The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) is considering beefing up its teams of security guards stationed at Ben-Gurion Airport and on Israeli commercial flights, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Defense officials said on Monday that since 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's failed attempt a week-and-a-half ago to bomb a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit by mixing explosive substances and setting them on fire, interest in Israeli security methods has significantly increased overseas.
"There has always been close cooperation between us and other countries with regard to aviation and airport security," explained one official. "This has naturally increased since the terrorist attack attempt in late December."
Later this week, Jane Holl Lute, the US deputy secretary of homeland security, and David Heyman, assistant secretary for policy, will arrive for talks on a wide-range of issues, including airport security. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was supposed to lead the delegation, but canceled her participation in wake of the security crisis in the US.
Increasing security at the country's main airport, as well as on El Al Israel Airways flights, is currently under consideration by Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin. Several months ago, the agency's security division held a large-scale exercise for the top Shin Bet brass at Ben-Gurion Airport where it demonstrated some of its capabilities.
The Shin Bet operates two layers of aviation security.
The first is at Ben-Gurion, where security is overseen by Brig.-Gen. (res.) Shmuel Zakai, the former commander of the Gaza Division. The staff consists of several thousand guards, of whom hundreds are on duty at any given time, at the entrance to the airport and terminals and throughout the check-in process.
The second layer is on Israeli flights overseas, on which the Shin Bet places armed agents who have special training to thwart hijacking and bombing attempts in mid-flight. Over the years, the agency has developed an advanced training regimen for these guards, even creating a mock plane where they hold live-fire exercises.
Officials said the Shin Bet had been considering upping security for several months, well before Abdulmutallab's failed attack. The Nigerian is believed to have operated on behalf of al-Qaida.
"We are one of the most threatened countries when it comes to aviation terrorism," one Shin Bet official said. "We always need to improve our capabilities."
The defense establishment believes that the risk of an attack against an Israeli aircraft will rise slightly over the next few weeks, ahead of the second anniversary of the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, Hizbullah's military commander who was killed by a car bomb in Damascus on February 12, 2008.
Hizbullah has since tried several times to avenge Mughniyeh's death, via attacks against Israel, which it holds responsible for the car bombing. Recent reports claim that there have been at least six foiled attacks in the past year-and-a-half.
"They are still trying very hard to avenge Mughniyeh's death," another official said recently. "Our assumption is that they will try to hit an Israeli target or airplane overseas."
The other concern in Israel is that al-Qaida is trying to recruit Europeans and Americans who have been indoctrinated with radical Islamic ideology to carry out attacks inside Israel.
A number of US and European nationals have undergone such indoctrination and tried to perpetrate attacks. One example is Adam Yehiye Gadahn (born Adam Pearlman), an American of Jewish descent who appeared in al-Qaida videotapes in 2008, as well as Richard Reid, the Briton "shoe bomber", who was recruited into al-Qaida and is serving a life sentence in the US for trying to destroy a commercial airliner in 2001 with plastic explosives hidden in his shoes.
The concern within the defense establishment is that al-Qaida will make use of the Westerners' ability to easily enter Israel, and then have them connect with local terrorist infrastructure that will help them carry out attacks.