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Project Interchange – Counter-Terrorism Trip – Day 3

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Retired Colonel Eitan Azani from Herzaliya’s Interdisciplinary Center offered us an excellent briefing this morning on the global jihad.  It was just a taste.  After an hour, we stopped him, as our next presenter had arrived, and he said something about his presentation normally running 5 hours.  He works at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism at IDC, and the group was uniformly impressed with him.

He immediately told us that this is a war, not a criminal activity, and we are only in the middle.

At the Institute, they live by the important  adage – know your enemy.  The more you follow the internal discourse, the more you will know.  He remarked that the discourse shows that global jihadists are in a weaker position than they were just 2-3 years ago.  The death of Bin Laden is part of this.

Once you know your enemy, you design the policy and execute it.  This is not always easy.  You must have the support of the public to do so, and until they feel threatened, they may not allow the necessary intrusions on their freedom for you to realize your strategy.

Some aspects of the enemy that he focused on are the degree to which their culture values honor, language and clothing; the social structure which is completely built around the family and the clan; community solidarity; and ultimately being part of the Uma – the global religious community of Islam.  He spoke about Dawa and Jihad – the former meaning furthering Islam through softer means, i.e., missionary work of education, medicine, and food; and the latter meaning through violence.  He also spoke about the value placed on patience – waiting until just the right opportunity comes along that will further your aims.

Lastly, he mentioned the recent fatwas (religious edicts):   1) taking part in Arab spring is not permissible, 2) Muslims killing innocent Muslims is gaining permissibility, 3) weapons of mass destruction are permissible, 4) killing Arab Christians is permissible, 5) using dollars meant for charity for Jihad is permissible.

He repeated yesterday’s presenter’s words about the suicide bombers:  they really, really believe that if they do this, they will go straight to heaven, where 72 (yesterday, he said 70 – not sure it really matters 😉 virgins will await them.

Our next presenter was from the National Security Council, and she spoke about money laundering.  That’s about all I can say.  She allowed no pictures and no video, she collected all paperwork handed out, and she requested that we publish nothing.  All that I can say is that following this money is a serious global issue, and if we can get a better handle on it, we will greatly be able to curtail global terrorism.  Also, shame on the first world countries who have still not declared Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization.

The late morning and early afternoon was spent on a driving tour through Tel Aviv and wandering around old Jaffa.

We stopped at Independence Hall where Ben Gurion declared independence in May 1948, as well as Rabin Square, where Rabin was assassinated.  The group seemed very interested in the details surrounding this and the mood of the country at the time.

Jaffa is becoming more gentrified every time I go there.  Multi-million dollar apartement buildings made to fit in with the Ottoman-style architecture – and with magnificent views of Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean —  are now popping up everywhere.  As one can imagine, this causes animosity with the poorer, long-time residents, many of whom are Muslim and Christian Arabs.  The group loved walking around the alleyways and photographing the gorgeous views. The Old City in Jerusalem provides a richer experience in terms of the alleyways, and I am sure that they will love that.  In the meantime, they snapped away.

We ended our tour at Dr. Shakshuka – the famous restaurant  in Jaffa.  We were rushed to get to our next appointment, so it was simply shawarma for all – a good Israeli experience, which they seemed to like.

The rest of the day and night was spent with the Tel Aviv Police who seemed to love comparing notes with their counterparts.  Here are the highlights:

