[This analysis is adapted from an article written by Yossi Melman for The Jerusalem Post. In addition, Dan Raviv‘s 43-minute radio special on the March 22 terrorism in Brussels — and his interviews with pundits and experts on terrorism — can be heard by clicking here.]
TEL AVIV – There are eleven security and inspection points at Ben-Gurion Airport. They spread from a roadblock at the airport entrance, through the security checkpoints that all travelers expect, all the way to the gates where passengers board their flights.
That is a lot to do – involving plenty of personnel and other expense – but Israel considers it a necessary investment. Lives must be saved, and the travel industry must not be destroyed by bloodshed.
The multi-layered security is affordable — not just because Tel Aviv’s international airport is relatively small, but also because of a holistic security doctrine engraved by nearly 50 years of experience marked by blood and tears.
Since some early tragic failures, Israel has improved and upgraded its security measures on land and in the air. For decades, security experts from international airlines, police forces and security agencies have come here to learn Israeli know-how and doctrines.
Unfortunately, the non-Israelis stand up and take notice only after spectacular terrorist attacks — such as the 1988 Pan Am bombing and 9/11.
It took Western democracies a while to reach the conclusion that human life is at least as important as human rights. Most probably it will happen this time, too.
Sure, there is no hermetically sealed security, and terrorists will always take advantage of gaps. But there is no need to be a genius to understand that what happened in Brussels this week was a colossal security and intelligence failure.
Belgian authorities admit that they knew there was a high probability of an “imminent terror attack.” Yet neither the country’s police nor its security forces increased their presence in the streets or by adding checkpoints at the entrances to the airport. No wonder three terrorists managed to enter with suitcases heavily laden with explosives, screws, and bolts. Two blew themselves up, within a minute of each other; and it was lucky that the third man lost his nerve and fled.
The Brussels tragedy – with more than 30 people murdered and almost 300 wounded – was the result of years of negligence.
For decades, Belgium’s police have been afraid to enter rough Muslim neighborhoods such as Molenbeek, in the capital. These areas first became havens for criminal gangs dealing in drugs, protection, and weapons. Then they turned into hotbeds of radical Muslim and anti-Western trends.
In recent decades, such neighborhoods across Europe have become fertile recruiting grounds for young Muslims attracted by the slogans of jihadist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or known by the Arabic acronym Da’esh).
Now, radicalized Muslims – hundreds and potentially thousands of them – are returning from the Syrian and Iraqi battlefields.
They are ideologically hardened and militarily trained. “For a terrorist,” former CIA deputy director Michael Morell says, “there is no better training than actually fighting in a war.”
To gather intelligence, security agencies need to penetrate terrorist networks, recruit agents, and intercept communications.
It seems that the Belgian police were either afraid or reluctant, or they lacked the determination to take the necessary steps. Perhaps all of these. These years of negligence resulted in a reality for which the Belgian public – and the world – pay the price.
Belgium’s security services lack necessary intelligence. The writing was on the wall for a long time. Since 9/11 – and then atrocities in Madrid, London, Turkey, Bali and more – the international community should have come to realize that it is at war.
Some measures were taken, but the leaders of major countries – and security agencies – were slow, even reluctant, to draw the necessary conclusions.
Islamic State surely puts its highest priority on maintaining and growing its “caliphate” straddling the Iraq-Syria border. But the group also seems determined to strike cities in Western countries. Some say that began only after the West started attacking ISIS. But exporting terrorism – and sending Muslim extremist recruits back to their home countries – was always going to be part of the ISIS playbook.