After the recent attacks on Israeli embassies in India and Georgia, Jewish institutions in the U.S. are asking a question that is much closer to home: Does Iran pose a local terror threat?
“Homeland security really starts as security in the neighborhood,” Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Jewish Federations of North America-affiliated Secure Community Network (SCN), told JointMedia News Service.
SCN, which partners with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and 56 major Jewish organizations, is asking Jewish organizations “to remain vigilant, to ensure that they have tested their [emergency management and response] plans,” and if they do not have plans, to develop them, Goldenberg said.
“It’s a matter of record that Jewish institutions in the Diaspora have been attacked by both proxies of Iran as well as other extremist and terrorist organizations,” he said.
While there is “no specific or imminent threat against the American-Jewish community” at this juncture, according to Goldenberg, he said does not mean “some lone wolf, some cell out there, is still plotting and planning, and law enforcement doesn’t know about it.”
Though he said an attack by Iran isn’t necessarily “likely,” the October 2011 assassination attempt on the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington suggests Iran is “not beyond setting its sights on targets within the U.S. homeland,” said Ilan Berman, vice president of the Washington-based American Foreign Policy Council.
“You’ve seen Iran strike Jewish targets in the Western hemisphere before” said Berman, citing bombings in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994. More recently, he said there has been “a significant shift in Iranian strategy in terms of its willingness to target the U.S. homeland.”
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that Jewish targets are the most likely targets, but they certainly should be part of the calculation as you think about an increasingly emboldened Iran that’s willing to strike out against targets in the U.S.”
In New York City, the New York Police Department continues to enhance both visible and hidden defense measures throughout the city’s diverse communities.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has affirmed his full support of the efforts of the NYPD to find and apprehend terrorists wherever they may be, in or out of “city limits,” using any surveillance measures necessary.
Close to 1,000 officers have been assigned to counterterrorism duties, working in the city and other locations. Police surveillance has taken place in mosques and at student activities. The NYPD has faced criticism of its operations, especially from the Muslim community, but Bloomberg has ardently defended the department, describing them its actions as “legal,” “appropriate” and “constitutional.”
NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne said, “The NYPD adjusts its counterterrorism posture to include information about events overseas.”
The public may have noticed increased NYPD presence recently at Israeli government facilities and synagogues, he said, although there has been no specific threat in New York. The deputy commissioner praised citizen awareness, saying: “The public has been attentive as well, reporting suspicious packages.”
Although some police activities have been disparaged – with critics including the American Civil Liberties Union, scholars at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school, and Columbia University president Lee Bollinger – Bloomberg said the NYPD would continue to do “everything that the law permits us to do” to detect terrorists operating in the U.S. before they have a chance to act.
“We cannot slack in our vigilance,” the mayor said, adding that “the threat is real” and that it “is not going away.”
Jerome Hauer, New York State Commissioner for Homeland Security, discussed institutional security with 60 Jewish community leaders during a recent meeting at the headquarters of the Orthodox Union. Hauer’s “willingness to meet with the Jewish community signals his dedication to improving our community’s safety and security,” said Michael Cohen, the OU’s New York State Director of Political Affairs.
New York’s Division of Homeland Security provides information and funding to help identify safety concerns and enable “soft” targets (including schools and synagogues) to harden their perimeters and guard against potential threats, Cohen explained. The SCN’s Goldenberg said Jewish institutions should be training their staff and volunteers in security awareness, while being be very cognizant of suspicious activities and reporting them to local police. To that end, the SCN website (www.scnus.org) has an “Enter” section on its homepage providing free 24/7 online security training.
SCN’s online training is the “only one of its kind in the country,” Goldenberg said, and includes information on how to respond to an active shooter, security awareness, how to handle a suspicious package, and how to answer a bomb call.
The Jewish community “should not be panicked,” he said, but instead needs to “remain open for business.”
“We’re not stores,” Goldenberg said. “We’re places where people come to pray, people come to socialize, people come for social services from our community.”
“As long as the situation in the Mideast remains the way it does at this point,” he added, “we are asking our communities to remain very vigilant in how they are conducting business.”