Israeli Airports Authority denies security flaw

Less than 24 hours after Tawfiq Fukra attempted to hijack El Al Tel Aviv-Istanbul Flight 581 in midair with the help of a penknife, Israel’s airport authority gave itself a clean bill of health. The initial probe had established, said the authority’s spokesman, that the 23-year old Israeli Arab from the Galilee village of Baina Najidat, west of Tiberias, had been screened by security officers according to the strictest criteria. Therefore, no faults could be attributed to pre-flight security procedures.
The Authority’s Deputy CEO, Pinni Schiff, admitted he could not say how the would-be hijacker had spirited a penknife aboard the flight. He said an answer was to be expected from the Turkish security interrogation of Fukra, who was taken into custody at Ataturk international airport when the threatened El Al flight landed Sunday night, with 170 safe but very frightened passengers and crew.
debkafile‘s security experts find a major security flaw in the speed with which the airports authority produced its “findings” on an episode serious enough to warrant an exhaustive, expert inquiry before conclusions can be adduced. Were it not for the presence of mind of the El Al marshals aboard the flight, it might have ended in disaster.
The first security defect is inherent in the very fact that a small penknife reached the flight in Fukra’s hands. The handover could only have been made before embarkation – that is in areas under the jurisdiction of the airports authority. It also indicates that the hijacker had accomplices, whether passengers he encountered after the security check, who may have boarded another flight, airport personnel or regular visitors, who may have been infiltrated or bribed.
The second slipup is one of intelligence; Israel’s security or intelligence services appear to have been caught unawares.
If Fukra had one or more accomplices at Ben Gurion airport, the hijacking must have been pre-planned some time ahead. Aboard the flight, he came with an inch of carrying out what was evidently a prepared maneuver, namely using the knife to grab hold of the stewardess as hostage for gaining access to the cockpit. Had he succeeded, the El Al flight would have come under his control. The El Al marshals’ lightening reflexes save the day.
Although the incident was aborted, it leaves two further serious questions outstanding:
1. Had Fukra succeeded in taking over the cockpit, what would have happened next? Was the rest of the gang waiting with guns and explosives at Ataturk or some less guarded airfield to blow the flight up?
2. How far is a minority group in the Israeli Arab community prepared to go in its support for Palestinian terror? An increasing number, calling themselves “Palestinians”, are being caught crossing the line that turns them into dangerous security risks. Terrorist cells are known to have been planted in Israeli Arab areas by the Fatah, Tazim, the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the Popular Front, the Hizballah, Iran, Hamas, Jihad Islamic, Iraqi military intelligence and al Qaeda. Some of these citizens have been persuaded to provide Palestinian terrorist organizations with intelligence data, as well as logistical and financial assistance for suicide attacks. Engaging in the hijacking of Israeli civilian aircraft was just another step down this slippery slope.
The “enemy within” has become dangerous and substantial enough to warrant a fresh look at the way Israeli security and intelligence services perceives its Arab population. In the last eight months, Israeli Arabs have on more than one occasion taken advantage of their freedom movement around the country’s highways and cities to transport suicide killers to target. Restrictions against them would conflict with Israel’s traditional standards of democracy, face challenges at its High Court of Justice and run into a flow of editorial protest. The loyal majority would undoubtedly suffer. But the Israeli government has a duty to set boundaries for Palestinian suicide killers and their accessories.
The United States government faces criticism for placing citizens of Iraqi origin under surveillance in the interests of national security ahead of its war with Iraq, although no such citizen has ever indicated his support for Saddam Hussein.
Israeli Arabs, since Yasser Arafat declared his confrontation against Israel two years ago, have been exhorted day and night by their ten representatives in Israel’s parliament to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinian cause and support Yasser Arafat. The El Al Flight 581 episode Sunday, November 17, was the predictable outcome.

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