The day after the United States government issued a terror alert in a blaze of publicity, Israel delivered one of its own frequent warnings, but in a much softer tone.
There were no news conferences or official announcements, but the Israeli news media began to mention on Monday afternoon that the military had sealed off Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, and was searching for a suspected suicide bomber planning to attack.
A bomber in Bethlehem could reach the center of Jerusalem in a matter of minutes, yet no special alert was issued and life in Jerusalem went on as usual. Television and radio broadcasts dropped the report by Tuesday morning, and the military withdrew from Bethlehem.
When queried, the military said that one person had been arrested. It has refused, however, to say whether the person was the suspected bomber or if the warning was a false alarm.
Israel is not a place known for subtlety. Yet it has established a rather low-decibel alarm system for possible suicide bombings and other attacks. The aim is to leak enough information to let the public know something is up, but not so much that it sows panic or tips off a bomber who is being pursued.
“I think the Israeli public has learned to react in a very mature way,” said Ely Karmon of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, near Tel Aviv. “Today, the public has confidence that the security services are capable of stopping attacks.”
“Even when there is a big bombing, people are back in the streets and in the restaurants after a couple of days,” Mr. Karmon said.
That is a sharp contrast to the United States, where senior officials have spoken publicly about the terror warning and named specific sites in New York, New Jersey and Washington that could be targets.
The comparison with Israel is not exact. The United States is concerned about the possibility of a large-scale attack that could kill hundreds or thousands. In Israel, the main threat is the lone suicide bomber who could kill perhaps 10 to 20 people.
Still, the Israeli approach shows how the country has come to deal with a danger that is essentially constant.
Israeli security officials have about 50 warnings of possible attacks on any given day, security officials say. To issue alerts for every threat would paralyze the country.
One security official described a hypothetical yet typical incident. The Shin Bet security agency, which is roughly equivalent to the F.B.I., might have information that a bomber in the West Bank city of Nablus was planning to attack Tel Aviv within the next couple of days.
Shin Bet, which gathers intelligence, would work with the Israeli military, which operates in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, to track down the suspect. Shin Bet would keep the police informed, though the police would not be expected to take any special steps at this point. The public would hear nothing at all, the official said.
If Shin Bet determined that the bomber had left Nablus and was heading to Tel Aviv, a trip that could take just a few hours, the agency would alert the police, allowing the force to set up roadblocks and beef up security at the most likely targets, the official said.
Even if the security forces had a detailed description of the bomber and knew his exact target, this information would not be made public, several security officials and analysts said.
Instead, the police would give only a general warning, saying there was an alert in the Tel Aviv area. Such alerts come out several times a week and typically last for several hours. The public would most likely see the sudden appearance of roadblocks, causing traffic delays. But little else would change.
“We give general warnings, but we don’t say exactly what we’re looking for,” said Gil Kleiman, a police spokesman. “If we announced a warning for a site, the terrorist could hear this and go somewhere else.”
When the army or the police arrest a suspected bomber, an announcement might not come for days while the security forces work backward and try to track down the people responsible. The reasoning is that announcing the initial arrest too quickly could lead the other suspects to go deep underground.
The Israeli public, which has endured more than 100 suicide bombings in the past four years, has come to understand and generally accept this method of communication, said Mr. Karmon, of the counterterrorism institute.
In the 1990’s, Israeli governments occasionally made big announcements when they believed major attacks were imminent. But in several cases nothing happened, and there was concern that such alerts were causing undue panic, Mr. Karmon said.
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