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The link between sacked airport workers in Belfast and Israeli intelligence; and the controversy surrounding Alex Maskey's wreath-laying at the war memorial
Eamonn McCann, 23 Jul 2002
I was making my plump, unstately way along the road to Belfast International Airport on the morning after the hotpress 25th birthday shenanigan in deep-South Dublin when a striker ambled up to confide, “You should take a closer look at that shower of bastards.”
Which I did, and discovered the possible connections between the strike and Israeli spies and September 11th.
About 200 of us were marching in support of airport security workers who’d been sacked for demanding less pitiful pay – they’re on £5.20 an hour for seven-day round-the-clock shifts. When their employer, International Consultants on Targeted Security (ICTS), told them, in effect, to fuck off, they voted 97 percent in a secret postal ballot for a series of one-day strikes. The first happened on May 14th. In response, ICTS sacked 23 workers, including, predictably, the two shop stewards. The march was to demand their jobs back.
The urge to look more closely at ICTS was strengthened by union official Ben Kearney saying in a speech at the airport entrance that in more than 30 years of negotiations he had never encountered an employer as bitter or as hard as ICTS.
The company, founded in Israel in 1982, is now a transnational business with headquarters in the Netherlands and quoted on the NASDAQ. It employs 5,000 people at 50 airports in 12 countries in Europe, including at Belfast International, Dublin and Cork, and operates at more than 50 sites in North America.
Being strapped for cash isn’t the reason for ICTS’s intransigence. On May 31st, the company reported revenues of $212.1 million for 2001, 44 percent up on the 2000 figure of $147.4 million. In the first three months of this year, it recorded a net income of $46.9 million, compared with $32.6 million in the same period last year. The company noted that, “The increase in revenues of the US operations is the result of increased demand for security services following the September 11th events.” A cynic might observe that it’s an ill wind.
However, while September 11th boosted business short-term, it generated problems, too. The Bush administration decreed that lessons must be learnt and things done differently. In contradiction of its own free-market philosophy, it drafted legislation to nationalise US airport security and create a new 28,000-strong State agency. The plan remains the subject of acrimonious debate in US political and business circles. But whatever the outcome, ICTS must sense that the September 11th bonanza may be snatched away. Which would help explain the snarling approach to workers looking to lift their pay above poverty level.
And there’s something else, too. Scanning a list of ICTS board members, my eye fell on Amos Lapidot, a name which clanged a bell. I’d happened upon it in a book, Miscarriage Of Justice by Mark Shaw, an account of the case of Jonathan Pollard, a US navy intelligence analyst who admitted passing security documents to the Israeli government in the mid-1980s and who is currently serving life for espionage. Shaw, a Zionist, argues that Pollard is “a Dreyfus for our time” who merely did his moral duty. He is scornful of Israeli figures who were embarrassed by Pollard’s capture and who have since failed to push strongly enough for his release. But Amos Lapidot comes out of the account well enough.
Shaw tells that Pollard’s first contact with the Israeli security services was through Colonel Aviem Sella of the Israeli air force, then in New York studying aviation technology. Sella contacted the secret service, Mossad, which refused to become involved for fear of compromising its relationship with the US. So Sella turned to Yosef Yagur, science counsellor at the Israeli consulate in New York, who in turn asked for the go-ahead from Rafael Eitan, head of an intelligence group at the Israeli Defense Ministry. Eitan hesitated, then asked for authorisation from the commander of the Israeli air force, Major General Amos Lapidot – who supplied it, enthusiastically and in writing. It was on the basis of this written approval that Eitan was able to tell Yagur he could tell Sella “officially” to recruit Pollard.
Isn’t it odd that a man who formally sanctioned the subversion of US security is now an executive of the company which controls security at US airports – including all three airports where hijackers boarded planes on September 11th?
Lapidot remained commander-in-chief of the Israeli air force until 1991 when he transferred to the Defence Department as “special security adviser”. In 1998, he left and took up his position with ICTS.
Other leading figures in ICTS appear also to be veterans of the Israeli security services. An article in the Christian Science Monitor last December refers casually to the company as having been “established by former Israeli security agents”.
