Airport security key issue
Tel Aviv, July 12, 2007
Security experts say defences like those at Tel Aviv's main airport could be used overseas to prevent a recurrence of an attack on Glasgow airport in which a fuel-laden car was rammed into a terminal.
Members of a suspected Al Qaeda cell drove largely unimpeded to their target in Scotland on June 30 without having to stop for any security check. That could not have occurred at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International airport, the experts said.
A checkpoint 2km from Ben Gurion's main terminal screens vehicles and drivers well before they enter the airport.
At the checkpoint, a series of speed bumps prevents vehicles from making a dash into the airport, and armed guards stop, greet and question all drivers, looking for suspicious behaviour.
Eric Herren, a Swiss-based consultant who advises European airports on security, said some of the methods used at Ben Gurion, including the checkpoint, are both effective and possible to implement in Europe.
'What happened in Glasgow raised awareness all over Europe and now they are discussing it (a checkpoint as at Ben Gurion),' Herren said.
According to Ramy Gershon, an Israeli security expert and
fellow at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya near Tel Aviv, the measure is highly effective and would cause few delays.
Major European airports, he said, have two or three major entrances, each with three or four lanes of traffic -- and security booths would cause no more disturbance than toll booths.
Checkpoints and questioning are, however, easier to put in place at Ben Gurion, which handled 9.2 million international passengers last year, than at huge airports like London Heathrow, with 67 million passengers a year, or Chicago O'Hare with 76 million last year.
Experts said vehicle checkpoints alone cannot provide an airport terminal with a complete blanket of security and must, as in Israel, be used in combination with other measures to foil attack.
Eran Duvdevani, an anti-terror expert and former Israeli army colonel, said undercover guards inside the Ben Gurion terminal were vital to its security.
Duvdevani said the high-profile presence of uniformed officers, as is common at British and US airports, only gave gunmen a clear preliminary target and passengers a false sense of security.
'When a terrorist comes to the airport to gather intelligence, he mustn't know where security is located, making it difficult to plan attacks,' he said.
Herren said he also favoured the use of undercover guards at airports, calling them the most effective means of responding to an attack.
Herren said the main barrier to implementing Israeli-style measures outside security-conscious Israel was psychological.
'Here (in Switzerland)... people will never accept armed guards like they have standing in Ben Gurion,' Herren said, adding that if security measures looked aggressive and proactive people would not accept them.
'Only when people see terrorism is repeating itself will they start to think about it as a threat to their lives,' he said.
Both Duvdevani and Gershon said that despite efforts by Israeli experts to advise authorities around the world on how to improve airport security, very few had adopted the methods Israel uses to secure Ben Gurion.
'I was shocked to learn how little airports learned from our experience,' Duvdevani said. 'They still think that it won't happen to them, but in the end it will'.Reuters