Of Mice and Men

21 Nov

Homeland Security Conference Tel Aviv 2012

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.

Mice work as explosives detectives

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.

On board an armored truck at Ashdod Seaport

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.

Israeli commando drill at Ashdod Seaport

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.

9 Responses to “Of Mice and Men”

  1. Alan Bockal November 21, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

    Good writing. Great sense of humor. Have you been stressed by what’s going on? If Hillary Clinton can make peace, she can have 2016 and Bill can be secretary of State. Hope you and your family stay safe,Alan

    • Maurice Labi November 22, 2012 at 7:28 am #

      It’s weird, if I didn’t turn on the TV in Galilee or run into people, I wouldn’t know there’s a war going on in the south of Israel. It’s very quite up here, everyone goes about their business. Thanks for following my stories.

  2. Mark November 21, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    It looks (and sounds) like Iron Dome was a winner in this round. Let’s hope for quiet and tranquility for the far foreseeable future and to insure that happening, deploying all those fancy high tech gadgets.

    • Maurice Labi November 22, 2012 at 7:31 am #

      Each side claims the higher ground, claims to be the winner. Make no mention of the year 2012, and the same words were spoken 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 40 years ago.

  3. Sandy Galfas November 22, 2012 at 2:51 am #

    Hi Maurice, Loved the bit about the detective mice and appreciated your reprise of these characters toward the end of this blog entry. Your blog postings are not only well written (no surprise), they also bring out your fine sense of humor. Well done. On a not so humorous note, how are you and yours managing during the current hostilities. I’ll believe in the efficacy of the cease fire when/if it lasts more than two days. Don’t suppose you celebrate Thanksgiving in Israel but since your Pnina is a great cook, you probably have feasts all the time. Stay safe and thank you for the post. 🙂 Sandy

    • Maurice Labi November 22, 2012 at 7:36 am #

      Hey, Sandy. Surprisingly this is our 2nd annual Thanksgiving Dinner at our house this coming Saturday with 25 people invited. We want to feel “American” and our guests appreciate being taken on a culinary journey. For once, we’re in the North of Israel, in the safe zone. Thanks for following my stories.

  4. rachel bar November 22, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    Great and funny blog. I feel so hopeless about the political situation, the security situation and the prospect of peace. Glad that you’re safe. Say hi to the mice.

    • Maurice Labi November 22, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

      The timing of the Security conference was weird, to have attended, and hours later, Israel uses its arsenal it displays

      • rachel bar November 22, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

        Sometimes having the arsenal creates impulsivity and poor judgement.

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