Lessons From Israel Regarding Security

A big hat-tip to Seraphic Secret for publishing the link to a paper written on the lessons that the American security community can learn from Israel. (The paper was written in 2005, before the Second Lebanon War).

After reading most of it, I wanted to comment a bit on some of the findings. The authors, Jeffrey Larsen and Tasha Pravecek, give a bit of historical background to Israel’s many wars and its vigilance against terrorism, and they do mention the relatively small size of Israel versus America, but they don’t emphasize a cultural difference that is telling. Israel is a country primarily of Jews. Although we come from many different home countries and ethnic groups, and it may seem that we fight bitterly amongst ourselves, the cliche that we are all one family is basically true. We feel a connection to one another and a responsibility to help protect one another. We honor those soldiers that have died protecting us, and we remember those who have been killed in terrorist attacks. Our Memorial Day is not a time for shopping, it is a time for somber ceremonies. Our children, even as young as pre-school, are taught about the importance of the day. Unfortunately, the names of the soldiers who died fighting for us and those killed in terrorist attacks are in many cases not strangers. I personally know of two people who were killed by terrorists, and I know of three others whose siblings were killed. (Remember that I am an immigrant who has been here for 18 years. Native Israelis have even greater social connections). This all boils down to one important factor: Motivation. It is not just our “experience” in dealing with terror (as important as it sadly is) that makes us willing to live with security guards in the front of stores and restaurants, and makes our soldiers fight so hard for us, it is our feeling that saving the lives of our loved ones is a duty.

A short summary at the beginning of the paper is entitled “Analysis – Observations from Israeli Experience”. The summary starts as follows:

 “Know Your Adversary: understanding of one’s neighbors and potential adversaries. This knowledge allows the Israeli intelligence and security apparatuses to prepare appropriately and pre-position its defensive forces accordingly to minimize such threats. When a state knows its adversary it can tailor its strategy to maximize its chances of dissuading, deterring, or defeating the threat.”
In some respects Israelis “know” their enemy because many speak their language. In many high schools, including my son’s yeshiva, Arabic is taught. Due to the fact that Israel welcomes Jews from all over the world, we have a strong immigrant population where children are usually bi-lingual. When these children join the army, they are sometimes recruited for the intelligence branch. Not only do these IDF soldiers know the language, but they can pick up on cultural cues that would be lost on others from another ethnic group. I do not understand why America is not actively recruiting children of immigrants from “enemy” countries in order to use their language skills.
Another lesson gleaned is, of course, is profiling:

“Profiling – Israel admits that it uses profiling of individuals in its efforts to uncover terrorists. Security personnel look at a number of indicators to determine whether a person is perceived to be a threat, including a color-coded license plate system that differentiates between Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinians. “

Here the authors are wrong, in that Israeli Arabs do not have license plates that are different than other Israelis. I also think they are much too impressed with the license plate system, since our Arab cousins are very good at stealing cars and using the yellow plates gained in the process. The main point, about profiling, is of course true, and it shows up especially in border controls and airport security.

Another good point made later in the paper is the speed in which the Israeli security establishment comes up with new technologies to meet new threats. Where American companies, and the Armed Forces, are huge organizations that can move very slowly, the Israeli mentality is to “get it done”. Sometimes this comes at the cost of quality, but in the long run this mentality helps to get lifesaving technologies out there into the field. Another cultural difference is the “chutzpah” factor. Israeli Jews can be very arrogant – and everyone thinks that they have a better way to do things. Sometimes they are wrong, but a lot of times they are right. When they prove it – everyone benefits.

Another point that is not made in the paper, is the relentless drive to learn, and the desire to involve the common citizen in the security process. Whenever there is an attack of any kind, the security personnel get as much information as possible from it in order to learn how to prevent an attack in the future. This relates to even “minor” incidents. The person in charge of security in our yishuv always emphasizes that we should report anything that happens, even if it turns out later to be a false alarm. An example of this is what happened two weeks ago. We were enjoying a beautiful sunny Shabbat morning, after a week of rain. In the middle of synagogue services, the rapid response team’s beepers went off. They picked up their M16s from the floor by their feet (yes, they take them everywhere) and ran out. It turns out that an Arab family had decided to make a picnic while attending to the olive trees outside of the fence around our yishuv (which is fine – as long as the army knows about it beforehand). One of the teenagers approached the fence in order to cut an herb for tea, and a mother out with her young children saw this. She called the phone number for emergencies and the team was alerted.

This specific incident turned out to be nothing to worry about – but the response by the authorities was telling. The Ravshatz (the head of security) sent out an email after Shabbat (the Sabbath) explaining the details of the incident, and he praised the woman for her actions. The Rabbi of the yishuv sent out a similar email, and emphasized that what she did was not only accepted but mandatory, even on Shabbat. Even though it turned out to be a false alarm, in another situation it could have been lifesaving, and he wanted to make sure that noone would hesitate in the future. Would the authorities in America have the same attitude? I am not sure.   


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jack Turnof
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 19:17:56

    I would have more respect for olim that live in Israel if they gave up their US status and stopped runing to TelAviv to regester their newborns as American citizens. If people make alyia, they should in effect become FULL citizens of Israel. It is demoralizing to native born to see their American mishpocha keep their US passports and reg their kids as Americans. A lot of the native born look at these people as long term tourists from Brooklyn and Fairfax. While I would have liked to post this to you in another format, I thought that this may open up a discussion about this ongoing problem. Within my own family I have these travlers who go back and forth for years at a time and never make a final choice to settle in Israel or stay in the states. While in the states, they long for Israel as the “promised land”.After a few years in Israel, they become crtical and then return to the states. Some of these people have repeated this cycle 3 or 4 times. Being religious and having a American cultural background causes much anguish.

  2. Trackback: Haveil Havalim 254: Tu B’Shevat Edition | The Israel Situation
  3. Shimshonit
    Feb 01, 2010 @ 15:11:54

    Very interesting post. I’ll be interested to check out the paper on this subject, but appreciate your thoughtful critique as well.

    Jack: We ARE full citizens of Israel, we are not all from Brooklyn and Fairfax, and we don’t spend every summer in the US. You are talking about a small percentage of American olim. Your grousing about the handful of people who appear not to have made the decision to settle permanently in Israel has some validity, but this blog post (or, indeed, Westbankmama’s blog) hardly seems the place to have such a discussion. What’s your blog address?

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