Border Control / Defense System for Israel’s Airports Delayed Due to Squabbling Ministries

A $76 million system to protect commercial airliners has yet to be deployed as ministries squabble over who should foot the bill.

The State Comptroller's Office has recently drafted a report with enough dynamite to topple the government of a normal country. The report, which was sent to the ministries concerned, reveals that while everyone is preening over Iron Dome's success in stopping rockets in the south, Israelis vacationing abroad are still under threat from missiles launched by the same groups that carried out Thursday's attack on the road to Eilat.

This is no security secret. The story has been public for nine years now, ever since a terrorist group calling itself the Army of Palestine, identified with Al Qaida, launched two shoulder-fired Strela missiles at an Arkia plane, a minute and a half after it took off from the Mombasa airport.

Iron Dome Cartoon - Amos Biderman  - August 2011

Thanks to an unexpected delay in the takeoff and a last-minute decision to change the flight path, the rockets, which have a range of up to four kilometers, missed their target, sparing the lives of 275 Israeli passengers returning from a safari in Kenya, among them dozens of children.

A short time later, members of the organization murdered three Israelis and 10 Kenyans when they detonated a car bomb in the lobby of the Paradise Hotel in the city.

The incident in Mombasa demonstrated the readiness and ability of terrorists to fire missiles at Israeli civilian aircraft. From time to time the security agencies warn of attempts by terror organizations to try their luck again.

The government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was in power at the time of the Mombasa attack, decided to equip Israeli airlines with an anti-missile defense system.

The Finance Ministry allocated $76 million for the project, which was given the name Sky Shield. The system would first be installed on El Al planes and then other Israeli airlines.

Some months ago, engineers at Elop, a subsidiary of Elbit, under the supervision of the Civil Aviation Administration, completed the development of an innovative technology called MUSIC based on laser beams and considered to be the most effective of its kind in the world. Two months ago, the system diverted two missiles fired at an El Al plane during a test.

If everything is so good, then why does the comptroller's report look so bad?

It turns out that even Prime Minister Benjamin "Supertanker" Netanyahu cannot manage to settle a dispute between El Al and the budget department at the Finance Ministry concerning funding for the operating expenses for the system, which are estimated at $5 million annually.

This budget is for maintenance of the system and the extra fuel needed for the planes because of the volume and weight of the additional equipment. El Al is refusing to install the system on its planes before it gets a budgetary commitment for funding the additional cost. Even so, the company is paying a large part of the cost of the security measures and the security personnel on its flights.

An additional expenditure would obligate El Al to raise its ticket prices, hurting its ability to compete for passengers. In the wake of the dispute, El Al delayed the trial of the system on its aircraft by several months.

During the past two years there have been innumerable discussions between the Civil Aviation Authority, the Transportation Ministry, the security organizations and the Finance Ministry in an attempt to resolve the disagreement. On March 30, the dispute crossed the prime minister's desk.

Netanyahu summoned everyone concerned, including Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Civil Aviation Authority head Maj. Gen. (res. ) Giora Rom. The prime minister did not hide his displeasure at the delay and ordered the Finance Ministry in no uncertain terms to find multi-year funding immediately for covering El Al's operating expenses.

Since then nearly five months have gone by and the officials are still not enthused about Netanyahu's order. Efforts by Transportation Ministry Director General Dan Harel and the Civil Aviation Organization to remove the obstacles have encountered endless maneuvers by bureaucrats.

Two weeks ago National Security Advisor Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror was called in to deal with the issue. Once again all the sides were summoned for a discussion and once again all of them agreed that procrastination could cost human lives.

Perhaps the fear that State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss will light a fire under them will put an end to this game of Israeli roulette.

When approached for a response, the Prime Minister's Bureau redirected Haaretz to the Finance Ministry and the Transportation Ministry. The Finance Ministry and Transportation Ministry spokesmen have informed Haaretz that "there and is inter-ministry discussion underway toward submitting the draft of an agreed upon government decision." The Finance Ministry has also informed Haaretz that the delays do not depend on it.

Shelly's secret

Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich hasn't become a settler-loving rightist. Nor is she committing political suicide. Yachimovich is a cynical woman who is prepared to do almost anything in order to get elected chair of the Labor Party. The Knesset member, who went into politics from the media, certainly knew that her interview to Gidi Weitz in Haaretz would give the signal for an all-out attack by politicians and columnists from the left.

Yachimovich knows that what will decide the outcome of the Labor Party primaries is not the candidates' views on the occupation. She wants the party members to go to the voting booths with public opinion polls that show she is bringing more Kadima voters back to the Labor Party and attracting more people disappointed with the Likud than the other candidates are.

The interview, therefore, was not addressed to this large public but rather to those who have not registered as dues-paying members of the Labor Party. Which of the party members will care that Shelly is happily (or not ) buying products from the settlements if she can buy the party a few more seats in the Knesset?