OPED7 Israel - Lessons to learn?

What lessons can be learned from Israel and El Al? Following 9/11 many articles have appeared in the press unfavorably comparing US airport screening and airline security with that of El Al, the Israeli airline. A similar message has been common from television pundits. It is true that that the security screening at US airports has been abysmally poor. It is also true that El Al's security is the 'best' in the business, and certain practices such as passenger profiling, the use of armed air marshals, the checking of every bag for explosives and subjecting them to decompression, the use of a professional security staff, etc. should be adopted here in the US. However, even if the will existed to adopt the same methods here in the US it is not at all obvious that it would be possible to successfully scale up El Al's security from the relatively small number of passengers that they need to screen to what would be necessary in the much larger US market. The following figures give an idea of the relative sizes of the two endeavors:

In 1999 El Al carried 1.14 million passengers worldwide, while (in 2000) US domestic airlines had some 650 million passenger emplanements. In the US in 1998 1,903 million people were screened at US airports (of whom 660 were arrested for firearms violations, and 86 for giving false information).

Thus the two tasks are magnitudes apart, something that is not addressed by any of these commentators. Additionally, given the 'hardening' of this target, terrorists wishing to strike Israel have simply shifted their terrorist actions to easier targets e.g. suicide bombers targeting discos, marketplaces, and other places where groups of people assemble.... Terrorists have penetrated Israel in spite of all the countermeasures in place. Israel's borders are 1,006 km long, the borders of the US are 12,248 km in length and in 2000 they were transited by:

During debate prior to the passage of the Airline Safety Act of 2001 there were differences between Democrats & Republicans, and between the House and the Senate regarding the 'federalization' of airport screening personnel. Disagreements were voiced about who could run this function most efficiently, government workers or the private sector. Unfortunately this debate was missing the point. Given the magnitude of the numbers above it is clear that while US airports and the US border need to be controlled to a greater degree than is the case at present, security can not be brought about by mere inspection but needs to be part of a larger system in depth... (more on this in a later OPED). Arguing back and forth about who can run this process the most efficiently is a sterile debate... unless airport and border security and screening are part of a much larger and systematic approach to security, the problems of 9/11 can happen again....

© SNi 01/08/2002