Comment / Why a Lethal Surprise Like 9/11 May Happen Again

The 9/11 attacks brought Israel closer to America on all matters relating to anti-terror cooperation.

There are moments in life when the mind does not pick up what is visible to the naked eye. One day, during the afternoon of September 11, 2001, Israel time, I stared at the television while having my hair cut at a barber shop. I was watching the television though I could not hear what was being said in the broadcast. Suddenly, the picture changed to an image of airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York. During those first few seconds, I thought I was watching one of those disaster flicks. Yet, with a thump in my heart, it quickly became apparent that we were bearing witness to the largest, most surprising terrorist attack ever committed. Its name would forever be etched in my world as the attack of "9/11."

Nineteen Arab hijackers, some of whom learned aviation in the United States, covertly took control of four civilian passenger aircraft, causing the deaths of about 3,000 people, injuring some 6,000 others and inflicting hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property damage. Worst of all, it shook up the self-confidence of the world's largest superpower. Were the planes to have taken off one hour later, when the Twin Towers would have been filled with even more workers and tourists, the number of deaths could have reached tens of thousands.

Nonetheless, 9/11 was a turning point. Israel feared that the Americans - both public opinion and the decision-makers in power - would lay the blame for the attack on its refusal to strike a deal with the Palestinians, causing the outburst of hatred which gave rise to the attack. Fortunately for us, this did not happen - on the contrary, the attack brought Israel closer to America on all matters relating to anti-terror cooperation.

On the other hand, the attack proved fertile ground for Arab "anti-Semitism." In action movies of recent years, the bad guys and terrorists are Muslims who are often portrayed by Jewish actors. The attacks heightened the ambivalence of the relationship with Saudi Arabia, the country which gave birth to Osama bin Laden and a number of his cohorts.

The humiliation on the one hand and the failure to apprehend bin Laden on the other compelled the administration to become more aggressive, thus complicating its international standing. Bush, who was hell-bent on revenge, plunged America deep into a war in Iraq that has exacted many casualties. This was despite the fact that the lethal weapon which supposedly was in Saddam Hussein's hands turned out to be a bluff.

At the same time, the administration is spending billions in the hunt for bin Laden. On many occasion, the CIA and other agencies made contact with tribal leaders who promised to produce bin Laden, dead or alive, in exchange for a handsome reward. Not only did the money disappear, but so did the tribe.

It's bad enough that Al-Qaida killed Americans. It has also continued to make a mockery of them, which just goes to show that brains do not always go hand in hand with brawn.

Even before the bloody events of 9/11, America and the world experienced terrorist attacks. Intelligence agencies predicted that the attacks would become progressively bloodier and more lethal. They feared the use of hand-detonated nuclear devices or lethal gas attacks. They had envisioned every possible scenario except the simplest gimmick - buying an airline ticket for four domestic flights, taking out the pilots, cutting off communication with monitors on the ground, and hitting the targets.

The simplicity of this evil changed the way of life in America and, for that matter, the entire world. Routine flights have become a nightmare. There are security checks, rules over what is allowed in carry-on luggage, and the requirement to take off jackets and shoes. It is not just America, but the entire world that has been afflicted with security-guard syndrome. The globalization of terror has brought about the employment of hundreds of thousands of security guards today. All of London is now under the citywide watch of a web of security cameras. Once, Ehud Olmert was asked to what extent we were safeguarded against these types of attacks. His response was that it was impossible to fortify ourselves beyond reason.

I happened to notice two or three high-rise buildings in Israel that could become targets for a similar type of attack to that on the Twin Towers. Yet such an attack will not repeat itself.

No aircraft that fails to identify itself will be permitted in the skies over Israel. In 1973, Israel downed a Libyan civilian aircraft, which carried 160 passengers, over the Sinai Peninsula because its pilot refused to follow directives and land the plane.

An American commission of inquiry headed by Thomas Kean, the former governor of New Jersey, blamed the Bush administration for the 9/11 attacks.

In response to Condoleezza Rice's question, in which she wondered how we could have guessed that they would hijack passenger airplanes with the goal of crashing them into buildings, Kean replied that at least two intelligence agencies possessed information which indicated that such an event would take place. The information, however, was not passed onward, and the available bits of information were not added together, thus ensuring that the plot would not be exposed beforehand. As such, the responsible agencies did not fulfill their tasks.

Now we are cognizant and ready, so such an event will not happen again. Until the next lethal surprise.