After 9/11, American law enforcement had to move quickly to get their expertise up to deal with terrorism.

Countering terrorism was nothing new to the Israelis, who have accumulated decades of experience trying to provide security for its citizens, who have suffered suicide bombings and armed attacks by the militant Palestinians and others. During the so-called Second Intifada, over 1,000 Israelis were killed by suicide bombings, but in the last half dozen years the violence has dropped dramatically, largely due to actions by Israel’s security forces.  

Israeli counter-terrorism is so effective that American law enforcement officials regularly visit to learn how to tighten homeland security. It’s an eye opener and an opportunity for networking that allows them to develop relationships.

“Coming here I knew that Israel had a lot of knowledge on how to combat terrorism,” Paul Fitzgerald, a superintendent of the Boston Police Department, told The Media Line. “They are pretty much experts from practice, from their history. The US has been facing it for the past 10 years. We have learned that sharing information and coming together on the law enforcement side is critical and when we work together we are stronger."

Groups, like Fitzgerald’s made up police chiefs and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents from the northeastern United States and sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, are learning first hand the tactics and strategies used to treat mass casualties, perform rescue operations, and establish command and control after terrorist attacks. A senior officer from the Italian National Police’s Counter Terrorism unit is also participating in the visit.

“One of the things that surprised me is that at the scene of an incident the Israeli national police are in control of the entire situation, whether it is fire or whatever, they command the whole scene,” Brian Burke, an inspector for the New York Police Department, told The Media Line. “It would be a little bit difficult in New York, with the various agencies, to do that. But it is definitely something that we have to strive for, that there be one unified command.”

American has seen smaller scale attacks in the past decade but nothing approaching the scale of 9/11. But these chiefs of police and sheriffs feel it is only a matter of time until terrorists strike again in a big way.

At a briefing with top Israel Police commanders from the Sharon District near Tel Aviv, they were told that in Israel virtually all casualties are evacuated to hospitals within 15 minutes of an attack. This is something that deeply impressed Bonnie Michelman, chief of police at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“It’s unbelievable that you can deploy resources within 15 minutes to evacuate people from a scene of terror. It’s unheard of, because of the distances, because of the problems … of getting people to the scene in the United States,” Michelman told The Media Line. “It’s quite fascinating here that it can be done so fast and so efficiently and so well.”

This group visited the trauma center at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, which has notched up a rich experience in dealing with mass casualties. They also met with first responders and learned about the psychological impact of terror attacks. 

The Israelis are more than willing to share their expertise. Supt. Micky Rosenfeld, Israeli Police National spokesman, arranged for the group to join a police shore patrol in the Mediterranean waters off Tel Aviv to show the measures taken to protect Israelis from sea-borne terror attacks.

Rosenfeld says there has been an increase in requests by police and counter-terrorism units abroad to learn from the Israelis.

“This is something that began after the terrible incident of 9/11 almost a decade ago, but since then we have moved on a long way and we work continuously throughout the year. We have delegations that come over not just to hear about our police units, but actually work join our police units, train with our police units and give them the information that we can help and support and make America a safe place,” Rosenfeld told The Media Line. .

Complacency is one of the enemies of counter-terrorism, and it seems the experts believe terrorism will be with us for a long time to come. Michelman says that the further America moves from 9/11, the more complacent the public becomes to counter terrorist measures.

“People in the United States are not as willing to be inconvenienced as they are here. Until the time people understand and can focus on this and have a better appreciation for the potential, I think we are going to be in trouble,” Michelman says. “I think [these missions] are critical, not only to learn the best from the best, but understanding how we can do things differently as well.”

Col. Robert Quinn, commander of the New Hampshire State Police, says just being in Israel has shown him there was a lot to learn.

“It’s really been an eye-opener. We attend various training in the states on terrorism and counter-terrorism issues but never have I ever learned as much as I have just by looking and observing as I have been in the country,” Quinn told The Media Line.

“The common theme that I’ve heard here is that you’ve got to ‘check your ego at the door.’” You’ve got to work together and share intelligence. One of the things that has amazed me is the ability of the Israelis to get in and clean up these crimes so quickly to allow the community to get on with their life,” Quinn says. 

These senior US law enforcement officers will now go back to their cities and states and try to apply what they’ve been able to learn from their Israeli counterparts. Inspector Burke, of the NYPD intelligence unit, dismisses the idea that the wave of terror has passed.

“It’ll never be over,” he says. “It is going to endure and we are going to have to continue. There is a saying that the more we move away from 9/11 the closer we move to 9/10, which means people will forget, whereas the Israeli people don’t forget because it’s a recurring thing.”

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