Public Ready to Pay Cafe Security Charge'

Supply tries to keep up with skyrocketing demand for anti-terror guards

The chain of terror attacks carried out in the past two weeks targeting restaurants and cafes in city centers has led to an unprecedented demand for armed security guards. Thousands of small businesses, education institutions, office buildings and even private residences are ordering around-the-clock protection "no matter what the cost."

In the past week 20,000 employees joined the ranks of the security guards stationed at public places, bringing in an additional monthly NIS 120 million to the sector. The total income of companies providing security services is some NIS 7 billion a year.

Senior executives in the security companies said last week's attack on the Tel Aviv restaurant Seafood Market was a crucial point for the Israeli public.

The attack at Moment cafe in Jerusalem that followed succeeded in convincing those who were still hesitating on the need for protection.

"People are calling and demanding a guard with an automatic weapon and a good military background," said Yaakov Halperin, CEO of the security guard company Hativat Ha'avtacha. "No one even asks how much it costs," he said.

The sharp increase in demand cannot be met in full by the security companies. They have recruited thousands of new workers, but obtaining a license for them to carry weapons is another matter. It takes at least one and a half months to get a weapon license from the Interior Ministry.

Razi Reznick, CEO of the security company Yivtach, said the companies had offered to pay salaries for additional clerks and computers at the Interior Ministry to shorten the licensing procedure, but the ministry would not agree.

The wages of security guards, especially those able to bring their own weapons, have skyrocketed. The guards, who previously earned close to minimum wage at NIS 17.5 to NIS 20 per hour, are now being paid up to NIS 60.

The new cost is weighing heavily on small businesses. The CEO of the Israel Restaurants Association, Yehuda Tsadar, said a restaurant has to pay an average NIS 10,000 a month for a security guard. "If the demand for guards continues indefinitely, it may cause some restaurants to collapse," Tsadar said.

Some restaurants are dealing with the expense by adding a symbolic NIS 1-1.5 "security fee" to the bill of every diner. They say clients are not objecting to the fee, taking it as a fair distribution of the burden.

Tsadar has appealed to the Interior Ministry and the municipalities of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem to ask them to give restaurants and cafes discounts in city taxes (arnona) because of the burden of paying security guards.

"The restaurant has become the country's battlefield," said Tsadar.