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Jewish Journal

London Jewish community, already vigilant, is advised to beef up security for Olympics

by Miriam Shaviv, JTA

July 16, 2012 | 2:48 pm

An electrified security fence surrounds the Olympic Village at the Olympic Park in Stratford, London on July 16. Photo by REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

An electrified security fence surrounds the Olympic Village at the Olympic Park in Stratford, London on July 16. Photo by REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

Typically on high alert, London’s Jewish community organizations are being advised to take additional security measures during the Olympics.

The Community Security Trust, the charity that represents and recommends the community on matters of security, has told Jewish groups to implement or increase patrols around their buildings. CST’s guidelines also remind community groups of basic security steps such as questioning visitors to community buildings, not congregating outside and ensuring that all security equipment is working.

“We are not aware of any specific threats related to the Jewish community,” emphasized Dave Rich, the CST’s deputy director of communications. “This is the normal kind of advice we would give to people when there are high-profile events taking place in London. There might be some anti-Israel demonstrations, but we are not expecting massive disruptions.”

The London Jewish community’s security infrastructure already is highly developed, with guards posted outside nearly every synagogue, school and community building. Additionally, CST-trained volunteers help to secure major community events.

Among the concerns is that the high volume of overseas visitors expected at Jewish community venues during the Games will present a security challenge. In addition, the security alert for the entire city may be raised.

“There is no doubt that the Jewish community needs to be vigilant, but there is nothing new in that,” said Hagai Segal, a lecturer at New York University in London and a consultant on Middle Eastern affairs and terrorism. “There is no evidence of any specific targeting of the Jewish community or of terror attacks being planned in general, either.”

Pointing to the general security operation in London that is “unprecedented in British history,” he said, “When the country is better protected, the Jewish community is better protected, too.”

In the absence of a specific threat, Segal added, the Jewish community has no need to increase its security arrangements significantly, as they are already so extensive.

“The community has had to get used to having patrols around synagogues and a system for the reporting of anti-Semitism, and it is recognized as having one of the best community security systems anywhere,” he said. “The London Metropolitan Police actually uses the CST as an example of efficient community policing. The community is expert in this area, which ensures that when there are special events in the city, they don’t have to do much more.”

Similarly, he said, London as a whole had been operating at the highest or second-highest level of threat assessment since the subway and bus bombings on July 7, 2005, and is also accustomed to extensive counterterror measures.

“A lot has been learned since 7/7. The UK has become very good at counterterrorism,” Segal said.

Meanwhile, the details regarding security for the Israeli delegation to the Olympics are being closely guarded.

Efraim Zinger, secretary-general of the Israeli Olympic Committee and head of the Israeli Olympic delegation, would confirm only that the British were responsible for the team’s security and that the delegation would not be housed in a separate building in the Olympic Village.

“We are closely following the security measures taken by the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and by the British government,” Ziniger said. “We really appreciate the enormous effort and money that is being invested. They know how to do this work and we trust them.”

He acknowledged that a large event like the Olympics was “naturally very attractive for the bad guys,” but said that the threat was not just to Israel, as the British and Americans could be targeted as well.

“There is complete cooperation in all areas, we have open channels,” Zinger said. “Those who need to protect the Games are concentrating on that and doing an excellent job. We are concentrating on our sportspeople doing an excellent job.”

The operation to secure London as a whole will be the most expensive in British history, costing $1.55 billion. Some 17,000 troops, 12,500 policemen and 7,000 security guards will be posted in the city, which has been nicknamed “Fortress London,” while an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames River, surface-to-air missiles will be deployed at six sites and unmanned drones with surveillance cameras will patrol the skies. 

Nevertheless, the security arrangements have been severely criticized in recent weeks after it emerged that the company contracted to protect the Olympic Park and stadiums failed to deliver enough personnel. The government has deployed 3,500 more troops than originally planned and warned that more might be necessary

Nerves were rattled earlier this month after six Islamist extremists were arrested in London over a possible terror plot. Three lived just a mile from the Olympic stadium. However, the London Metropolitan Police said the arrests were not linked to the Olympics.

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