The reality of life in Israel has forced the country to defend its homeland against constant terrorist threats. As a result, the Jewish state has become a world leader in designing techniques and technologies for homeland security and counter-terrorism. Both the Israeli government and private Israeli firms work with the U.S. government to develop technologies aimed at thwarting terrorism and safeguarding citizens in both nations.
Israel's vast expertise in protecting its borders and ports from terrorism, and the technologies developed as a result, have been put to use in the U.S. with stunning results.
In 2004, to protect the U.S. border with Mexico, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection began operating Israeli-designed unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles as part of the Arizona Border Coordination Initiative. The Hermes 450 drones, made by Elbit Systems, are part of a Department of Homeland Security initiative to prevent Mexicans from crossing illegally into the United States. The drones also will be useful in locating people who get into trouble in the desert and need to be rescued.
In November 2005, U.S. National Guard leaders visited Israel to forge a new relationship on Home Front Command. The delegation signed two letters proposing to exchange ideas, to train in each other’s country and to expand their expertise about responding to natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and airport officials from around the United States have been working with world-renowned security experts at Israel Ben-Gurion International Airport in order to learn how to efficiently improve airline security.
In March 2010, the United States and Israel signed an agreement to increase aviation security cooperation. The two allies will conduct drills reviewing procedures in case of attacks and share codes that send immediate alerts if passengers try to commit acts of terror.
At Boston's Logan International Airport, Israeli security experts have been on the ground training police personnel and first responders to more effectively safeguard passengers and prevent future terrorist attacks. One technique the Israeli's taught is called behavior pattern recognition, which in essence trains one to be able to point out a suspicious person within a large crowd. "We developed a layered security approach with the best in the world to try to understand how to deal with terrorism and defend our facilities," said Thomas Kinton, chief executive of the Massachusetts Port Authority and Logan Airport's director of aviation at the time of the 9/11 attacks.
At the Laguardia, Newark and JFK International airports in the New York City area, a security and anti-terrorist technology has been put in place to help protect one of the busiest transportation hubs in the world. The system was developed by Verint, an American company with extensive operations in Israel, and was approved for use by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The port of Beaumont in Texas has also installed the Verint security system.
In May 2011, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) joined with the Port of Miami in implementing the NICE Situator, a video security and response system created by Israeli-based NICE Systems, to help protect the millions of travelers and commercial goods that pass through their ports every year. The NICE Situator greatly improves video monitoring equipment and enables officials to view real-time, multi-layered information on an intuitive map-based interface system that can track personnel, passengers, objects and airplanes. The technology also allows for officials at LAX and the Port of Miami to streamline their security operations and enhance their situational awareness and response capabilities.
"LAX is a major airport for one of the world's most populous metropolitan areas, and as such we encounter many daily operational challenges, from the ordinary to the unexpected, many of which require real-time response and impact," said Jacqueline Anna Yaft, Deputy Executive Director of Operations and Emergency Management for LAWA. "LAX will use NICE Situator to achieve its vision of taking operations and incident management to the next level by improving situational awareness and automating our response plans."
In February 2014, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security secured Israeli firm Elbit Systems for a $145 million contract to upgrade and secure the U.S. borders. The contract calls for the company to deliver surveillance equipment, such as radars and cameras, mounted on fixed towers to help agents detect and track “items of interest” along the border.
The contract with Elbit bypassed numerous American defense contractors. “It is odd to go offshore for this work, but in extraordinary circumstances, one really wants to employ the best,” said Mark Amtower, a government contracting consulting firm.
In an effort to improve both nations' homeland security efforts, the United States and Israel signed an agreement in May 2008 to increase their science and technology cooperation. The agreement covers a broad ranges of areas. Washington and Jerusalem will increase their information and personnel exchanges so that experts from both nations can learn from each other. They will also work to enhance the security of physical and online infrastructure. The two nations will also conduct research together in order to better protect themselves against the threat of nuclear, chemical and biological attacks.
Already a major innovation has been created through the agreement on joint research and development of security technologies. With the additional help of the U.S. Binational Science Foundation (BSF), Professor Ehud Keinan of the Technion Institute in Israel and Professor Phillip Sawson of the Scripps Research Institute in California invented an explosive testing device that is both cheap, efficient and small. The device, no larger than the size of a pen and costing only $25 per unit, can detect minuscule amounts of peroxide bomb-related substances by performing a quick, on-the-spot chemical test. The terrorism fighting tool is already being used in numerous fields.
Additionally, the U.S. and Israel are working together to reduce the threat of attacks on computer networks worldwide. The collaborative efforts put in by Israel, the U.S. and a slew of other technologically superior countries will help ensure that each nation's online infrastructure is secure from terrorist threats and hacking.
In June 2016, the heads of Israel National Cyber Bureau (INCB) and National Cyber Security Authority signed a cyber defense cooperation agreement with officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This agreement reiterated the pairs commitment to mutual security, and calls on both sides to facilitate the sharing of important information and develop tandem cyber-defense infrastructures which will make communication easier and safer.
In June 2017 the United States and Israel formed a bilateral working group to fight cyber attacks. The group will be led by White House cyber security coordinator Rob Joyce and the head of Israel’s Cyber Bureau, Eviatar Matania. The American side will include congressmen, FBI agents and members of the defense and homeland security departments; Israel will send representatives from the Shin Bet internal security service, the foreign affairs, justice and defense ministries, and the military.
The aim will be to find and stop cyber attackers “before they’re in networks, before they reach critical infrastructure, and identify ways to hold bad actors accountable,” Bossert said Monday at a cyber security conference in Tel Aviv.
American observers from FEMA and the National Guard often travel to Israel to participate in Israeli homeland security drills.
In 2005, FEMA and the Israeli National Emergency Authority signed a formal agreement to conduct joint-training drills and exercises both in Israel and the U.S. and the results of this collaboration are already showing. Andrew Slaten, FEMA's director of the Office of International Affairs, noted that FEMA has a "very long and active relationship with Israel's Home Front Command. It's a great opportunity" to learn from them.
In January 2010, Israel conducted a large-scale bioterrorism drill, dubbed "Operation Orange Flame 4", to simulate a smallpox outbreak caused by a terrorist attack. Representatives from more than thirty countries, including the United States, came to Israel to view the two day drill and participate in a conference on emergency and disaster management.
In May 2010, Chief of the National Guard General Craig McKinley and Army Major General David Sprynczynatyk, the adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard, traveled to Israel to observe the IDF's Home Front Command exercise simulating a major bioterrorism attack. Code named "Turning Point 4", the simulation tested situational preparedness, command-level assessment and even community response. "The greatest value of my being here is seeing how the communities position themselves, how they're organized and how they're prepared to react to a disaster," General Sprynczynatyk said. "I'd give anything for all of our communities back home to have the same level of capabilities that we're seeing here.
Sources: Jerusalem Post (December 22, 2004);
Bloomberg Technology News (February 27, 2014);
“Israel and the US Sign Operative Cyber Defense Cooperation Agreement,” IMRA (June 21, 2016);
Gwen Ackerman, “U.S. and Israel Team Up to Fight 'Bad Actors' in Cyberspace,” Bloomberg, (June 26, 2017).