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Business Before Safety By: Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, February 07, 2005


“It is currently not cost-effective to spend billions of dollars equipping America’s 6800 commercial airliners with systems to guard against attacks from shoulder-fired missiles,” concludes the latest RAND study “Protecting Commercial Aviation Against the Shoulder-Fired Missile Threat” published last week. “Cost-effective”? What is more valuable than human lives?

RAND claims that outfitting the planes with anti-missile devices would cost $11 billion, and that such an expense is unjustified. Yet, Isaac Yeffet, the former chief of global security for El Al Israel Airlines, contends that the cost will be only around $9 billion with minimum operating costs, since the anti-missile devices need only semi-annual maintenance. Furthermore, the sensor-based systems are fully automatic, thus do not require extra work by the pilots or anyone else in the cockpit.

The immediate cost may look steep, but it pales in comparison with the loss of hundreds of lives when a shoulder-launched missile with a range of 3-4 miles hits a plane at 18,000 feet.  “How can anyone talk about ‘cost-effectiveness’ when the lives of innocent people are in danger? Investing $1 million per plane to safeguard the lives of passengers is a must,” says Mr. Yeffet, who is now the President of Yeffet Security Consultants in New York.

Clearly, for the Israeli government and airlines, the lives of their passengers is their first priority. For that reason, every Israeli commercial airplane is equipped by government order with an anti-missile system. Since the Israeli airlines fleet is much smaller than the American, the cost, for the airlines, therefore, is relatively greater. However, no expense is spared to ensure the safety of the passengers. “What are the American government and the airlines waiting for? Once, God forbid, one US airlines [is] blown up by a missile and hundreds of innocent lives are lost, we will see how the government will have much more than $9 billion to spend on technology,” says Yeffet. “We should not wait for that. We should act now.”

What the RAND study recommends as alternative approaches to increase passenger security is mind-boggling. For example, the study calls for “expanding efforts to keep missiles out of terrorists’ hands.”  How can they make this statement considering the fact that at least 700,000 missiles are known to have been produced around the world and that tens of thousands of them are unaccounted for?

Next, the study recommends “improving security around the perimeter of the airports,” which, judging by the range of the shoulder-fired missiles, would be an impossible task – these missiles can hit airplanes up to four miles as they take off or approach the airport. In addition, the study recommends “improving commercial airliners’ ability to survive a missile strike.” But how can this be done without the anti-missile systems?

Admitting that a successful missile attack on an American commercial jet would rob the lives of hundreds of innocent passengers and create an economic crisis, costing at least “$15 billion,” as well as destroying the confidence of the traveling public in America and around the world, RAND still recommends finding more “cost-effective” solutions. With such a recommendation, one wonders whether RAND researchers fly the American commercial airliners.

The RAND study is right in calling for better security in and around the airport, because what we have in place today is far from being satisfactory. Since the US is the number one target for terrorist attacks who swore to destroy its economy; and since its airlines are the favorite target of Al-Qaeda and their likes, no cost should be spared to protect the lives of the American passengers. Moreover, there is no doubt that every passenger would gladly pay a few extra dollars to ensure that they have the best protection available in the market today. The Israeli airlines have used such devices successfully for many years now. There is no reason why the US government and the US commercial fleet should not adopt similar methods instead of putting the lives of American passengers in danger.

Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed – And How to Stop It, Director of the American Center for Democracy and member of the Committee on the Present Danger.

Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is director of the American Center for Democracy and author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It and a member of The Committee on the Present Danger.


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