The US State Department issued a rare worldwide travel warning for all Americans on Wednesday. The State Department has not issued a worldwide caution in 14 years, further highlighting the level of concern coming from this latest decision by President Trump. The last alert like this one was issued at the onset of the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Although the State Department Worldwide Caution does not specifically call out the Jerusalem decision as the driver of the new warning, it is obviously the underlying issue behind the global security threat. ISIS, Hamas, Al Qaeda and other Islamic inspired terrorist organizations were quick to hit the airwaves with their dire warnings of retribution for the decision. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan called it a red line for all Muslims worldwide.
Travel to Europe, Asia and the Middle East should be taken with increased awareness to the possibility for riots, violent protests, and potential attacks on US interests. US hotels, embassies, consulates and other US affiliated businesses are all at increased risk potential blowback due to this decision that was met with global disagreement by NATO, the EU, Russia and China. Newspapers across the Middle East have called this America’s Balfour Agreement, comparing it to the UK led agreement after WWII that established Israel as a Jewish State. This comparison cannot be overlooked or underestimated, as 90% of Muslim countries view Israel as their primary adversary and the Balfour agreement and subsequent establishment of the Jewish State to be the single biggest affront to Muslims in modern times.
As ISIS and affiliated splinter groups have increasingly used very unsophisticated means like driving large trucks through crowds of innocent bystanders to great effect, it is not only plausible, but highly likely that similar attacks of this nature will be attempted across Europe and the Middle East. ISIS took to social media immediately after the decision and promised to make the holiday season and New Year celebrations a “Living Hell” for westerners.
So what is a traveler to do in this situation? The answer to that question is not clear cut. The location and necessity of potential travel should inform the decision in these uncertain times. Unnecessary travel to Israel and the wider Middle East should potentially be postponed or cancelled altogether as calls for an intifada ring throughout the region. Violence and unrest are almost a certainty in Israel in the coming days and weeks.
Travel to Europe is a different story as the threat there is more diluted and can mostly be mitigated with proper safety precautions. Appearance, ground transportation choices, transportation routes and avoiding busy public places can reduce the threat of being involved in some type of unrest or unsafe situation dramatically.
Americans often project strong “tells” that make them easily identifiable when travelling abroad. One’s clothing can definitely bring attention to a traveler and can make identification as an American more obvious. Refrain from wearing baseball caps, clothing that has US College or sports team’s logos is a start. Overly American sneakers and brands can also give one away. When I was living and traveling in Europe I always tried to dress the part of the local populace. Often times Europeans dress in what we as Americans would describe as business casual as opposed to the comfort clothing that many Americans seem to wear when travelling. Think of the last time you were in the airport and you see American travelers wearing everything from sweat suits to Pajamas. I saw a woman wearing a set of Dr. Seuss flannel pajamas just this morning in the Seattle airport. As an example, many Americans complain of being treated rudely when in places like Paris for example. I never experienced this in my visits to Paris as my standard attire consisted of comfortable dress shoes, a nice pair of jeans or casual business pants, a dress shirt, maybe a sweater and a sports jacket. I always felt over dressed for a day at the Louvre or walking the Champs d’ Ely see, but I fit right in with the Parisians as was treated very accommodatingly by everyone I interacted with.
Transportation choices are also of upmost importance when trying to lower one’s threat exposure. Ground transportation is the most dangerous part of most trips that Americans take abroad. Different driving laws, driving standards, lack of traffic enforcement, unwise route choices and vehicle accidents all make for an increased threat to the traveler. Secure transportation with security trained and vetted drivers in well maintained and inspected vehicle can substantially reduce a traveler’s exposure to the aforementioned risks. A security driver will avoid routes that would take the traveler through potential sites of unrest or trouble. A secure driver will know all the locations of previous attacks, will know where the US Embassies, consulates or US based corporate offices are located in a particular destination and can come up with routes that avoid all these potential flash points. In addition, these drivers will know where all the hospitals, police stations and other public service locations that may become needed should an even take place.
With the proper precautions and safeguards in place, international business travel to most locations does not need to grind to a halt due to this decision by the United States. It is imperative that travelers take a moment to think through alternatives like video enabled meetings, secure ground transportation and the appearance one projects when travelling in these uncertain times. If you have travel coming up that you have concerns about and would like to better understand how secure transportation can enable your trip, reach out to us at Anjin Secure Car. Our mission is to enable all travelers to visit the places they need to go, while minimizing risk in a diligent and measured way.
Justin Clark is the Chief Development Officer for Anjin Secure Car. He has held roles as both a security and medical industry executive. Prior to his business career, he was an officer in Special Operations and served five combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.