an average interview length of fewer than 30 seconds, it is hardly an inconvenience. The mentality of the security agents is that less than 1% of all of the people flying is a suspicious person, so there is no reason to treat everyone like a suspect. In fact, by limiting the number of people that need to be scrutinized, the vetting process can be done more efficiently and with greater depth. This personal interaction also begins before you get to the airport itself. People entering are screened before they drive in and park. Monitored before they enter the building. And interrogated with varying degrees of intensity upon entering. There are still metal detectors to walk through, but not every bag is screened. This shows a heavy reliance on the individual interaction between the security personnel and the passengers. With the track record they have, it shows that there may not be a need for anything more invasive or time-consuming.

2. Perimeter Patrols

Humans and remote controlled rovers monitor the outside of the airports. This allows the large area to be surveilled on multiple levels. The fences and surrounding areas are investigated for suspicious people and objects. If a planted item needs to be detonated, the unmanned rovers can do that remotely. The use of robots is meant to increase productivity by decreasing the time it takes to identify and neutralize a threat. These perimeter precautions also extend to the employees, which is a historically weak part of most airport security. Employees at Israeli Airports are scanned with biometric technology which checks fingerprints, and in some cases, conducts retinal scans. This solves any issues that may arise from non-passenger threats.

3. Air Marshals

airport2

Assuming that there is ever an active threat that boards a plane, at least, one Air Marshal is placed on each flight. Though there has never even been a bombing that needed to be thwarted on a flight, this security remains active.  In the instance of all other security measures failing the plane will still be protected. Israeli security understands that there are many ways unsuspecting items can be turned into weapons. Glass can be broken to make a makeshift knife, and credit cards can be sharpened to have a razor edge. It may not have happened yet, but Israel’s Airport Security will be ready when it does. And in that situation trained military professionals that can neutralize a target in seconds. Though life is important, the marshals are said to terminate threats with extreme prejudice.

4. Profiling

Perhaps the most divisive methods used for security, profiling is also credited with being the most effective. Most officials are willing to say that race, gender, age, and religion are all factors in the profiling algorithm, but it is said that the methods extend far beyond just those features. Nir Ran, who is a former head of aviation security at the ISA (Israel Security Agency) and former Security Director at the Israeli Airline El Al, said “The passenger himself, arriving at the flight with a bomb in his suitcase will not necessarily be a Muslim, will not necessarily be a young man…on the contrary…in most of the cases… the people that were carrying the bomb to the plane were non-Muslim. [They were] young women” (VOA). If the people being stopped did not fit the profile that many think of as potential terrorists, then it could be said that these profilers are more unbiased than average citizens. This practice is not at all politically correct, but it has a proven history of working with the use of highly trained and intelligent workers.

Conclusion

The most important thing that we can learn from this effective security is that safety is possible. There are ways to protect life effectively, even in the chaotic times we live in. There is no way to doubt track record of these policies. Even if you do not think that profiling is morally right, there is no way to posit that it is not actively defeating terrorism. Because, although Israel may be a small nation, it is most certainly a target by the very same groups that are carrying out plane and airport attacks around the world.  The morality of the practice must be balanced not only with your moral teachings but also weighed against the suspended liberties we have all endured. Being treated like a criminal without provocation, all in the name of security that does not protect us is a high and unnecessary price. Israel’s airport security embodies the humanity and personal attention that such complex issues need.  There is no need for hate. There is not even a call for war. Security is possible with a reinvestment in education and training for the world’s transportation agencies. Have faith that peace can come without the loss of life or liberty.


Anne adds:

Ralph, thank you so much for casting your professional eye, as a home security expert, on Israel’s airport security. It is heartening to hear agreement from a non-Israeli that our security methods do not seem onerous, invasive or racist.  You have pointed out well all the salient factors that work together to make Israeli airport security (and anti-terror security in general) the best in the world, and your last paragraph very much sums up my own feelings.

This article is particularly relevant in these days of increased terrorism such as the Brussels airport bombing, and even more so in the light of the latest news (via Reality) that an Israeli security firm’s advice on Brussels airport security went unheeded.

Let’s hope the West will not only ask Israel for advice, but will act on it too.

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10 Responses to Guest Post: Why Israeli airport security is so effective

  1. Barney says:

    I have travelled through Ben Gurion airport many times and only once or twice have found the security procedures burdensome. Only once did I nearly miss a flight when the security agents kept missing out the line I was standing in and would question passengers in the two neighboring lines – and that was in the old terminal. Israeli security is very impressive.

    • anneinpt says:

      I take Israeli security for granted since I’ve lived here for so many years (nearly 40). But I notice it precisely when it’s absent, e.g. when I’m abroad.

  2. cba says:

    One important point that you touched on but I would like to make more explicit: The security personnel are highly trained, not the minimum wage “rent-a-cop” that one typically sees in most other airports.

  3. Pingback: Why Israeli airport security is so effective |

  4. Excellent post Anne and Ralph. I travel to Israel often and always feel so secure coming and going. I’ve long maintained that Israel’s security protocol of profiling is necessary and effective. Maybe if some of the other airports in the world would stop worrying about how many little hotel shampoo bottles I have in my carry on and instead focus on the individual other airports may in time be more secure.

    • anneinpt says:

      Thank you Edith, but I can’t take any credit. It all goes to Ralph.

      I agree with you 100% on other airports’ methods (or lack of methods) of security. I have heard these “methods” described as “security theater”, i.e. it’s all for show, to make the traveller feel more secure without actually providing more security.

      But in fact some of these stupid measures (your example of the shampoo bottles is perfect) serve only to irritate the traveller, and do not convince anyone. Anyone with any sense in their head can see that security is often wide-open.

      The only airport I feel really secure in is Ben Gurion and the only airline I feel really safe with is El Al. I just wish they’d lower their prices!

  5. Reality says:

    We are so used to opening our bags to be checked everywhere we go in Israel,from the supermarket,to the workplace,to the theatre,to places of entertainment etc.. Israel never apologizes with politically correct statements.We know we have to live like this in order to live another day instead of to be killed(there are sadly enough terror attacks anyway,which can’t seem to be prevented).If Europe and the rest of the world, would stop being “politically correct,”and call a spade a spade, they may prevent a lot more terror attacks,and begin to enjoy life.Remember Israel is the 11th happiest country in the world!

    • anneinpt says:

      Europe and the US also say they are “too big” to contemplate using Israel’s methods. But that’s rubbish. They just need to employ many more security workers – and train them.

      THAT’S the crux of the matter: the training of the security personnel. The TSA in US airports are beyond useless, according to countless reports.

  6. Trackforce says:

    No doubt, Israel security is by the far the best of any airport. I have travelled to Israel couple of times, and I really liked their security checking system. Others countries should copy their airport security system.

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