Following the Har Adar Attack: Combating routine is a decisive factor

Photo: AP

The deadly shooting attack that took place on the morning of September 26, 2017 at the back entrance to the settlement of Har Adar is painful, regrettable, and very outrageous. In terms of professionalism, it is also frustrating. The frustration stems from the fact that the terrorist managed to slip out from under the intelligence’s gaze and carry out the attack, and that the security system - the last defensive ring - even though it has fulfilled his mission as a human shield and for that it deserves praise. However, the price paid was expensive, way too expensive.

As the picture becomes clear on the basis of testimonies published in the media, it emerges that the terrorist plot was based on a single terrorist armed with a pistol, who infiltrates the screening area of Palestinian workers at the back entrance to the settlement. At one point, after he is suspected or whether he initiated the action, he opens fire at the security team. Four security agents were injured, three of them were killed. The security force and the Border Police responded and eliminated the terrorist within seconds

With the required reservation, and in view of the fact that the attack has not yet been fully investigated, this is apparently a simple attack lacking sophistication (although quite daring). The terrorist was placed in the most secure area of the settlement at that time and under the watchful eyes of the security guards, he managed to draw a pistol and shoot four of them before he was liquidated. On the face of it are penetrating questions about the circumstances that led to the severe consequences of the attack. Even though the investigation has not yet been completed, the data we have is sufficient to say that in light of professional opinion, the course of events and the results of the attack raise serious questions.

The incident is being investigated, and lessons will be learned from it regarding the tactical aspects of the deployment of security personnel and their location, personal protection, existence or absence of mutual cover, and the response of the system to the transition from routine to emergency operations. This applies as well from the intelligence aspect, including reference to the criteria that approved the granting of the permit to an attacker so that he might enter Israel to work.

However, an immediate and decisive response is required first and foremost regarding the alertness and preparedness of the community’s security array. This is not in order to criticize, but rather to arouse the commanders and security managers to take immediate and decisive action. This action is aimed to prevent the terror attack of tomorrow. Although the intelligence system is effective, and it is indeed extremely effective, it can’t guarantee that all attacks will be completely prevented, so action must be taken in order to prevent the attack’s severe consequences.

Routine operations are even more dangerous than the opponents themselves

This is not referring to the routine operation of the secured facility, but rather the falling of the tension that it creates between the security force that protects it. In the town of Har Adar, like many other settlements and facilities, a fairly regular routine of activity is taking place with well-known peaks. The hours of the morning are characterized by a heavy load of activity in the “seam”, the exit of residents, the transportation of children in and out of the town, as well as the entry of laborers and workers into the facility. In the afternoon, the activity will resume itself, albeit in opposite directions, including the exit of workers from the settlement. These are the regular operating patterns of the facility or settlement, the security’s role is to allow this routine. But it is forbidden for these characteristics to cause the security activity that is surrounding them to become routine and even routine to the point of dullness. The opponent collects information and when the security array is lost in the routine, and this is the most valuable information for him or her, as well as being another critical weakness.

Indeed, the routine of activity and the absence of new events are difficult in helping maintain the tension, this may harm alertness and increase erosion. Every security agent learns at the outset that fighting routineness is an integral part of fighting the enemy. This is another tactical advantage that the opponent has (the second is the advantage of surprise) since the opponent has no routine, he operates once, in a single place and in a (mostly) single mode of action. The security array, on the other hand, must be ready everywhere, at any time and against any kind of action an attacker may take. These are the rules of the game. The good news is that we also have advantages - the human advantage, the belief in the rightness of our way, the training, and the indoctrination, on the one hand, familiarity with the terrain, combat methods and quality security measures on the other.

There are countless examples of the heavy cost of falling tension and sinking into a routine. It is expressed in a low level of operational work - locating and handling suspects, observing, scanning, paying attention to anomalies, and referring to intelligence information, which as it grows and gets more reliable sometimes produces (if not well handled ) a feeling of listening to the boy who cried wolf. We also saw this in events that took place in the world, including in the past year. The terrorist attacks in Nice, as well as in Berlin, occurred despite intelligence warnings that were supposed to lead to heightened alertness. The attack in Nice also revealed the failure to prepare for and reduce the security tension, which was also reflected in the replacing of the long firearms that some of the police had with pistols, despite warnings to the French police from peer intelligence sources.

As in previous cases, there are also voices calling for the deployment of technological means for the remote detection of weapons carried on the body, and so on. These are mere words. It is easy to be tempted and to channel the recommendations into the need for deployment based on various technologies (some of which exist, for example, systems for detecting people and movements, and some of them, such as locating remote weapons, are not operational and available.) Although in the technological age and in the foreseeable future, the person is the decisive factor.

Vigilance, readiness and determination, along with professionalism and ability to act, will not only enable the security establishment to respond to and nip the attack in the bud, they also send a firm message of readiness towards the enemy, and therefore it is also the most effective factor in the creation of deterrence.

The struggle against routineness that erodes vigilance requires creative and planned management. It is the role of the security managers and commanders to train, drill, challenge and refresh their forces in order to ensure the maintenance of positive tension that will lead to the prevention and mitigation of attacks.


Meir Gershuni, formerly a senior member of the Israel Security Agency, is currently the owner of a security consulting company


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