  1. As we arrived, the group was excited to take pictures with the police cars and motorcycles with Hebrew on it.  I had already taught them “mishtara” – the Hebrew word for police.
  2. We had a full presentation of all of their bomb squad equipment from the bomb squad.  The group felt that much of the equipment was similar, in terms of robots, containment vehicles, protective helmets/vests, etc.  One member of the group remarked that it seemed that they took commonly used items and retrofitted them for their needs, which is exactly what police departments do in the U.S.
  3. We enjoyed a presentation on the Police Department.  Again, much of this is confidential.  What I can say is that there are 1.3 million residents living in Tel Aviv and another million who come in daily to work.  I can also say that most crime is down over the past few years.  We spoke at length about how they deal with the Muslim populations, which is clearly done with great sensitivity to the cultural norms of their society, as well as great creativity.  Force is a last resort, but used if necessary.  This impressed the group.
  4. We took a tour of the police department, including the dispatch room, which handles millions of calls a year.
  5. We took a tour of south Tel Aviv with the police.  This is the area where the refugees from Eritrea, Sudan, etc. are living in very close quarters.  They live in poverty, and there is crime.  This was frankly a side of Israel I have never seen before, and the policemen in our group compared it to the ghetto areas in their towns.  There is one main difference here.  I would imagine that the refugees are grateful that Israel is not throwing them out.  Many fled war-torn areas for their lives.  The fact that Israel lets them simply be is a blessing for them.
  6. Finally, we had dinner with about 9 policemen in a lovely Moroccan-French restaurant in Jaffa.  The group loved connecting individually with policemen.  Many came out and simply said “that was just great.”  Wine was not included in tonight’s meal, but the policemen insisted on buying wine for all of us to celebrate.  One conversation that my group had was about prisons and how the U.S. generally imposes harsher sentences and subjects their prisoners to harsher conditions, a fact that our law enforcement officials confirmed based on their knowledge of where the U.S. stands with the rest of the world.  We are supposed to visit a prison later this week, though that still depends of the timing of the release of the rest of the prisoners connected to the Gilad Shalit swap.

Throughout the day, the guide and I tried to impart bits and pieces of the general culture.  One aspect that is novel for the group are the many places from which Jews came to this country, especially the countries of the Middle East.  I explained that our first speaker this morning understands the mentality of the Arab population because his parents are from Yemen, and he grew up surrounded by people from Yemen.  At dinner tonight, the policeman with whom my group was sitting had a mother from the Kurdish region of Iran and a father from the Kurdish region of Iraq. 

I have tried to teach the group a few Hebrew words along the way.  Their growing vocabulary now consists of the following:

Shalom – Hello/goodbye
Boker Tov – Good morning
Erev Tov – Good evening
Lila Tov – Good night
Toda – Thank you
Aluf – General
Naim Meod – Nice to meet you
B’seder – O.k.
Sababa – Cool o.k.
Mishtara – Police

With that, I will say lila tov and pack for our trip to the Golan Heights tomorrow.

Some pictures from the day are below:


Written by Scott Richman, AJC Westchester Director

October 31, 2011 at 6:16 pm

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Project Interchange – Counter-Terrorism Trip – Day 2

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Day 2 was complete immersion into the security needs of Israel.  We had four experiences.  Though much of what was said cannot be written on a public blog, I can write in a general way about what was said.

  1. Suicide Bombers – We started the day at 8:30 a.m. with a briefing on suicide bombers.  A few important points:
    1. The phenomenon of the suicide bomber came about as a tool in the mid’90’s and until 2006 was being used very effectively.  Although it was less than ½ of 1 percent of the attacks on this country, it resulted in 50% of the casualties.  We heard multiple times today that the security fence, coupled with greater intelligence and police work, as well as the efforts of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, is what has basically eliminated that.
    2. Suicide is forbidden by Muslim law.  This is not considered suicide, though; it is considered martyrdom – the act of giving your life for G-d.  People fervently believe that being a suicide bomber will send you straight to the highest level of heaven where 70 virgins await you.  It also applies to your family.  Those Muslims who subscribe to this see this life as meaningless and short – a prelude to the eternal life to come, which will be infinitely better, the more you follow Allah’s laws.  Very hard for Westerners to understand this.
    3. Their interviews basically showed that suicide bombers are those that are not fitting in to Palestinian society and see this as a one-shot way of achieving acceptance and honor.  The culture supports this by rewarding the bomber with gifts to his family and posthumous praise in the form of songs, images on TV, posters, etc.  The day after the bombing is a day of celebration in the family home – akin to a wedding.
  2. Airport Security Briefing – We spent three hours at Ben Gurion Airport receiving a very detailed briefing on their security procedures and taking a behind the scenes security tour.  Ben Gurion is a mid-size airport with 12.5 million passengers a year going through and entering/leaving on 150 airlines.  It’s not as big as LAX or JFK but still quite big.  They act according to the three principles:
    1. Common sense security which depends on exceedingly intelligent and alert passenger security personnel who use profiling.
    2. A preventive and proactive approach at the same time that assumes a threat can happen at any time.
    3. They protect both the front and back door to the airport.

I was specifically asked not to share the details of the security.  What I can say is that the participants were literally blown away by not only the incredibly high level of security, but also the thoughtfulness that goes into making these decisions and the very high level of efficiency achieved.   They said that compared to the States, security here is on a whole different level.  One said he was embarrassed to go back to his home airport.

