HAIFA, Israel – Top Israeli defense officials have hurriedly put in place a confidential list of secret security measures in light of the baffling disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jumbo jet that experts fear could become a weapon of mass destruction if in the wrong hands.
With no trace of Beijing-bound flight MH370 after nine days, one of several theories that has emerged is that the plane was hijacked to Iran, where it could be turned into a massive and devastating weapon. Two Iranian passengers are known to have been aboard, travelling on false passports. While Israeli officials did not confirm any suspicions regarding Iran, experts said it is not a stretch to point the finger at Israel's middle east nemesis.
“My guess is based upon the stolen passports, and I believe Iran was involved [in the disappearance of the plane],” Issac Yeffet, formerly a global security expert for Israel’s national airline El Al told today’s Times of Israel. “They hijacked the aircraft and they landed it in a place that nobody can see or find it.”
As the search continued to widen fruitlessly, Israeli security officials and aviation authorities, who have long feared a 9/11-style attack, conducted a security assessment and rapidly implemented a series of security measures. The only one reported publicly is that Israeli air traffic controllers will demand that incoming aircraft identify themselves earlier than has so far been the case, sources told FoxNews.com.
IDF officials aim to ensure an unthinkable repetition of the Twin Towers attack doesn’t happen in Tel Aviv, where the skyscraping triple Azrieli Towers rise high above the city. There's good reason to believe the three-tower commercial-residential-office complex is a coveted target of the Islamic Republic.
In a recent video simulation broadcast by Iranian state TV after the initial agreement with the international community on a reduction in Iran’s nuclear capability was signed, the Azrieli Towers were shown being blown up by Iranian missiles.
The Israeli media has speculated that if Iran played a part in the disappearance of the plane, it is all but certain the regime would not have been directly involved. It would likely instead act through a third party, using one of the many international terror organizations Iran sponsors and maintaining plausible deniability. Tehran would not want to jeopardize the easing of international sanctions and other gains made recently at the Geneva negotiations with the US and the P5+1.
The recent interception of a boatload of Iranian M-302 missiles headed for Israel’s enemies in the Gaza Strip or Sinai Peninsula has given rise to further speculation in Israel that Iran might be considering all manner of means to strike back after such an embarrassing and damaging loss.
“This would never have happened on an Israeli plane,” Yeffet said. “An El Al aircraft was hijacked for the first and last time in 1968. Since then, there has not been a single flight where security did not check every single name.”
Yeffet believes that the time consuming and often-criticized profiling of every passenger at Israeli airports would have picked up the Iranians travelling on false papers.
Most flights to and from Israel require check-in three hours before the advertised flight time and passengers are often faced with many questions (some personal) that some people take exception to. The fact remains though that the Israeli method seems to work and has, thus far, proved watertight.
“More security costs more money,” Menachem Yarden, a retired El Al pilot with more than 37 years experience told Fox News.com. “Few companies these days are making money because of increased costs and relatively low ticket prices. Especially in the U.S., spending more money on security and telling people to come 3 hours before the flight – even if their flight time is just one hour – it’s crazy. No-one would fly.”
Asked if air marshals - allegedly placed on every El Al plane - might have made a difference to flight MH370 if, as some believe, it has been hijacked, Yarden said, “As El Al pilots we didn’t know all the security measures [put in place]. Security is a separate matter [to piloting] and the fewer people that know about it, the more secure it is.”
Yarden said it is possible such a huge aircraft could have flown thousands of miles undetected.
“Yes. It is possible to fly as low as the pilot is able,” Yarden confirmed. “When you switch off the transponder no civil controller can see you. In 9/11 the pilots switched off the transponders and no one saw them. It is not like military radar which sends electromagnetic pulses that receives back the echo via antenna.”
“In this extraordinary case any theory might be the right theory,” Yarden concluded. “No one knows what’s happened.”
Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist who can be followed on twitter @ paul_alster and at www.paulalster.com