El Al plane. Security measures boosted
Photo: Niv Calderon

Shin Bet fears attack on Israeli plane

Number of security guards on flights boosted, helicopters escort takeoffs and arrivals in several airports worldwide for fear of missile launching. Defense source: Threat concrete and we are doing everything possible

The security measures on aircraft belonging to Israeli airlines and around them during takeoffs and arrivals abroad have been significantly boosted over the past few days for fear that Hizbullah would act on its promise to avenge the February assassination of its top commander Imad Mugniyah.


The number of armed security guards on some of the flights to several destinations has been increased, as was the number of guards surrounding the plane after the landing and before the takeoff.


"The threat is extremely concrete, and there is no choice but to do everything possible," a source involved in aviation security said Thursday.


Armed security guards have been stationed on El Al, Arkia and Israir aircraft for many years now. The number of guards is determined by the Shin Bet's protection unit according to the potential level of risk on any flight line. The number may change on a daily basis according to updated intelligence information.


The Israeli airlines take additional security measures, most of them concealed.


Ever since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States, all airlines have been compelled to install bullet-proof cockpit doors on passenger flights. In the Israeli airlines the cockpit door had been locked a long time before these decisions were made, but new doors were installed on all Israeli planes according to the new standard.


Simultaneously, the alert level of local security forces has been raised in many airports where El Al planes land. Yedioth Ahronoth has learned that due to concrete warnings, special security measures have been taken in several airports in Europe and the Far East, including sending helicopters to escort the Israeli aircraft during takeoffs and landings.


"We usually deliver the intelligence information, and the authorities respond accordingly. We are fully coordinated with the authorities in each country, and receive full cooperation," a source involved in aviation security noted.


No missile-deflecting system

The main fear is a missile attack on an Israeli passenger flight as the plane travels on the runway or takes off, heavy, slow and filled with petrol. Due to this fear, El Al has stopped flying to destinations like Turkey. In Cairo, Bangkok and other destinations, extreme security measures are taken to protect the planes.


Despite all the plans, not one Israeli aircraft has been fortified with a missile-deflecting system, which has yet to be licensed by leading aviation bodies. The airlines are reluctant to install such a system, as it limits the plane's fuelling.


Due to the absence of such a system, airports are taking different measures defined as problematic. Most of these measures are concealed, but are aimed at locating missile launching cells on the runways.


In light of the warnings, a number of businesspeople have changed their flight plans to destinations defined as problematic.


"I was scheduled to fly to Cyprus to meet with a partner of mine. I asked him to meet me in Athens instead. We must not provoke fate," an Israeli businessman said Thursday.


About a month ago, Yedioth Ahronoth reported that the defense establishment feared that terrorists would take control of a passenger flight at the last stage of its arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport. Foreign airlines were ordered to turn on the lights instructing the passengers to remain seated and buckled up about 250 kilometers (155.25 miles) before Israel's coastline.


"Someone is very worried about something," a source in the aviation industry concluded.


Aryeh Egozi contributed to this report `


פרסום ראשון: 04.04.08, 09:23
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