New York: Herculean efforts

An elite NYPD unit is readying to protect Jewish sites in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran.

nypd 88 (photo credit: )
nypd 88
(photo credit: )
Last week, during a regular pre-Pessah security briefing with Jewish community leaders, the New York Police Department confirmed that it has counterterrorism plans ready to go in case Israel decides to bomb Iran. Any escalation in tension between the two countries would trigger the immediate deployment of the NYPD's elite Hercules commando units to Israel's consulate, as well as to synagogues and institutional headquarters throughout the city, Mitch Silber, a top intelligence analyst, told the crowd. Silber said that he believed it was his duty to "prepare for any retaliation that might happen with the region, but more specifically in the West, and more specifically New York City." IT'S STANDARD practice for the NYPD to send out regular patrol units to guard as many synagogues in the city as they can cover on Yom Kippur; the Hercules teams show up in random locations, looking tough rather than looking for patterns. They cause a commotion; the idea is to remind anyone who might be watching - like a sleeper cell member, or an Iranian spy - that someone is watching back. When a Hercules team shows up, everyone knows about it. Officers and bomb-sniffing dogs fan out in SUVs with blacked-out windows, often flanked by motorcycle patrol units, and pull up at apparently random sites - Israeli film festivals, banks, train stations - and pile out in a flood of Kevlar helmets and body armor, brandishing assault rifles rarely seen on American streets. "They're there to show presence," one security expert who was at the presentation told The Jerusalem Post. The point is to frighten off anyone who thinks he might be able to pull off a surprise attack of any kind without being spotted. But, the security expert said, the Hercules teams' effectiveness is limited by their inability to conduct their own surveillance - and by the fact that the department only has so many trained Hercules officers it can send out at any given time. "If something does happen, things would escalate around the world very quickly, and the time for synagogues to think about these things will be very short - and everyone will be pulling on the same resources," he told the Post. SINCE LAST fall's deadly rampage by Pakistani attackers against fancy Western tourist hotels and the Chabad house in Mumbai, India, the NYPD has been on an aggressive PR effort to highlight its readiness for urban warfare. Officers and detectives were sent to train with Ruger mini assault rifles; they did hostage-rescue drills and practiced room-clearing techniques. But with the Hercules teams, the idea isn't to prepare for proxy battles in New York, home to the largest concentration of Jews outside of Israel. It's to prevent pinpointed terrorist episodes like the 1992 bombing of Israel's embassy in Argentina and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center, both believed to be retaliation for Israeli attacks on Hizbullah. Last year, the NYPD sent intelligence operatives to Argentina to learn about those events; the result was that extra officers were sent to guard Jewish sites after Imad Mughniyeh, a senior Hizbullah commander, was killed in a car bombing in Damascus. THE STRATEGY isn't totally new; New Yorker reporter William Finnegan reported in a 2005 story about the NYPD's counterterrorism efforts that David Cohen, the deputy commander for intelligence, had sent out Hercules teams to guard Shi'ite mosques after a suicide bombing in Pakistan. Of course, Cohen and Silber have nothing to show for their efforts - no attacks, that is - which, to them, is a sign of success.