Sunday, January 23, 2011

Security Slips and Catches

Security in Israel is an amazing thing. For many, they believe Israeli security is the best there is. Certainly, El Al and other Israeli airlines have defined what it means to fly secure. Our military intelligence is top notch and our soldiers alert.

As citizens, we hear about the successes and sometimes about the slips. When you have sons in the army, you hear more slips (and successes) than sometimes get to the news. You also hear more details.

Chaim was over for Shabbat. I'd heard about an incident last week in which a Palestinian was killed while attempting to attack soldiers at a check point. It is a note in a news item, a footnote in a war that has lasted more than 60 years. But when the base is near your son, when the war involves your son, when it is his unit, all things change.

Two years ago, I heard about an attack. I turned on the television in the hotel where we were staying to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, and saw that it was not "just" an attack - 23 people, mostly soldiers, were injured when a Palestinian terrorist rammed his BMW into them. The Palestinian's motives were simple. He was angry because his uncle and parents refused his request to marry his young cousin. His answer was to take the family car and try to kill some Jews, even better, some soldiers.

On CNN, I saw the first pictures. The ambulances, and a soldier sitting inside - he had a turquoise beret - artillery. And another, and another. It was an artillery unit. Elie was in artillery. Later I would learn that it wasn't just an artillery unit, it was Elie's unit. (I wrote about that here: It Could Have Been Elie.) One funny note about that post - I wrote that Elie had been on a check point for 8 hours. Only after he finished the army did he laugh and ask me how I could think that. I stumbled. Hadn't he said it? Had I just assumed it? The answer was that he wasn't at the check point, he was on an operation. I guess it was my assumption and the truth doesn't change the story, but it is an interesting footnote).

So, this time - an Arab took a cab to just near the base next to where Chaim is now. Chaim's group is split between these bases and check points. The Arab got out of the car, about 100 meters away. Pulled out a rifle and yelled, "Allah Akbar" and started running towards the soldiers. They shot in the air, but the Arab kept coming and in the end, they shot the Arab and he was killed.

BBC and others reported an Arab was shot at a check point. The second or third sentence reported that he was armed. Perhaps they didn't mention the fact that Chaim's friends called out warnings and shot in the air. Why bother mentioning the fact that the Arab screamed out, "Allah Akbar," which was, truly, his way of saying that he planned to kill or be killed.

That was a case where the security measures worked. The soldiers did a great job, the way they were taught to fight. On the flip side, I'm trying to believe it balances out two other really stupid incidents that Shmulik told me about.

The first - Shmulik and his commanding officer (S.) were driving to an important meeting on a major base in Israel. To get on the base, you need your identification. S. forgot his at home. I don't want to write how, but Shmulik talked them on to base without them checking S.'s identification. That was bad.

Then, to get into the building where the meeting was, S. needed ID. They figured out S. could take Shmulik's ID and if there was a problem - he could say he must have mixed his ID with his driver. That worked - that was bad.

Worse, was that Shmulik had to go to the bathroom, after an hour waiting in the car for S. So, he went up to the guards and explained that his commanding officer had taken his ID by mistake and sure enough, they let him into the building. That might have been worse, but at least I can reconcile it by saying that Shmulik was in uniform the entire time; his Hebrew is clearly accented as an Israeli.

The chance of this happening again, even on this same base, is incredibly small. I've been on that base one time - it took me 30 minutes to get through security...and without a car.

I guess the good news is that the security in Israel is what it has to be to keep us secure and most often succeeds. Beyond that, as Elie's group moved through the army and was tested, so to does Chaim's group and Shmulik's group. That is what it means to be a soldier in Israel.

Back in September, 2008, Elie's unit was called upon to answer a clear and immediate threat. Without hesitation, they pulled out their weapons and opened fire. Dozens of bullets were fired; the target neutralized. The threat was real; the answer decisive and just. If that young Arab with the BMW had had his way, he would have killed nearly 2 dozen soldiers.

This week, Chaim's friends were called upon with the same challenge. The threat was clear. The Arab was armed. He came to the base to attack. The threat was real; the answer decisive and just.

I laugh about Shmulik talking his way on base; I shake my head a bit about an Arab successfully making his way on base to take a shower; but I'm so thankful that when tested, our sons are trained to respond. The world may or may not recognize it; BBC may slant it, but the bottom line is that the threat was there, as was the proper response...two years ago, twenty years ago, last week, and in the future. These are our sons and they make us so proud.

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