Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


These Israeli 'agents' have a nose for explosives

By Amelia ThomasContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / January 26, 2005



TEL AVIV

At 8:30 on a crisp January morning, Erez Finkelstein pulls up at Tel Aviv's central bus station. He takes two containers from his pocket. "This one's TNT, dynamite," he says as he shakes the small can, "and the other's C4, plastic explosive." He approaches a bus in a long line of parked vehicles, and tucks the TNT beneath the wheel arch. He then walks to a nearby motor scooter and conceals the C4 inside the engine casing.

Skip to next paragraph

Despite appearances, Mr. Finkelstein is performing a job crucial to Israel's domestic security. He is part of a team - half of whom are two-legged, the other half four - that works tirelessly to prevent the bomb attacks that regularly rock the country. As an instructor for the US-Israeli charity Pups for Peace, his job is to ensure that their highly trained squad of bomb-detecting dogs stays in top form.

"First, Cliff," says Finkelstein as a brindle Dutch shepherd appears, straining at his leash. Cliff's handler, Elad Bachal, releases the excited young dog.

After just two minutes of sniffing, Cliff discovers the first of the hidden explosives. Mr. Bachal rewards him with his toy - a simple fabric cylinder known as a "puppy roll" - and Cliff cavorts with glee.

Finkelstein extracts the dynamite. "If the dogs didn't find what they're looking for at least once a day," he explains, "they might lose interest in their work."

Since the beginning of the current intifada in September 2000, there have been 124 separate bomb attacks on Israeli civilians. But it wasn't until

the Park Hotel bombing in Netanya in March 2002 - which killed 30 and injured 140 - that a US economics professor, Glenn Yago, telephoned his long-time Israeli friend, Ronnie Lotan, and Pups for Peace was born.

"He called me from Scottsdale, Ariz., just minutes after the attack," recalls Mr. Lotan, now director general of the charity. " 'We've finally got to do something about this,' he told me. 'Let's get dogs.' "

Although neither man had any experience in the field, they became convinced after initial research that a squad of bomb-detecting dogs would boost public security.

Initial doubts

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and police force were not so sure, however.

The police were concerned that the general public might be afraid of large dogs on buses. The IDF expressed doubt over the effectiveness of using dogs as the sole means of detection.

"A dog's concentration span is only around 20 minutes at a time," explains Lotan. "So the IDF felt that we couldn't maintain a vigilant watch over threatened areas, such as bus stations, if the detection dog had to rest every 20 minutes."

But Lotan and Yago had a solution: "We decided that we'd give each handler two, three, or even four dogs," he says, "to be worked in rotation. This was a brand new, and expensive, innovation in the use of bomb dogs in the world, but we knew it would work."

Permissions