JERUSALEM -- Israel's tough airline security methods -- pistol-packing in-flight guards, grilling of passengers, rifling through luggage, -- have helped thwart terrorist attacks in the past.
Israeli experts said Wednesday that, had they been used in the United States, they might have prevented Tuesday's horrific airborne attacks in New York and Washington.
But some would have proved difficult to implement in the United States, and others -- like profiling -- would not meet the test of the U.S. Constitution.
Security on Israel's national airline carrier, El Al, begins long before takeoff. Every passenger is checked through Interpol for a criminal record before the flight, said Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror, a former airline security guard.
At Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport, cars are examined as they enter the airport compound by uniformed guards armed with mini-Uzi submachine guns. Plainclothes security guards, wearing the standard loose-fitting jackets that cover bulging weapons holsters, patrol the airport building and entrances.
Bomb scares, often triggered by careless travelers briefly leaving pieces of luggage out of sight, occur frequently.
On Wednesday, Israeli TV broadcast an airport bomb scare live, showing police directing people out of the terminal. It lasted less than a minute.
El Al terminals overseas are guarded by armed Israeli security personnel, and security checks are just as strict as in Israel.
All passengers undergo some form of questioning during check-in. Most are questioned briefly and continue. Others have all the contents of their luggage -- to the smallest toothpaste tube -- examined.
By questioning passengers, guards can quickly spot those who appear nervous, said Leo Gleser, a former El Al security officer and head of ISDS, a security consulting firm.
In Israel, profiling means Arabs and certain foreigners are singled out for intense grilling, while most Israeli Jews quickly proceed to check-in. Israeli officials would not talk about profile parameters.
Gleser said profiling was necessary. If all the hundreds of passengers boarding an airliner were questioned in depth, that plane would never get off the ground because it would take too much time.
In the case of Tuesday's hijackers, ''not all of them would have made it onto the plane'' if the Israeli approach to security had been used, Gleser said. ''If you detect one, you can start to ask questions'' that might lead to the other members of the group.
During check-in, high-tech explosives detection equipment is then used to examine all luggage, said a former El Al security chief, Tuvia Livneh. In 1986, security guards detected a bomb planted in the luggage of a pregnant Irish woman by her Palestinian boyfriend, without her knowledge.
In the United States, passengers must pass through metal detectors and their carry-on baggage is screened in an x-ray machine. In recent years a lot of effort has gone into developing machines that can sniff out explosives, and sophisticated passenger scanning devices, but they are not in use yet on a regular basis.
When baggage is checked people are asked simply if it has been in their possession at all times and if anyone has asked them to carry anything on the plane for them.
El Al is probably the only airline that places all its cargo in decompression chambers before takeoff, Livneh said. At least 10 planes have been blown up with explosives set off by a barometric fuse, sensitive to altitude, he said.
The last lines of defense are armed, undercover guards seated on the plane, he said.
In 1970, a Palestinian hijacker was killed and another, Leila Khaled, was captured when their hijacking attempt was foiled by an armed guard during an El Al flight.
And even if all the measures fail, a hijacker still ''could not get into the cockpit of an Israeli plane,'' said Neri Yarkoni, former head of Israeli Civil Aviation Administration and a pilot himself. The cockpit door is locked as soon as the pilot enters, he said, an anti-hijack procedure that has been used for decades.
El Al also uses other ''technological means'' in order to protect its flights, Livneh confirmed, although he refused to elaborate.
Livneh, whose company, Sital International, advises a number of airports and airlines on security matters, said budget constraints often limit anti-terror operations. He described the security situation in airports outside Israel as ''very bad.
''It's a pity it takes a lesson like this to happen to teach them to boost security,'' he said.
Yarkoni said crucial mistakes were made Tuesday in the United States. The first two planes which hit the World Trade Center may have surprised the authorities, but he said the third plane should have been found and shot down before crashing into the Pentagon 45 minutes later.
Israeli warplanes would have been airborne within minutes, he said, while it took the U.S. air force an hour to launch its fighters. ''We live in a different reality,'' he explained. ''Here, this is routine.''
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