Doron Zicher, “Vice President, Products and Technology”, heads ICTS’s wholly-owned subsidiary Pre-Check International which offers airports a passenger-profiling operation. In a recent lecture on the “Importance of Involvement of the Human Factor in the Security Process”, Zicher extolled the advantages of an integrated system allowing information imparted during booking to be computer-analysed for indications of terrorist propensity; visual observation and questioning by a Pro-Check security expert would then provide further data for factoring into the computer analysis, thus yielding a “threat level” reading. “If the level appears to be high, the passenger will be accorded intensive, physical treatment”, Zicher explained.
Pre-Check analysis would also determine which passengers’ luggage would be accorded intensive treatment, and which would undergo routine scrutiny. “This will increase the efficiency of the X-ray machine and allow the high-risk groups to receive the necessary, more extended treatment.”
As part of the “security package”, the company will “check the validity of passports, visas and other travel documents”. This service, it is explained, will help not only in the fight against terrorism but in “the immigration authorities’ battle against illegal immigration.”
Zicher, formerly chief security officer at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, is described by one pro-Palestinian website as “a member of Shin Beit”, the Israeli equivalent of MI5.
Zamir Eldar, previously a senior manager in charge of “project management and control” at Israeli Aircraft Industries, now head of European operations for ICTS, says that the company’s ambition is to be able “to profile every passenger” passing through the airports where it operates.
What a fantastical cornucopia of intelligence information is here envisaged...
A company operating according to the priorities suggested by this background might well regard bolshie behaviour by bottom-of-the-heap workers in a backwater like Belfast as sheer cheek, utterly intolerable, to be stamped down on and squashed.
They do deserve a closer look, the shower of bastards.
Around 5,500 men of the 36th Ulster Division, almost all of them members of the UVF who had joined up en masse at the outbreak of war in 1914, perished in the first two days of the Battle of the Somme at the beginning of July 1916. This dreadful slaughter has made the annual Somme commemoration a sacred event in Unionist tradition.
Thus the significance of Alex Maskey of Sinn Fein, as Lord Mayor of Belfast, laying a wreath at the city hall war memorial on July 1st.
Although Maskey took more stick for this gesture than was acknowledged in media coverage, most Sinn Feiners endorsed the initiative. The veteran Ardoyne Republican Martin Meehan voiced the sentiments of many when he recalled that his grandfather been among thousands of Nationalists had also joined up and died in the War. He told the Irish News: “My grandfather joined the Enniskillen Fusiliers to provide for his family and to fight for small nations...At the end of the day the most important thing to remember is what these people died for, and if we can create a situation where noone feels alienated that has to be a good thing.”
The basic decency of the sentiment is not to be doubted. But Meehan is right, too, that the important thing to remember is what they died for.
The First World War was fought between competing groups of robber barons to determine which would have the “right” to plunder the world. On all sides, young working-class men were recruited to do the fighting and the dying. Unionists were rallied by appeals to British patriotism. Nationalists were invited to believe that if they fought “for the freedom of small nations” Britain would concede freedom to Ireland. All across Europe, the old lies were told, and led millions to their doom.
The Unionists and Nationalists who perished had something in common of transcendant importance which should certainly be called back to mind now. They were regarded with equal contempt and their lives accounted equally worthless by the ruling class of the age. They should be remembered with love, with pity for the families they left behind, and with anger against the generals, the politicians and the bankers who contrived the slaughter. Remembering the dead, we should renew our determination not to allow it ever to happen again – whether under a “European Rapid Reaction Force” or in any other guise.
But a non-sectarian anti-war approach can’t be fitted into the conventional analysis of Northern Ireland which underpins the Belfast Agreement. This takes “the two traditions” as given, and assumes that the answer to sectarianism is for each to respect the other’s tradition. Since pride in having served Britain’s interests is an element in the Unionist tradition, Nationalists should respect expressions of this pride and, particularly given the distribution of death in World War One, join in ceremonies such as the Somme commemoration.
Thus, in the interests of “peace” an imperialist war is remembered with reverence rather than rage.