The new Ben Gurion Airport, built in 2004, has not only been recognized for its high level of security, but also for its service and design.  It is rated as one of the highest level airports in the world.

  1. Meeting with Major General Giora Eiland at the Institute for National Security Studies – This was a briefing on Israel’s strategic environment, which looked at the countries in the Middle East and how they affects Israel.  They expressed concern about the directions that the post-Arab Spring countries will take.  It also focused on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  The group was extremely impressed with this high quality and frank briefing.
  2. Meeting with General Nitzan Nuriel – This briefing focused on the new threats that are on the horizon, some of which are caused by the incredible proliferation of information on the Internet from Google Earth and other sources.

What was fascinating to me was that each presentation ended in a similar way.  I call it the “Yihyeh Tov” ending – after the David Broza song that goes through the hard things Israel is experiencing but says don’t worry… “all will be good.”  Each of them ended by saying how beautiful life is in Israel and what an amazing country has been built, despite all of the difficult things that were just said.  The group is indeed impressed with Israel thus far, but I think that the yihyeh tov mentality takes getting used to.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, there is action now between Gaza and Ashdod.  Our first speaker remarked about the annoying road closures that he experienced on his way to Tel Aviv as a result.  In the eyes of one of the participants, the fact that the rockets did not faze the speaker but the traffic did, was fascinating.

Below are some pictures from today:

Written by Scott Richman, AJC Westchester Director

October 30, 2011 at 4:23 pm

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Project Interchange – Counter Terrorism Trip 001

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Project Interchange - Counter Terrorism Trip 001

Project Interchange – Counter-Terrorism Trip – Group Photo at Ben Gurion Airport

Written by Scott Richman, AJC Westchester Director

October 29, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Project Interchange – Counter-Terrorism Trip – Day 1

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“Anybody going to Israel?”  That was the way that an NYPD detective charged with handling high profile, security sensitive projects for New York counter-terrorism officials, greeted the group as he confidently strode into the group room at Newark Airport.  The group was excited to be going – most of them for the first time.  It is a varied group of 14 people plus me.  Three NYPD, three LAPD, two from Seattle, one from Houston, two from Austin, two from Virginia and the Deputy Mayor of Washington, D.C. in charge of public safety.  Asian-American, African-American, Hispanic-American are represented in the group.  They are a polite group who are grateful for the opportunity.

The highlight of the flight over was an announcement from the pilot about the final score of the World Series – 6-2, Cardinals.

Our arrival was no secret.  As we exited the plane, a woman was holding a big sign that read “American Counter-Terrorism Officials.”  Each person exiting the plane now knows that they flew with an auspicious group, as we were in the back of the plane.  We were personally escorted through every step of the arrival process until we were out in the terminal and turned over to our Guide Gadi, an affable retired policeman.  He seems to know everything about the Country and can offer detailed insights related to security that other guides cannot.

While I have staffed many missions from Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East to Havana, and have been to Israel dozens of times, I have never led a group here.  Despite my knowledge and love of this place, I feel I am seeing the country anew as I see it through their eyes.  For example, I have to say that the new Airport coupled with the drive to Tel Aviv make a very strong and positive first impression.  The airport is gorgeous, gleaming, modern and comfortable.  The superhighways leading from the Airport to Tel Aviv are smooth, clean and dripping with flowering trees and bushes.  The Carlton Hotel is on the tayelet (boardwalk) on the beach, and many rooms have a view of the beach and the skyline.  We were greeted with glasses of peach iced tea and fresh fruit, while keys were handed out.  First impressions are important, and the first hour made a very positive first impression on this group that likely had a war-torn image of Israel.

Interestingly enough, despite getting the o.k. to jog on the beach from the Director during our orientation briefing call last week and despite Gadi’s remarks about the fact that Israel is a much safer country than the U.S., especially in terms of violent crimes, such as gang-related issues, I still was asked whether or not it was safe to run in the area of the hotel.  When questioned the run, this detective told me that he ran for two miles in either direction along the beach and that it was wonderful.  There is now a dedicated bike/running path along the beach.

