The suicide bombing of a tour bus in Bulgaria that killed five Israelis and the bus driver last week, coupled with the arrest July 7 of a Lebanese man suspected of planning attacks on Israeli tourists in Cyprus, have heightened security concerns at the London Olympics and at the JCC Maccabi Games in the United States.
Officials in the United Kingdom have reportedly raised the terrorism assessment at the Olympic Games in London, and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the intelligence community worldwide is on terror alert. The Olympics begin with the opening ceremonies Friday evening; the annual JCC Maccabi Games is slated for Aug. 5-17 in Houston, Memphis and upstate Rockland County.
With an estimated 4,000 teenagers participating in the JCC Maccabi Games, security at all three venues is “even more vigilant today than ever before,” said Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network (SCN), an affiliate of the Jewish Federations of North America.
“We have no imminent or specific information stating that there is any threat against the Maccabi Games or any Jewish institutions in the United States at this time,” he stressed. “People should not be reluctant nor hesitate to attend and enjoy the games. We just have to ensure that we remain vigilant.”
In Rockland County, where the games are scheduled from Aug. 12-17, as many as 5,000 athletes, spectators and volunteers are expected to attend.
“There are very, very intensive security plans put together,” Goldenberg said. “The [Jewish Community Centers Association of North America] has been working with SCN, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and state and local jurisdictions at the various venues throughout the country. Planning for the events has been going on for almost one year. These games definitely have the attention of the FBI and Homeland Security.”
The role of SCN is to quickly share information in the event of a crisis and to heighten security awareness among Jewish organizations to protect against terrorism and threats.
Eric Lightman, the JCC Maccabi Games director at the Rockland JCC, said it is the first time the games are being held in Rockland County and that all steps have been taken to ensure that “the event will be completely safe and secure. …The safety of our participants and guests is of primary concern.”
In a statement, the Rockland JCC said Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco III and his staff worked “many months in preparing security for the games. Sheriff Falco has taken the lead on all-hazards planning and is working with local, state and federal law enforcement to develop a comprehensive Incident Action Plan, which encompasses security, fire, EMS, emergency management and other disciplines to ensure that the games are safe and secure.”
In addition, it said the JCC would be “utilizing volunteer event marshals to act as the eyes and ears of law enforcement, and they will be trained in how to provide assistance and direction in the event an emergency occurs.”
Meanwhile in London, security experts are said to be bracing for a terror attack at the Olympics. The Sunday Times in London reported that Israeli officials have warned that the Iranian terror squad behind last week’s bus bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria, may be targeting the 38-member Israeli Olympic team, a warning that is mobilizing the largest security operation in peacetime in Britain.
According to the Sunday Times — and denied by the Israeli government — Israel’s Mossad, which handles counterterrorism, “is hunting a group of white Europeans who are thought to have converted to Islam and to be working with the Iranian Quds force and Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Tehran …
“One of the Israelis’ targets is thought to be a terrorist carrying a U.S. passport under the name of David Jefferson, who is believed to have fled after the Burgas attack” and “is thought to have another powerful [explosive] device. … Security experts say the Quds force — a unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards — has recruited a number of white European Islamic converts, including two Germans, one from Sweden and a couple of Britons.”
The newspaper added that agents from the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security) and Mossad have been ordered to accompany and protect the Israeli athletes.
Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, pointed out that these Olympics are being held 40 years after Palestinian terrorists attacked Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympics, killing 11 of them.
“That attack happened without warning — nobody was on alert,” he said, adding the report that agents from the Shin Bet and Mossad have been dispatched to protect the Israeli athletes in London is not unexpected.
“It has been standard operating procedure since ’72 that every Israeli team at every Olympics is very carefully guarded,” he said.
Efraim Inbar, director of Israel’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said he believes “there is a possibility that some kind of preparations are being made to implement an attack on the Israeli team at the Olympics. This is an important target. It’s the most important international event and terrorism is political theater — it would get them the largest audience.”
He pointed out that an attack at the Olympics would simply be a continuation of a series of foiled Iranian attacks on Israeli targets in Europe and Asia this year — including in Azerbaijan, Thailand, India, South Africa, Singapore, Georgia, Turkey, Kenya and Bulgaria. Iran has denied any involvement in such plots.
“It is quite clear this campaign has its tentacles in Iranian terrorism,” Inbar said. “You cannot defend every Israeli throughout the world, but you should concentrate on Israel proper and on official Israeli targets and on Jewish targets even in America.”
Police in New York are said to believe that Iranian Revolutionary Guards or their proxies have been involved in nine plots against Israeli or Jewish targets worldwide this year alone, according to an intelligence analysis prepared for the New York Police Department and obtained by Reuters.
Israeli security personnel are in regular communication with police here, and Israel even has an attaché assigned to the New York Police Department, Inbar pointed out.
But Steinberg said he is skeptical that Iranian terrorists are planning an attack against the Israeli Olympic team.
“If there was a real plot, they would not have tipped their hand by the bombing in Bulgaria and the attempted attack in Cyprus,” he said. “Based on the information that has been made public, I think it is very unlikely that they will try such an attack. … The panic over the Olympics is unjustified.”
Barry Shaw, a special consultant on delegitimization of Israel at the Strategic Dialogue Center of the Netanya Academic College, said there is great concern in Britain about the Olympics because of questions raised about the credibility of the company hired to provide security for the event.
“The fear is that there could be a terrorist attack anywhere,” he said. “It may not be at the Olympics and they may find it hard to get to an Israeli target, but they may strike elsewhere against soft Jewish targets or other targets in London.”
Shaw said also that after the International Olympic Committee rejected official requests from the United States, Canada, Germany and elsewhere to commemorate the anniversary of the Munich terror attack, synagogues worldwide are being asked to include a special memorial prayer at services this Shabbat.
“This Shabbat falls immediately after the opening ceremony and there are at least 300 shuls in 11 countries that intend to include a special memorial prayer in memory of the 11 terror victims,” he said. “I intend to deliver to their families the names of those synagogues so that they will know that Jews throughout the world stood united in prayer for the memory and souls of their loved ones.”
Shaw said that synagogues wishing to participate and to get further information, such as the Hebrew names of the slain athletes, may e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.