By MYRON LOVE Despite living under constant threat of terrorist attack, Israel remains one of the safest countries in the world in which to live or visit. It is precisely because of that constant threat that hangs over the country that Israel has developed a security blanket that is at the same time, unobtrusive, yet virtually impregnable, and light years ahead of any other democratic country in the world.
As this writer can attest from my visit to Israel last March, you can travel the length and breadth of the country with no more sense of danger than travelling about Winnipeg.
As explained by Micky Rosenfeld, Israel national police spokesman to the world press, Israel’s security is ensured by a combination of rapid response - aided by the most up-to-date technology – to any incidents that occur, a proactive policy aimed at preventing potential terrorist attacks, outreach to Muslim and Christian Arab communities within Israel, and the dedicated efforts of the country’s 29,000 national police officers (compared New York City’s 30,000-strong police force, Rosenfeld pointed out).
The British-born Rosenfeld was in Winnipeg on Tuesday, September 12, courtesy of the Jewish National Fund of Canada, Manitoba and Saskatchewan office. He spoke in the evening to a packed audience at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue. The presentation was sponsored by Larry and Tova Vickar and the Asper Foundation.
Rosenfeld, a veteran of the IDF’s Givati Brigade, noted that he is responsible for relations with over 1,000 foreign media outlets worldwide. “I try to communicate and explain complex issues in a calm and reasonable manner,” he said.
He noted that Israel is divided into seven security districts with Jerusalem – including the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – as
the epicenter. Jerusalem, he reported, is the most active – and sensitive – area in terms of terrorist threats. Whereas terrorism accounts for only 20% of violent incidents (as compared to criminal activity) in the rest of Israel, in Jerusalem, terrorism accounts for 80% of violent acts. During the current so-called “knife intifada” over the past two years – during which 42 Israelis (plus one tourist and one foreign worker) have been killed (along with more than 200 attackers), almost all of the attacks have taken place in and around Jerusalem’s Old City and the Hebron area.
Rosenfeld noted that he starts off every day reviewing the overnight anti-terrorist operations. “Almost every night, there are between 10 and 20 attempted terrorist attacks,” he reported. “Proactive policing ensures that the attacks don’t take place. Because of the sensitivity of the religious sites in Jerusalem and the large number of tourists that come to the city, we can’t afford any major incidents.”
Security is enhanced throughout the Old City (as we witnessed firsthand during our JNF tour in March) by CCTV cameras that blanket the Old City. There is a camera covering every street in and around the Old City relaying real time information to police officers viewing wall to wall TV screens stationed in a central location. Any suspicious activity is instantly relayed to officers on patrol.
“Our patrol officers know which direction suspects are going and what they are wearing,” Rosenfeld said. “Our response time to any incident is four to seven minutes.”
He added that the national police are unofficially supplemented by another 30,000 veterans of the IDF who are licensed to carry guns and intervene in a terrorist attack.
“Our response is commensurate with the threat level,” he said. “Wherever possible, we use non-lethal means – stun grenade and tear gas – and we work to contain riots as quickly as possible.”
Rosenfeld also emphasized the importance of communication and co-ordination in dealing with critical incidents. That includes co-ordination with the WAQF, the Muslim religious authorities on the Temple Mount, the Israel Defense Force, rescue and response teams, hospitals, municipalities and the media.
He also pointed out police efforts to visit Israeli-Arab communities, meet with the leaders and community members and establish positive relationships. He added that 10% of the members of the national police are Arab Israelis – Christian, Muslim, Druze and Bedouin. The two Israeli police officers who were murdered in July while guarding the Temple Mount were Druze.
As to this current round of troubles, Rosenfeld noted that the typical terrorist is between 20 and 30, clean shaven and wearing jeans. Also, 34 terrorist attacks have been carried out by females. For the most part, he said, the attacks since 2015 have been “lone wolf” attacks inspired by social media and incitement by the Palestinian leadership calling on Palestinians to protect the AL Aqsa Mosque (which isn’t in any danger).
He explained how the Israeli security services have been combatting the “Knife Intifada” (there have also been attacks with vehicles, rocks and guns) by monitoring social media trying to identify users who may attempt attacks and shutting down some social media that are openly inciting violence.
Rosenfeld was asked if ISIS is active among Palestinian or Israeli Arabs. While there has been one or two attacks in Tel Aviv carried out by Israeli Arabs in the name of ISIS, Rosenfeld reported that the terrorist organization has been prevented from taking root in Israel. Israeli security prevents suspected ISIS supporters from leaving the country. And potential ISIS terrorists are tracked through Facebook and other social media.
Rosenfeld noted that Israeli security personnel work closely with their European and American counterpart to counter international terrorism through intelligence sharing and joint training exercises. But the challenge in Western Europe is formidable, he said.
He noted that in England alone there are an estimated 950 former ISIS fighters who have returned from Syria to England. “It takes 50-60 security officers to track each potential terrorist,” he pointed out.