Tonight’s activity was a welcome briefing from the Project Interchange Coordinator in Israel – the charming Keren Naveh, followed by a briefing by Herb Keinon, Editor of the Jerusalem Post, an oleh (immigrant) from Denver.  Project Interchange brings to life the concept that when it comes to understanding Israel, there is no substitute for first-hand experience, and it is PI’s job to deliver that to today’s most influential (or up and coming) leaders.  Since 1982, they have brought 5,500 military, civic, religious, media, business, high-tech, and university leaders from some 65 countries to Israel.  The programs are all week-long institutes and offer the participants broad exposure to the complex issues facing this country.  It also offers Israelis a chance to form bonds with leaders from around the world.  Some aspects of programs are similar, and some are tailored very specifically to the group going, such as tomorrow morning’s briefing on suicide bombers.  Something tells me not every group gets treated to that – at least not at 8:30 a.m.!

In exchange, all that PI asks of the group is that they are open minded to what they are hearing this week, which might not be the impression that they had of Israel, and that they will do their best to pass along what they learn.

Among other things, the group learned tonight how tied Israelis are to the news, and the three tones that they hear on the radio that means the news is coming.  It affects them so directly.  As the group heard, today’s news has the story of grad rockets falling on Gan Yavneh, near Ashdod, as we speak.  Gan Yavneh is no more than a 30-minute drive from where we were eating dinner.  These rockets are being fired by Islamic Jihad.  It seems that Islamic Jihad shot rockets on Thursday, and Israel retaliated by killing one of the Islamic Jihad leaders, so now they are retaliating.

Some things that seemed to intrigue the group during the dinner briefing:

  1. Living in Israel for many Jews is enough to say that they are living Jewishly.  This went along with a discussion about whether or not Judaism is a religion, culture, ethnicity, or nationality.
  2. How could Israel trade 1,000 convicted criminals for 1 Israeli?  The premium placed on bringing our soldiers back to their parents if at all possible was stressed several times.  As an example of the type of questions that the counter-terrorism officials can ask, they wanted to know if Israel feels confident that they extracted all of the intelligence that they could out of these prisoners before releasing them. Herb made it clear that that was very likely.  Nevertheless, he felt that this was definitely the most difficult decision Netanyahu had to make.  While acknowledging the concern that these criminals will go back to fighting Israel and will be inclined to capture more Israelis, he then he quoted a stat that I had not heard before.  Since Gilad was kidnapped, there were 15 other attempted kidnappings, and all failed.  Hamas will continue to do this, no matter what.  The answer is not forsaking Gilad; the answer is security.
  3. The degree to which guns are plentiful, because everyone is in the army vs. the very low level of crime associated with those guns.  Despite the many guns, they are limited to certain classes – military, West Bank dwellers, those who carry diamonds and a few others.
  4. The notion that 9% of the population is ultra-orthodox, and their males neither work nor serve in the army.  The reasons for this and how this manifests itself was discussed at length, given their clear fascination.  The New Yorkers tried to relate to this with their impression of Chasidim in New York, though, as they learned, it is different.
  5. In the face of all of the pressures, they wanted to know if people leave in droves.  The response was no, and it led to a positive ending to the evening, as Herb dwelled on the resilience of Israelis and their patience with inconveniences to their daily life in the name of security.  The DC Deputy Mayor acknowledged that if those inconveniences happened in DC, it would result in angry calls to his office.

Written by Scott Richman, AJC Westchester Director

October 29, 2011 at 5:23 pm

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Project Interchange Counter-Terrorism Trip

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I leave soon for Israel to accompany a group of counter-terrorism experts from the United States on their first trip to Israel.  They will meet with counter-terrorism experts there in order to learn from them and experience an Israel beyond the headlines.

This is one of 27 trips that Project Interchange, an institute of AJC, will be running this year, including a university presidents trip, African-American leaders trip, Mayors trip and Caribbean foreign ministers trip.  Check out their website – www.projectintercange.org.

This is my first time leading such a group, though I did staff missions to the former Soviet Union and Cuba when I worked for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee from 1996 t0 2006.

My goal is to add a blog entry every day, though the itinerary is rigorous, so I am not sure I will be able to keep that pace.  I believe that you can hit follow and you will be notified when there is a new blog entry.  You may wish to do so.  Also, please leave a comment.  I love feedback!

Looking forward to meeting the group and starting the adventure!

Written by Scott Richman, AJC Westchester Director

October 28, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized