With air travel a mess after the Christmas Day underwear-bomber incident, it's time to rethink airport security.
Instead of the present system of patting down everyone, removing shoes (next, will passengers have to remove underwear?), one carry-on bag, no toilet visits in the last hour of flight, no blankets in the last hour, no using a laptop computer, and three-hour lineups for airport security, why not emulate Israeli airport security?
Israel is the world's most threatened country.It has more direct experience with terrorism than any country.
Yet the last time an Israeli airliner was attacked was 1972, when 24 people were killed by Japanese Red Army terrorists. Since then, there has not been a fatal incident.
How do the Israelis do it -- and why can't we learn from them?
The "layers" of Israeli security at Ben Gurion airport (some 11 million passengers a year -- small by U.S. standards) are more intense than in Canada or the U.S. They include uniformed and plain clothes security personnel checking for nervous or odd-behaving individuals.
To Israelis, individuals are more important than baggage. We check baggage more than we do people -- ever fearful of being accused of "racial profiling."
The Israeli Supreme Court must deal with civil rights groups that argue security measures violate Israeli law by singling out Arabs and Muslims for tougher scrutiny. Terror experts point out Israel's security precautions are effective precisely because they factor in ethnicity, which our security system does not.
Israel's Association of Civil Rights accepts screening is necessary, but wants it done equally on all passengers. Terror expert Ariel Merari has been quoted saying "It's foolishness not to use profiles when you know most terrorists come from certain ethnic groups and certain age groups. A bomber on a plane is likely to be a Muslim and young, not an elderly Holocaust survivor."
Can anyone disagree saving lives justifies inconveniencing certain ethnic groups? The U.S. has concentrated on devising technology to detect weapons, and avoided profiling people likely to use these weapons. This is an ass-backwards approach that eventually will have to change. It's people who are dangerous, not weapons. Over the years, the Israelis have absorbed the reality the person is more important than his/her luggage. In North America we don't have the expertise of the Israelis who are ever on the alert and chatting with "passengers of interest."
Anyone flying in our country can hardly be reassured by security measures.
Our planes don't have the armoured luggage compartments, reinforced cockpits, or armed sky marshals Israeli airliners boast. Nor can frequent flyers be assured a fellow passenger isn't another Muslim radical like shoe bomber Richard Reid, or Umar Abdulmutallab, the would-be underwear bomber.
While racial profiling is illegal, "reasonable suspicion" (which cuts across ethnic differences) is acceptable in law, enabling trained security officers to question passengers. After all, the 1972 terrorists who attacked Ben Gurion airport were Japanese, not Arabs.
"Profiling" should analyze behaviour, as well as ethnicity.
Israel won't reveal some of its security measures. Arabs and Jews are treated differently when boarding Israeli planes, and low risk passengers may get cursory checks. But all hand baggage goes through a pressure chamber aimed at detonating any explosive device.
We could learn a lot from the Israelis -- if we dared to.