Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport to Showcase World-Leading Anti-Terror Security

By Genevieve Belmaker | June 13, 2016 | 9:15pm EDT
Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. (Photo: Israel Airports Authority)

Jerusalem ( – Airport security experts from dozens of countries plan to take a page out of Israel’s book in the coming weeks, when its international airport plays host to visitors from 40 countries who want to learn how the small, beleaguered country has avoided hijacking and airport attacks for the past 45 years.

Officials from Israel’s Ministry of Transportation told CNN recently that about 10 flights a day at the country’s only major airport, Ben Gurion near Tel Aviv, are flagged as suspicious. Systems for checking and verifying flights take place on a 24/7 basis at various points in the process of travel and at the airport.

The Israeli system, known as the “rings of steel,” operates an an airport that saw almost 16 million people pass through in 2015, with passenger traffic steadily increasing over the past five years.

No aircraft heading to or from Israel has been successfully attacked since 1972, when PLO terrorists hijacked a Belgian aircraft en route to Tel Aviv. It landed at what was then known as Lod airport, where a group of elite commandos including later prime ministers Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu stormed the plane and rescued the hostages.

That same year, Japanese terrorists recruited by a Palestinian terrorist group shot dead 26 people – more than half of them Christian pilgrims from Puerto Rico – at Lod airport.

The visit by officials from around the world comes on the heels of a series of deadly airline-related attacks globally. In March, a triple bombing in Brussels targeted the airport and the metro system, killing 32. Late last year, Metrojet flight 9268 en route to Russia exploded over the Sinai, evidently the result of an improvised explosive device (IED).

In February, an explosion ripped a hole in an airplane traveling from Somalia to Djibouti while it was in midair. In May, an EgyptAir flight crashed after an internal explosion while over the Mediterranean, the cause of which is still being investigated.

The attacks seem to have prompted a sense of urgency among the international airline community.

The International Air Transport Authority (IATA) has urged greater cooperation among nations to fight the threat of terrorism. IATA director general and CEO Tony Tyler said in a statement recent attacks “are grim reminders that aviation is vulnerable.”

“Airlines rely on governments to keep passengers and employees secure as part of their responsibility for national security,” said Tyler.

The IATA recently wrapped up its annual general meeting where they discussed security, efficiency, and closer inter-governmental collaboration. 

Overall in the U.S., security measures have faced harsh public scrutiny for being too slow and heavy-handed. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has faced ongoing criticism as passengers traveling through U.S. airports face increasingly long lines and wait times at checkpoints.

The lines have been blamed in part on aging airport infrastructure, understaffed security teams, and a controversial program to divert $13 billion over 10 years from the TSA passenger screening fee.

Two recently-introduced pieces of bipartisan legislation will attempt to address those issues.

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, the world’s busiest airport by passenger traffic, is at the forefront of cross-border collaboration. In May 2016, Hartsfield-Jackson signed a sister airport agreement with Ben Gurion-Tel Aviv to share expertise and experience.

Atlanta has made similar agreements with Monsenor Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in El Salvador and the Felix-Houphouet-Boigny International Airport in Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire.

Israel is lauded for its tough and effective security measures, which often include multiple points of interrogation for passengers leaving the country, and cross-checking by several security personnel.

But it has also been criticized domestically for racial profiling.

Last year, an eight-year legal battle led by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) ended when the judge threw out a case that addressed systematic distinction between Jewish and Arab citizens during screening. The court argued that pressure from the drawn-out legal battle had brought a de facto change to airport security policy, but ACRI disagreed.

“The High Court of Justice has missed an opportunity to end formal ethnic discrimination at Israel’s airports,” said ACRI Attorney Auni Banna in a statement. “Arab citizens are systematically tagged as suspects, and are made to go through a separate and degrading process solely due to their ethnic identity.”

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