It was a small item, buried away amid the deluge of reports on Afghanistan, the kind of news story that initially makes you chuckle, but upon further reflection makes you wonder just what the heck has happened to the world of late.



It seems that in light of heightened airport security after the September 11 attacks in the United States, there has been an increase in the number of incidents in which the metal fasteners on women?s bras have set off pre-flight metal detectors. And so, a Japanese firm called Triumph International has found the solution we have all been waiting for: a metal-free bra. Available in white, orange and blue, the nonmagnetic metal hooks in the bra are guaranteed not to set off those embarrassing metal detectors anymore (Reuters, October 19).



Before you rush out to nominate Triumph for a Nobel Prize, consider this: have the scientific prodigies behind this latest invention given any thought to its possibly devastating implications? What if Osama Bin-Laden were to attempt an escape from Afghanistan disguised as a woman? The only thing standing between him and a life of luxury in the hills of Chechnya might very well be those metal hooks in the bra that Triumph has now done away with. Mark this down as yet another unfortunate victory for the forces of evil.



In normal times we might laugh this story off as insignificant, viewing it as just another case of some entrepreneur whose brain has gone, well, bust. However, since these are anything but normal times, it is a story worth pondering, for it says a great deal about the impact of the events around us.



The American media lately has been filled with stories about shortages of Cipro, the antibiotic used to treat anthrax. Stores selling gas masks in the United States have seen sharp rises in sales in recent weeks. A sense of fear, even panic, has gripped people throughout the Western world, as talk of further biological attacks sets everyone on edge.



On the surface, it would seem that the parallels between America and Israel have now become frighteningly similar, as Americans grow increasingly afraid for their personal well-being, just as Israelis have over the past year. Both find themselves the target of ruthless terrorists willing to use any means with which to frighten, and kill, their innocent prey. That, however, is where the similarity ends.



For unlike Israel, America has not hesitated to fight back, using all the means at their disposal to quash the threat posed by terror. The United States has been unrelenting in its determination, and rightly so, for that is the only way for a society to protect itself from those who seek its destruction. Israel?s government, by contrast, has shown that it is either unwilling or unable to bring about an end to Palestinian terror. The shooting attacks against Israeli motorists, the mortar rounds fired at Jewish communities, the suicide bombings ? it has all become so incessant that it is now sadly viewed as being routine. Yet there is nothing routine about a society under assault. A government?s primary responsibility is to protect its citizens and provide them with security. The assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi last week only underlined the government?s failure in this regard. If the Israeli government can not provide its own ministers with adequate protection, then how are we as citizens supposed to feel?



Equally distressing is that, whereas in America, Democrats and Republicans alike have rallied around the flag and united to confront the country?s adversaries, Israel?s government remains divided among itself, often speaking with two contradictory voices. At the same time that Prime Minister Sharon likens Yasser Arafat to Bin-Laden and the Taliban, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres goes out of his way to rebuff such comparisons. Israel sends in troops to Palestinian-controlled areas to combat terror, but Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is quick to reassure Arafat that the army isn?t there to stay.



It is time for Israel to unite and to confront Palestinian terror with the single-minded determination that will be necessary to defeat it. The government must address the fears of Israel?s citizens and do all it can to restore their security, for that is ultimately what it was elected to do. While the ?invention? of the metal-free bra suggests that the Western world might be taking its personal security just a little too seriously, the sad truth appears to be that Israel is not taking it seriously enough.

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Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister?s Office from 1996 to 1999 and is author of a regular column in the Jerusalem Post.