(photo credit: Jonathan Bloom)
Asst.-Cmdr. Bruno Stein's two-and-a-half-year stint as Eilat's police chief came to an inauspicious end Monday, when Eilat's first suicide bombing ripped through the resort's off-season silence. But the veteran investigator and soon-to-be central Jerusalem police chief hopes "that people will remember my time here for the accomplishments that we achieved and not for the tragic circumstances under which it ended."
It was not the first suicide bombing for Stein, who previously served as Ramle and Netanya station chiefs following over a decade in various roles in Tel Aviv's Yarkon Subdistrict. He finds it difficult to recall them all, but the first one that he lists was the bombing at the Dolphinarium night club in Tel Aviv.
The soon-to-be Zion subdistrict chief says that he prefers to reflect upon the positive work that he accomplished in Eilat. Under his command, Eilat served as the pilot city for the nationwide project "City Without Violence" - a police-run program that seeks to work together with the community to prevent violence - particularly among youth.
"Every place has its own characteristics," said Stein, and Eilat's are somewhat exceptional because it is Israel's premier resort community. "There is a feeling that here, everything is allowed and we need to deal with that problem."
In the summer, as many as 150 busses roll into the town per hour packed with youth ready to party. Occasionally, the transients take their law-breaking habits with them into the remote city, presenting an intelligence challenge for local police.
"Sometimes somebody comes for a few days, breaks in to three, four buildings, and after you chase your tail to figure out who he is, he's already gone," Stein explained. "But you learn, you learn where to look. And you develop skills that make it easier."
The Monday bombing was not the first time that terror struck Eilat, seemingly out of the blue. Stein recalls that in August 2005, he was driving back home for the weekend from the disengagement from Gaza when reports came over the police radio that a civilian complained "that something hit his car in the trunk." Police arrived at the scene of the incident. "We began to dig and found a rocket lying there, unexploded," Stein recalled. Al-Qaida operatives had been shooting rockets at US Navy ships in the Gulf of Aqaba, he explained, and one had misfired, landing instead in Eilat.
But Stein said that Eilat police do not rely on their reputation as a quiet town, terror-wise. "We relate to Eilat as a place where there could be attacks, like anywhere else in Israel." Only last month, Eilat police held a joint exercise in which the scenario was a terror attack in the city.
Police, he said, responded to the incident Monday exactly as they had practiced a month earlier. "The forces acted with a lot of motivation and desire to succeed, giving the proper operational response. Police and volunteers worked many hours yesterday."
Stein reassured Eilat residents and visitors alike that the police would do everything in their power to ensure that Monday's attack remains Eilat's only suicide bombing. Following the blast, local police worked non-stop, increasing visible and undercover presence on the streets, setting up random checkpoints for vehicles and pedestrians alike, and operating a call center to reassure concerned citizens who telephoned the police.
It is the very fact that the public calls the Eilat police for reassurance that highlights what Stein believes was the greatest achievement of his tenure. "I returned the feeling of public faith in the police here. It wasn't in the best place and now the responses that I get from people in the streets warms the heart and makes the departure harder."
In another two weeks, Stein will be officially replaced by Dep.-Cmdr. Yehudah Dahan, 43, a 16-year veteran of the police force. Stein - who was selected months before the bombing - has a strong background in anti-terror activity, as the former commander of the elite Gidonim unit. Most recently, however, the former IDF assistant battalion commander was the commander of the investigative and operational desk at the International and Serious Crimes Unit.