American law enforcement agents being briefed on security measures at Ben-Gurion Airport. (Photo: Israel Hadari)”The bullets are on me,” proclaimed the Israeli Defense Force commander sparking a chorus of light laughter from the audience. The group of men, many of whom seemed quite eager to shoot, quickly assembled a rather unorderly line and soon the sound of automatic gunfire deafened the previously peaceful valley.
The men were not your regular bunch of Israeli soldiers undergoing basic training but consisted of twelve highly placed law enforcement agents from around the United States.
They had come to the Border Police’s counter-terrorism training base in Beit Horon – outside of Jerusalem – to observe a seamless reaction to a simulated terrorist attack using a jeep and cardboard cut outs of civilians and terrorists. The Americans were now eager to reveal some of their own weapons training.
For almost all it was their first visit to the country, where in nine days they were exposed to some of the most innovative techniques Israel has developed in its battle to maintain the safety of its citizens.
Jim McDonnell, first assistant chief for the Los Angeles Police Department, told ISRAEL21c that the visit was a “particularly rewarding experience that could greatly benefit the people of America.”
The delegation was brought to Israel by the Anti-Defamation League, an American organization whose aims include working to increase cooperation between the United States and Israel. Phyllis Gerably, the ADL’s managing director in Israel, explained that the mission was the third of its type with another set to take place by the end of the year. In the last four years, some 70 law enforcement officials have come through the ADL for counter-terrorism training in Israel, she said.
“Since 9/11 Israel has a lot to offer the US in fighting terror,” she told ISRAEL21c.
Special agent Jim Cavanagh, from the department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms in Washington DC would agree. He was on the job in 2002 when a lone gunman randomly targeted people in the Washington area taking ten innocent lives. He has personally worked with Israeli bomb disposal teams for thirty years and complemented their training and efficiency.
“Israel has come up with many innovative solutions in dealing with the security situation”, he said. “The trip has given me a much greater understanding of the history and geographical proximity of the conflict.”
Cavanagh referred to the group’s visit to Jerusalem’s Old City where he was particularly impressed by the Mabat 2000 project, a complex network of surveillance cameras that provide security for the well-visited historical site.
The group was shown the ‘war room’ where around sixty surveillance screens are constantly monitored. The project’s primary aim is combating terrorism, however as an added benefit, the Mabat 2000 surveillance system also proved to be a powerful tool for crime prevention.
Many of the Americans, responsible for keeping large cities safe, felt such a system would be highly effective in their city centers and are set to embark on similar ventures.
When asked about the wisdom of travelling to Israel, Cavanagh could not have been more reassuring. “It is safe to visit Israel” he proclaimed. “It’s the security that makes it safe”. He added that following the group’s tour of the security set up at Ben-Gurion Airport he believed it was “probably the safest [airport] in the world,”
Arieh O’Sullivan, Director of Communications at ADL’s Israel office revealed that the group were briefed on the methods Israel adopts to prevent terrorism at Ben-Gurion.
“They include profiling, using sensors and monitoring while mobilizing elite units operating within the airport at all times,” said O’Sullivan. Participants noted that the US is constantly learning from Israel new ways to better protect its airports.
Another issue that hit close to home for the group was border control.
Walt McNeil, police chief in Tallahassee, Fla., and a vice president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) said that the border issue with Mexico was one of the most problematic elements facing American security officials.
“We at the IACP have a big interest in immigration issues that we’re facing in America and also border issues,” McNeil told CNSNews.com. “Our President [Bush] just indicated that we’re going to secure our borders and one of those issues is how do we do that, how do we accomplish that in America.”
Israel’s expertise in building its security fence, and the debate surrounding it, were of prime interest to McNeil.
“Those discussions – and how they’re able to accomplish that – that’s what we’re interested in,” McNeil said.
Cavanagh said he also gained valuable knowledge from the visit by learning about the human aspects of terrorism.
“It’s important to understand the psychology that drives terrorism in order to effectively fight it.”
Ronnie Watson, the police commissioner in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was particularly impressed with what he described as a “seamless integration” of the Israeli security services within the civilian population. He believed Israeli’s were well educated in dealing with security situations and that Americans had a lot to be taught from them.
Watson expressed an area of particular interest to him was the psychological preparation Israeli soldiers and police undertook during training. “While America was becoming more competent in dealing with the psychological effects after an incident it was still failing to adequately prepare agents and the public prior to an occurrence.”
He believed the simple structure Israeli security services maintained was extremely valuable and that the American system had some difficulties because of the number of different agencies involved.
“The FBI and Israeli services have an extremely close working relationship” Michael Tabman, an FBI agent based in Minneapolis, touted. The agent sporting a pair of tinted shades, slick hair and an inconspicuous Star of David believed that many of the Israeli innovations developed to maintain Israel’s security were “in the pipe line for the United States.”
The issue of homeland security went beyond the confines of the ADL mission, as at the same time last week, a business delegation from Illinois was in Israel encouraging Israeli homeland security companies to expand their operations in the US state.
“We have trade missions to other parts of the globe but Israel is the only place that we have done a homeland security focused delegation,” Matthew Summy, deputy director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, told The Jerusalem Post, citing Israel’s high level of technological advancement.
Summy explained that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojebich strongly identifies with the preparedness, planning and technological development activity that is happening in Israel and, therefore, initiated the project to grow the local industry through partnerships with Israel.
At the Beit Horon counter-terrorism base, the partnership between Israel and the US was clearly evident. With the firing range exercise completed, and the camaraderie between the Israelis and the Americans solidified, the bus returned to the group’s home base of Jerusalem.
“Be ready in the lobby at ten to eight” the group’s tour guide announced. “Until then you are free”. Signs of relief were evident from the participants as they looked forward to a couple of hours rest after an already long day. Many cherished the chance to carry out a few slightly more down to earth activities, shopping around Jerusalem’s center before another intense learning experience.