Security Row Could Disrupt Winter Flights

ben gurion
An Arkia Airline plane at Ben Gurion Airport (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

An interministerial row over security provisions for Israeli airlines could disrupt hundreds of flights abroad in the coming winter season, Globes reported on Monday.

The crisis was triggered by a letter from Ministry of Foreign Affairs director general Yuval Rotem notifying Eytan Ben-David, acting national security advisor and head of the National Security Council, that the employment of 1,200 flight security personnel assigned to Israeli airlines will cease on January 1, 2019.

If that happens, El Al, Israir and Arkia would face numerous cancellations of departures from foreign airports due to lack of adequate security personnel as mandated by the Shin Bet, which sets the relevant guidelines. In the wake of security incidents in recent years, Shin Bet has tightened its criteria, necessitating additional manpower.

Rotem advised that “the relevant entities need to prepare in advance for this situation and find alternative ways of employing workers overseas.”

He said that Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Binyamin Netanyahu has been informed of the situation.

The Finance Ministry, which provides most of the funding for airline security, has so far not met the full requirements of the airlines, another source of tension.

In response to Rotem’s letter, El Al chairman Eli Defes wrote to Ben-David, warning that “without these workers the aviation security system cannot be sustained” and that “any solution will require deep thought and complicated and extensive arrangements that will vary from one country to another.”

Defes pointed out various impediments to the outsourcing of aviation security, or the direct employment of security personnel by the airlines: consular restrictions would be liable to apply to these employees, for example, in moving between countries, and difficulties would be liable to arise in applying local laws, such as bans on discrimination in employment on the basis of race or extraction. At present, in accordance with the ISA’s directives, only Jews are employed in Israeli aviation security.

In the meantime, other ministries have apparently refused to accept the responsibility of employing the needed security personnel. Accordingly, Defes stressed the urgency of finding a solution, since the winter schedule is not far off for an industry that works from one season to the next.

As matters now stand, the airlines face the dilemma of selling tickets for flights that may have no security clearance.

The Foreign Ministry would not comment on the report.

Globes commented that “it is hard to ignore the competitive difficulty in which the Israeli airlines find themselves. On the one hand, the state sets security rules for flights by Israeli airlines – rules that are at once an asset and a burden – and on the other hand, while the state is encouraging foreign airlines to operate more and more routes to Israel through grants amounting to hundreds of thousands of euros, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs poses a threat to the Israeli airlines’ winter schedules.”

El Al responded: “It is clear that a decision cannot be made on terminating the employment of most of the security personnel without finding another solution for employing them and for the matters dealt with by the state, including by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. El Al Security is being asked to confirm flights for the winter season, after the end of 2018, and in the light of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ announcement, no decision can be made on the matter, with all the consequences that flow from that.”

Israir: “Decisions on the security profile of the Israeli airlines, Israir among them, belongs to the security services, as are decisions on implementation. The quarrels between the various government ministries hurt Israir in its profit line and its competitiveness. In the current season, Israir is paying a heavy price, with 50,000 of its passengers flown on foreign flights because of the limitation on the availability of security staff.

“We appeal to all concerned to show responsibility and to respond quickly to implement a solution that will enable Israeli aviation to operate under non-restrictive conditions.”