Responding to the Critics on Israel and Airport Security

Here, in the wake of the Christmas-day terrorist attempt, I thought I was writing about enhancing our flight security by seeing what we might learn from Israel, a country with its own share of experience in this area.

It turns out, instead, that for some readers my last piece, posted December 31, provided a handy excuse to unleash their unbridled hostility toward Israel.

Sorting through the chorus of critics, certain themes emerge. Let’s look at five of them.

The first essentially says: “We despise Israel and, therefore, there’s nothing we can learn from it.”

Hmm, that’s an intelligent approach to life.

This is not the time or place to speculate about the roots of this anti-Israel venom. But if a country has something to share with us — intelligence, technology, experience — that could save American lives, is it rational to summarily reject the information because Israel, for whatever unfathomable reason, is deemed beyond the pale? In fact, given Israel’s outsized role in technological innovation, such a dismissive attitude could cost us big-time if taken to its logical conclusion.

The second group asserts that an Israeli company manages security for Amsterdam’s airport and failed the test, which, ipso facto, disqualifies Israel from the discussion.

The security operation in Israel is run by the government. To date, it has been remarkably successful. All the pieces of the security puzzle appear to operate in harmony, so that no piece of relevant information gets lost or sidelined.

In Amsterdam, airport security is in the hands of a private company that works at the behest of the Dutch government. The two situations are not comparable.

Moreover, unless the U.S. government shared the information that the father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab warned about his son’s radicalization — which it did not — or that American officials picked up intelligence chatter about a Nigerian with Yemeni connections planning an attack — which again it did not — how were security personnel in Amsterdam supposed to be on the lookout for him?

For that matter, if the facts that the plane ticket was purchased with cash and that Abdulmutallab had no luggage were not shared from the point of origin, i.e., Africa, how would this be known for a passenger transiting in Amsterdam?

And if the Dutch airport authority opted, for whatever reason, not to install advanced passenger scanning equipment at every checkpoint, this cannot be blamed on a security company, which, at the end of the day, doesn’t have a blank check to do everything it wants.

A third group claims that Israel gets financial aid from the U.S., siphoning off the monetary resources that could otherwise be spent to improve our own airport security.

Yes, as an ally in a dangerous neighborhood, Israel gets foreign military assistance from the U.S. (apropos, not only does Egypt get almost as much support, but also its debt to the U.S. of nearly seven billion dollars was canceled several years ago.) The bulk of that aid to Israel, however, must by law be spent in this country, which means the U.S. defense industry and the American worker are direct beneficiaries.

By the way, it may come as a surprise that total U.S. foreign aid to Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, and scores of other countries, amounts to 0.2 percent of U.S. Gross National Income.

The U.S. also gets another return on its investment: Israel has tested American equipment in real-life situations, found ways to enhance it, and shared the knowledge with the U.S., which accrues to the benefit of our armed services. And it has scored many intelligence coups during and since the Cold War, which have also helped the U.S. defense posture.

On a related note, the decades-long American military presence in countries from Japan to South Korea, from Germany to Italy, is counted not in our foreign-aid budget, but in our defense budget. We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars, if not more, protecting our allies with troops and treasure. That should put our support for Israel, which, incidentally, has never asked for American troops to defend it, in some perspective.

The fourth group conjures up all kinds of nightmarish scenarios of Israel’s security brutishness at airports, asserting that such behavior is not for America. Unverified stories are trotted out and exceptional cases, if true, are presented as the norm, and as if they never happened at any other airport in the world.

Israel has only one goal — to assure the flying public, irrespective of race, religion, or nationality, a safe journey. And Israel knows that safety cannot be taken for granted.

History has shown there are those who wish to do harm either on the ground or in the air, and Israel has no choice but to try to find them before they strike. Israel’s procedures have worked, with a minimum of inconvenience for the vast majority of travelers, who spend no more time at the airport than their American counterparts.

The fifth group of critics goes the furthest in suggesting that, were it not for Israel, terrorism would magically disappear and humankind would live happily ever after. Right!

Apart from the blindingly obvious fact that Israel is a front-line target of terrorism by those who wish its annihilation, there is another blindingly obvious fact: Those very same terrorist groups share in common a larger hatred — of the United States, irrespective of who sits in the Oval Office; the West; moderate Arab regimes; democracy; secularism; pluralism; and modernity (except for the modern tools they have at their disposal to pursue their medieval aims).

You don’t have to take my word for it. The terrorists shout it from the rooftops. They proclaim it in their charters and covenants. Their spokesmen trumpet it on videos and websites. And, of course, they act on their beliefs.

If Israel weren’t around, would 9/11 not have happened? Or the London bus bombings? Or the Madrid train bombings? Or the Bali massacre? Or the attacks in Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey? Or the Fort Hood shooting spree? Or the daily strikes on civilians in Pakistan? Or the al-Qaeda presence in Yemen? Or the training camps in Somalia? Or the Taliban campaign to snuff out any glimmer of freedom for women? Or the latest attempt to kill a Danish cartoonist? Or Abdulmuttalab’s plan to blow up Flight 253?

It’s high time to grasp the essential fact that there exists a jihadist ideology driven by zealous belief, not downtrodden misery, which has us in its crosshairs — in the air, on land, and on the high seas.

Rather than pretending it doesn’t exist, or rationalizing it, or ascribing it to right-wing warmongering, or blaming everyone but those responsible, let’s get real and focus on those who wish us harm — not those, like Israel, who stand with us.