As airports across the world tighten security after a foiled Christmas Day attack on a U.S.-bound plane, security experts claim Israeli profiling methods would have stopped the would-be bomber on the ground. Israel’s strict airport screening, based in part on the ethnicity of passengers, has proved controversial but highly successful so far.
“Current security checks at airports across the world are aimed at finding explosives or weapons, but not at identifying the terrorists,” said Shlomo Harnoy, the head of Sdema Group, an Israeli security consultancy. “A young Muslim travelling alone on a ticket paid with cash and without luggage would have been immediately identified and searched,” he said.
Israel’s passenger profiling, applied for decades at the country’s Ben Gurion international airport and by Israeli airlines abroad, entails assessing the risk posed by passenger according to his nationality, ethnicity, background and behaviour.
Israeli security agents consider passengers with Arab or Muslim background as potentially high threats.
Agents at airports interview passengers in a process that for some takes just a few minutes but for others is an exhaustive questioning at times followed by a thorough body and luggage search. The procedure has drawn some criticism, but security officials consider it extremely effective.
No aircraft departing Ben Gurion has ever been hijacked or bombed. The only attack on the airport, in 1972, was carried out by gunmen who had arrived on a foreign carrier.