More on Israeli Airport Security Measures

Orin responds to my post on airport security by claiming that the Israeli system is, overall, more time-consuming and intrusive than the TSA. I think he misses my point. I was not arguing that we should adopt the Israeli system in toto. I was merely saying that the fact that the Israelis find it unnecessary to use some of the TSA’s more annoying and invasive measures is a strong indication that those measures aren’t useful, or at least are not worth the cost. Even if the Israelis do other things that are even more annoying and time-consuming, that point still holds.

Second, I think Orin is relying on an inaccurate description of the Israeli system, drawn from Wikipedia. Wikipedia is often useful, but can also be incorrect and unreliable. In this case, it is simply wrong on several points. For example, it isn’t true that you have to arrive three hours ahead of time, or that their procedures take longer than the TSAs (at least not for the average passenger); wikipedia doesn’t actually make that latter claim, but Orin surmises it from the wikipedia statements. How do I know that these claims are wrong? Because I have actually been through Israeli airport security, and I know from talking to many others who have been through it that my experience was similar to theirs. It actually took less time than it usually takes to get through the TSA. It is true that Israeli officials ask passengers questions, some of which are intrusive and annoying. However, the process took me about 1 minute, and my understanding is that that is typical for the vast majority of passengers. The downside of the Israeli system is that it is tougher on those selected for extra scrutiny, and on many Muslim and Arab travelers. As compared with US officials, the Israelis are more willing to use ethnic and religious profiling.

In any event, my point is not that we should adopt the Israeli system wholesale; I actually doubt that we can. It is that there is a good chance that any invasive measures that the Israelis find unnecessary are likely to be unnecessary for us as well. If the best and most thorough airport security system in the world doesn’t require people to pack their liquids in tiny regulation bottles and take off their shoes, maybe the TSA doesn’t need to either. Precisely because the Israelis are willing to be aggressively intrusive when they think it necessary, it is likely that intrusive measures that they choose not to use really aren’t necessary.

UPDATE: One possible source of confusion here is that Orin’s link is to a wikipedia article describing security procedures used by El Al, the Israeli national airline. My description is based on what is done at Israeli airports, regardless of which airline you fly (I took a US airline, not El Al). It’s possible that El Al has more time-consuming security procedures that go beyond what the Israeli government requires generally. My analysis, however, was based on the latter.