JERUSALEM – In the wake of the mystery that surrounded the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 over the Indian Ocean, jittery Israeli aviation authorities and airline security officials have boosted safety precautions in the air and on the ground.
The change in Israel’s aviation security status was based on assessments from former El Al global security chief Isaac Yeffet and intelligence officials. Yeffet intimated in a recent interview that there could have been a direct link between the plane’s disappearance and the alleged on-board presence of several passengers, including Iranians who boarded the ill-fated flight with false passports.
On Tuesday, the London Daily Telegraph reported that an intelligence source involved with the secretive investigation into the plane’s disappearance claimed that the incident might have been part of a deliberate suicide mission by one of the pilots or someone on board the aircraft. International aviation experts, including Israeli officials, believe that someone deliberately punched in a computer rerouting code shortly after takeoff.
Earlier this week Haaretz reported that during the past two months, at least eight commercial airline flights to Israel unexpectedly deviated from their assigned flight levels, sparking air traffic controllers to send out a warning to the pilots. When a commercial airline pilot fails, for whatever reason, to respond to the warning, aviation security officials at Ben Gurion Airport summon the Israeli Air Force to send one or two fighter jets to climb behind and in front of the misrouted flight and alert the pilot.
The puzzling circumstances surrounding the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER flight from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport has prompted Israel’s air traffic controllers to ask commercial airline pilots to identify themselves further out in the Mediterranean Ocean – even before they approach the outer limits of Israeli airspace.
At Ben Gurion Airport, ground security officials have been testing a variety of advanced technological systems that provide a more accurate and faster scanning of passenger luggage. They’ve also been upgrading the round-the-clock profiling by airport security. The addition of the new systems and more stringent profiling are expected to speed up the boarding process.
While El Al is considered by many as the safest airline in the world, El Al officials and their colleagues at Sundor, Israir and Arkia are pushing the Ministry of Transportation to accelerate budgeting for a new SkyShield anti-missile defense system. SkyShield has already been developed and successfully tested by Haifa’s Elbit Systems. The technology, based on a laser mounted in the aircraft’s fuselage, is able to send a jamming signal that would reroute a missile fired at the plane. The Israeli government says that the system will be mounted on all El Al commercial airliners starting sometime this year.
Sources say that El Al, which has six 777s in its expanding fleet of aircraft, already highlights armed sky marshals, reinforced steel cockpit doors, and cargo bays.
The mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has prompted Israel to boost its security. Above, the missing aircraft in 2011.Steve K. Walz
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