I’m attending the 2nd International Homeland Security Conference at Tel Aviv fairgrounds. If the sound of the conference alone doesn’t throw fear in your heart, try walking past security at the main gate. Once inside the park-like grounds, I make it to the main exhibit hall. This is where I leave behind the world I know and plunge into a world of security and defense. Black is the dominant color inside the giant hall. Black drapes hang from ceiling to floor, illuminated by glaring track lights. Pretty hostesses in dark skirts and slim-fitting jackets hand out colorful programs and direct attendees to coffee and juice bars.
Hundreds of men strut the corridors. I later learn they came from 65 countries for the 3 day event, from Finland to Kenya, from Brazil to China — all hoping to learn, purchase, upgrade, sell the next defense system. The floor space is taken up by SWAT trucks on display, first response vehicles, smart fence barriers, surveillance cameras, 3D terrain mapping, cyberspace gadgets.
I meander between the exhibits, can almost hear the late James Brown sing: “This is a man’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a….” Well, here women are optional. The lyrics might read more like “nothing without a… missile defense, combat vehicles, satellite hardware.” A large group of Nigerians and Germans huddle around a large metal booth. I follow.
“This is latest in airport and explosives security,” the presenter for Tamar Industries says and directs us to a walk-through booth. His co-presenter, a woman pretending to be a passenger, stores a “suspicious” package on her body and walks into the booth. First, air is pushed into the chamber through invisible vents. Eight seconds later the scan is complete. An alarm and a red light go off. She’s apprehended, questioned. And who deserves the credit for such quick detection? The answer is mice.
The developer of this ingenious invention relies on mice to do the work. We’re told they’re stored out-of-sight in the booth compartment. Over time the mice are trained to smell over 50 odors, from coffee, hand cream, to explosives. The moment the mice detect a suspicious odor they scurry to one side of the booth panel and trigger the alarm switch. Their work shift includes 4 hours on, 8 hours off. A fresh army of mice arrive to replaced the tired ones every 14 days.
I plan to unionize the mice at the first opportunity, demand a 401k and a dental plan. And cheese in the lunchroom.
The invited lecturers in the main auditorium approach the lectern and give their take on the latest security challenges. The words “critical” “security” “synergy” “intelligence” “infrastructure” “9/11″ “cyber attack” “Pearl Harbor” are thrown around like confetti. The director for the London Olympics talks about his success of keeping the games terror-free. The Brazilians are taking notes; they’re hosts for the world’s biggest sporting event in 2014: The World (Soccer) Cup followed by the Olympic Games in 2016.
Israeli security companies come on stage and present their wares on giant screens to the music of Double-O Seven and Mission Impossible. Sorry, no girls in bikinis and boots allowed on stage.
The last day of the conference includes a trip to the seaport of Ashdod. The event is for the foreign delegates only. A well-connected friend arranges a pass for me. Hundreds get off buses and are ushered to the port terminal. After a short PR film, after rounds of coffee and pastry, we’re escorted to the port entrance. Heavy trucks idle at the gate with containers on board. The spokesman for the port says no one’s allowed unless they’re cleared by license plate recognition, container number cross-reference, and biometrics on the driver.
The best is left for last. We sit on bleachers near the water’s edge. It feels like a show at Universal Studios. A cruise ship is tethered to the dock. Explosions sound. ”Terrorists” are on board the ship. One launches a shoulder-mounted missile in the direction of the pier. We cover out ears. Gun fire erupts. The port commandos, 8 in number, dressed in black fatigues and black ski masks, scale the ship. They disarm the terrorists, dispatch a robot-controlled vehicle to detonate a bomb. Speedy port boats patrol the waters. It’s over.
The score? Men: 1 Mice: 0.
Applause. Israel is safe. My name’s Bond. Itzhak Bond.
The delegates are taken back to their hotel after a tour of Jerusalem.
That same afternoon, just hours after the staged attack, Israel’s Defense Forces scramble an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft into the blue sky. The aircraft, some 15 miles away from us, identifies a car making its way through the streets of Gaza. The order is given. A missile is fired. Ahmad Jabari, the Hamas military commander, is killed.
And so begins another round of violence.