Just how safe is Ben-Gurion Airport?

By
July 13, 2016 00:33

Experts say a change is needed in the global approach to air travel security




El Al

An El Al Boeing 777 aircraft is seen at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport. (photo credit:NIR ELIAS/REUTERS/IDF SPOKESMAN)

Following deadly terrorist attacks on international airports in Brussels and Istanbul, the world should be prepared for more attempts by ISIS and other jihadist organizations, warn experts.

At Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport, a range of unique security measures are deployed from the moment a vehicle approaches the facility until an aircraft departs Israeli airspace.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


Two of Israel’s most highly qualified authorities on aviation security discussed some of these measures with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, and at the Post’s request, compared them with those in place at airports abroad.

Pini Shif, former director of the security division at Ben-Gurion and current CEO of the Security Companies Association, said the top priority at Ben-Gurion is pushing potential threats as far away as possible from the terminal building.

“This is based around creating a number of circles of security.

We need an outer circle to have the ability to do security checks far away from the terminal,” Shif said. “We are the only country in the world that does this. It is not a path paved with gold. We check every single vehicle that enters the Ben-Gurion area.

Every vehicle is stopped, identified and put through other means that I cannot discuss.”

At Ben-Gurion, security planners built traffic lanes and checkpoint stations after calculating how many cars they expect to pass through every minute.

“You need to install the technology and trained personnel, and have the right number of inspection stations, otherwise the delays are terrible,” he said.

“Here, this process is almost scientific.

Very quickly, you move on. The guards know exactly what they’re looking for. This is very important. In the outer circle, if someone poses a problem, it is solved on the spot.”

Overseas, passengers are not screened that far away from the terminal, and when they are placed under security examination, the checks are universally applied to all – as opposed to Israel’s selective screening.

“When you fly while abroad, you stand in line where everyone is checked automatically.

Everyone takes off their belts, everyone places bottles of water in baskets. This is not the Israeli approach,” Shif said. “We believe that you should only invest energy where it is needed and that you should not waste energy, technology and personnel...

We do not have to check those that don’t need to be checked.”

The selective approach begins right at the outer ring, where only some cars receive in-depth searches for bombs. Shif said it is not about targeting Arab passengers.

“The technique is supposed to pick up on anyone who has a problem and acts suspiciously.

The same philosophy is at work inside the terminal. Only passengers who act or appear suspicious will be [rigorously] checked. It is not automatic.”

The Israel Airports Authority (IAA) has been more than willing to share its doctrine with international colleagues, Shif said. In June, 150 senior homeland security and airport security from the US, Europe, Africa and Russia came to hear about Israel’s techniques. They saw both theory and practice – in the form of drills – and learned how Israel prepares defenses for attacks, including car bomb threats.

“They saw everything we do.

The question is, what insights did they take home?” Shif said.

Abroad, Turkey has placed soldiers at its airports, due to longstanding security fears that began with Kurdish terrorist attacks that predate ISIS, he said.

The results are “very long lines” at airports.

Shif was the one who, in the early 1970s, decided against the idea of flooding the airport terminal with soldiers and police officers. Instead, undercover armed guards are everywhere, yet they are nowhere to be seen.

“An international terminal is not a military camp. I want passengers to feel comfortable when they arrive. I want them to hear background music and to smell perfumes at the duty free without seeing dogs, soldiers and automatic guns.”

Shif acknowledged that his comments only scratched the surface of Ben-Gurion’s security measures, many of which remain classified. Israeli’s measures, Shif said, are based on ensuring a terrorist attack cannot occur at its civilian airport.

“Belgium has not yet recovered from the attack on Brussels airport,” he said. “There is a reason they did not return to normal for three weeks. They were in total shock. The State of Israel decided that it cannot absorb or tolerate an attack on the airport, or a hijacking, and it has invested everything – personnel, resources and technology.

According to a 1972 government decision, the Shin Bet is the professional source of guidance for airport security, and the IAA’s Security Division receives its instructions from there. Former senior Shin Bet member Shlomo Harnoy once directed VIP protection in the intelligence agency, and has advised on aviation security for years. Today, his company, Sdema Group, advises the architects building Israel’s second international airport, north of Eilat.

Harnoy’s company has existing international aviation security projects, but no new requests have come in from abroad, despite the heightened and continued threat of additional ISIS attacks, he said.

Harnoy specializes in altering approaches to security to keep up with reality. After the 1995 assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, he was brought in to alter security, and redefined the threat posed to Israeli prime ministers, before drawing up new approaches and countermeasures.

”We should not wait for the attack to occur and then prepare,” he cautioned in conversation with the Post.

Harnoy said the main goals of airport security are preventing bomb explosions on planes in midair; preventing attacks on concentrations of passengers at arrivals and departures halls; safeguarding the continuing functioning of the airport; and defending from cyber attacks.

Since 1979, Israel has absorbed almost 80 attempted and real attacks – most of which have been thwarted. Most of the world is fairly good at preventing threats from reaching planes, but Israel is unique in profiling passengers, he said.

Israel’s strategy of creating overt and covert circles of security is what prevents gunmen with grenades, suicide bombers and car bombers from reaching passengers and terminals, Harnoy said. Airports in Russia and Africa have begun implementing outer circles of security in recent years, he added.

“Everyone has to draw up operational, correct plans for these threats. The first and most important aspect is the human element. The world thinks it is about technology and investing billions in technology, but it is wrong. The human element, the guards, are the most important,” he argued.

In the decade ahead, terrorism, not enemy armies, will threaten the world, Harnoy said, and it is not up to military or police to stop the threats, but rather security systems.

“The human element is what makes Israeli security unique,” he said. “The training and instructions enable them to understand what they are looking for. We do not behave in the same way [as the rest of the world]. We are searching for the attacker, or for passengers exploited by the attackers. We need high-quality people who can detect suspicious signs.”

Security personnel abroad who confiscate mineral water bottles from elderly women are “dealing with nonsense” and will not find explosives through “focusing on the wrong population,” Harnoy said.

“Instead of searching for attackers, they are searching everyone the same, in a large and varied population of passengers.

I’m not saying they should target ethnic or religious groups. It is about looking for suspicious signs,” he stressed.

Today, security guards should be the 21st century equivalents of elite commando units, he added.

“It is they who will prevent attacks, in addition to intelligence, of course. Everyone needs to draw lessons. Belgium did not learn from attacks on Russian airports. Istanbul did not learn from Belgium. They put soldiers and police, which is not security, but rather military soldiers who are not trained for that job.”

Harnoy acknowledged that his message is not simple to put into action in massive airports like Heathrow in London, which handles 50 million passengers a year.

“But it is applicable,” he said.

“I am not saying we are the best in the world. We [Israel] still have much to fix and learn about. But there is a need for operational planning since ISIS and other Islamic jihad organizations will step up attacks in Europe in light of their defeats in the Middle East. They will increase attacks in Europe.”

Related Content
Netanyahu and Livni
October 21, 2017
Livni warns: Netanyahu's anti-NGO steps are steering Israel towards McCarthyism

By JOY BERNARD

Israel Weather
  • 15 - 28
    Beer Sheva
    20 - 26
    Tel Aviv - Yafo
  • 14 - 25
    Jerusalem
    20 - 25
    Haifa
  • 19 - 32
    Elat
    19 - 31
    Tiberias