Jewish Journal


October 3, 2002

Lessons From Israel

Local police learn counterterrorism techniques from their counterparts in the Jewish State.


Irvine's police chief is anxious to see his force mimic Israeli counterterrorism efforts.

Michael Berkow, police chief for more than one year, spent part of a recent trip to Israel shadowing an on-duty general responsible for supervising a rock concert. The location was Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda Street, the pedestrian mall that is one of the city's main thoroughfares and a scene of several major terror attacks, including the Sbarro bombing that killed 15 on Aug. 9, 2001. Uniformed police carrying M-16 machine guns were as ubiquitous -- and some days even more so -- than shoppers themselves.

Berkow, however, was already thinking about his own turf, considering the challenges of policing the 22,000 people who make Friday night pilgrimages to Irvine's Spectrum entertainment center or who fill up the nearby Verizon Amphitheater.

"I'm not in the midst of a war," Berkow said. He rejects using heavily armed guards in Irvine because it would discomfit local residents.

It was one of the surprising differences detected by a group of high-ranking U.S. law enforcement officers that visited Israel in August to learn counterterrorism tactics from its security forces, considered some of the best-prepared agencies of any small nation.

That expertise, born of Israel's perilous strategic position in the Middle East, would be insightful in developing U.S. homeland security, said Marsha Haltemann, an executive of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that sponsored the trip. "We're facing a new reality in the U.S. We have terrorism on our shores."

The trip was the first for local police organized by JINSA, which more typically builds support for Israel by organizing similar trips for recently retired U.S. admirals and generals. Top-ranking military officers are sought because they remain influential opinion-molders and often serve as U.S. government consultants.

This trip came at the prodding of intelligence-hungry Louis Anemone, security chief for New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority. His 500-person force polices New York city's subways, bridges and tunnels. Anemone attended a talk by a retired admiral and JINSA alumnus and asked to get in on the next excursion.

"I can't wait," Anemone said, frustrated by turf battles between U.S. law enforcement agencies that continue to hoard intelligence. "Since Sept. 11, you would think things would change, but it hasn't trickled down yet."

During briefings and question-and-answer sessions with top Israel security officials, Anemone said he was surprised, for instance, at the candor of a bomb squad commander, who provided "startling revelations" that he refused to detail. "I got more information from foreigners than from our own government," he said.

Another participant, Michael J. Bostic, assistant chief of human resources for the Los Angeles Police Department, said he envies the single-mindedness of Israel's forces. "You can't tell the difference between the military, the border guards and the police. There is complete focus on everyone's role.

"I felt so jealous," Bostic said. "I wished we could transplant all those leaders because they understood the need to work with all the other leaders. We don't even talk to military intelligence."

Another difference is the activism of Israel's civilian population, said Joseph Polisar, Garden Grove's police chief and incoming president of a chiefs association, who was with the group. He noted that 55,000 volunteers, who are also sworn officers, supplement Israel's active-duty police force of 27,000. Doubling the U.S. police force with volunteers is unrealistic, he said.

Polisar expressed surprise at the hasty response of Israel's police at the scene of a suicide bombing. "We would have it roped off for days and picked that scene apart inch by inch," he explained, while Israel's police scurry to restore normalcy in under four hours.

"They know it's a suicide bombing and don't need to build a criminal case," Polisar said. "The rules change when you're at war."

"Israel's mantra is 'life as normal,'" Berkow added.

The lesson that seems hardest to transplant from Israel is how to integrate fragmented police and intelligence agencies, which evolved out of constitutional guarantees to separate powers of state and federal governments. "The entire world's mobile, but each government agency is still insulated by its own problems," Bostic said. "The U.S. is going to have to come to grips with unifying intelligence sharing on domestic violence.

"Crooks don't operate within territories."

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