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Private Security Companies Booming in Israel - 2002-04-03

In March, alone, 11 suicide bombing attacks in Israel killed more than 60 people and wounded more than 200 others. A terrorized Israeli public is demanding more protection. The increased demand for security has sparked a boom for security companies.

After last weekend's deadly attack at a restaurant in Haifa, the town's mayor issued an order that all restaurants post security guards outside their premises.

Even small hotels on quiet side streets in Jerusalem have hired guards and are keeping their front doors locked at all times.

Rafi Swed runs the Tel Aviv-based Moked Imun security guard service. He says he cannot keep up with the demand. "We employ about 1,000 people and the demand increased about 30 to 40 percent in the last month, especially during the last few days after the suicide bombing in Netanya and Haifa. And, it increases all the time," he said.

Mr. Swed says the ideal person for the job has military or police experience. But Israel now has called up more than 20,000 reservists for active duty. And that, Mr. Swed said, is making his search more difficult. "We put ads in the newspapers," he said. "We ask our employees to bring us friends and now we have another problem because there is about 10 percent are under the call of the army for reserves."

Business is also booming at special training centers for security guards.

Young security guards refresh their defense skills on a regular basis at the Protect training center in Jerusalem.

Protect owner Itay Gil says the number of trainees has soared since the latest spate of suicide bombings.

A former member of Israel's elite military counter-terrorism team, Mr. Gil says the suicide bombings are a relatively new phenomenon. "And it's pretty difficult because they're getting a lot smarter," he said. "They come in camouflage, dye their hair. You know they're getting smarter, so it means we have to get smarter too."

Mr. Gil trains bodyguards for Israel's presidential office and other government agencies. He says they all have extensive military and police training. However, he says fighting suicide bombers requires other skills, too. "They all come very well trained from the military before I get them," he said. "What I do is sharpen the edges. We make everything real small so they understand behavior, body language."

Mr. Gil says the aim is to prevent an attack or at least minimize the potential for injury. One of the guards who trained with him was outside Moment cafe last month when a suicide bomber tried to get inside. "He confronted the terrorist face to face. And he said, from all the theories that we teach, if he will carry something under his clothes, it would look big and be heavy walking, said Itay Gil "But he said he was just natural and the clothes were flat. 'But the way he looked at me,' he said, 'I knew."

The guard managed to chase him from the door before he detonated the explosive. More than 10 people died in the blast. Mr. Gil believes the death toll would have been a lot higher had the bomber managed to get inside.

Moked Imun owner Rafi Swed agrees. He says the alert guard occasionally pays with his life. "You can't stop him at all," he said. "If he is decided to do it, he will do it. But you can lower the damage and not let him in. Sometimes, as it happened this week, the security guard paid with his life. But a lot of other people are saved."

Fewer Israelis are venturing out these days but Israel is on a high alert, amid fears of more suicide bombers. In a period of such anxiety, security companies do not expect business to slack off anytime soon.