Three possible key lessons have arisen from the joint terror attacks in Belgium. All three of them require a fundamental change in investment, effort, agenda, and most importantly in the West’s worldview.
The first lesson is regarding the worldwide aviation system, which underwent a rare reform after the attacks of September 11: Rigorous security checks before boarding, the prohibition of sharp objects, and the supervision of routes of entry and exit to and from the aircrafts.
This reform succeeded: Al-Qaeda made several attempts to blow up planes mid-flight, and they failed.
But this reform applied only to the planes themselves. It didn’t affect the airports or other means of mass transit (passenger ships, buses and trains). Brig. Gen. (res.) Dani Arditi, the head of the Israeli Counter-Terrorism Bureau at the time, warned preceding the 2004 attacks on Spanish trains that passenger trains would be the attackers’ next target and that Europe was unprepared.
Last August, a Moroccan jihadist planned to commit a massacre against passengers on a train from Paris to Amsterdam. Two marines managed to thwart the attack at the last minute.
At the end of October, an ISIS cell in the Sinai successfully blew up a Russian passenger flight midair.
On Tuesday, the attackers operated inside an airport and a subway station. This demands another revolution in public transit, and this time for all the different means of transportation, including the creation of a secured perimeter that includes all stations and ports. That change would entail, however, a great deal of effort, tremendous nuisance to passengers and a massive financial investment.
The second lesson is regarding intelligence.
The enemy that European intelligence services are facing is young, talented, crosses borders, uses the local population and knows how to coordinate and organize timed operations in short periods of time, employing encrypted means of communication.
Against such an enemy, the West must fundamentally change the perceptions of intelligence, coordination, manpower, resources and legislation, as well as make compromises on human rights.
Situated at the crux of the change is something that most Europeans would find to be in strike contradiction to their beliefs and ethics: It’s what the Shin Bet (the domestic Israeli security agency) calls “Basic Coverage.” It means monitoring widespread populations and geographical areas, all the time, at high resolution, even those who do not raise any specific suspicion.
Simply put: tracking large Muslim populations in Europe, and not just those against whom particular information has been received. Basic Coverage is executed by employing human and technological resources in every street, in community centers and in mosques and with intelligence operatives’ local knowledge so complete, it’s as if they lived there.
This is how the Shin Bet operates vis-à-vis the Palestinian population. Without Basic Coverage, Israel would not have triumphed against the suicide-bomber intifada a decade ago.