As American TV stations last night debated whether the shooting at Los Angeles International Airport was criminal or terrorist, the Shin Bet security service decided to be circumspect and label it a hostile terrorist act.
There had been no intelligence warning of an attack by any organization on an Israeli target in the U.S., but the way in which the attack took place, its location and timing, seemed to point to terrorism. Unless proved otherwise, that is how the Shin Bet decided to regard it.
In initial reports, security personnel said the attacker had aimed at those people who appeared to be obviously Israeli. His behavior before the shooting, when he was close to the El Al counter, aroused some suspicion but not sufficient to warrant approaching him. But as soon as shots were heard, the security guards assumed this was the person involved and therefore they aimed at where he was last seen.
The El Al security officer at the station and one of the plane's security guards were involved in the ensuing gun-battle. At press time, no details had been released about the security guard. Many of these guards are Israelis who are studying abroad or people who are staying in the U.S. for other reasons.
According to one report, as soon as the shots were fired, the security guards who were on their way to the plane turned right back and ran to the scene in order to help overpower the assailant. Shin Bet officers last night praised the swift action taken by the El Al station officer and the guards.
El Al stations throughout the U.S. were put on special alert over the past week, following Sin Bet intelligence assessments, particularly in view of the general alert in the U.S. for the Fourth of July independence holiday when al-Qaida threatened to launch attacks. Nevertheless there was no specific warning about an attack on any Israeli target in America.
The successful conclusion of the incident - the constant contact between El Al and the Israeli guards, and the killing of the gunman - is likely to give a boost to the reputation of the companies and experts who deal with air security and who export their know-how from Israel, particularly since September 11.
El Al's persistence in maintaining armed guards at its stations and on its planes, even after several years when there have been no attacks, has proved justified (even though the high cost is a matter of dispute between various government and financial circles).
The result would have been different if a different El Al target had been chosen where the security is less strict, or if the passengers had been outside the area of the El Al departure lounge.
The shared destiny of the two countries waging a war against terrorism could not have had a more apt reminder than last night's attack - even if it transpires that the motivation was crime rather than terror.
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