By YAAKOV LAPPIN
In recent weeks, the Israel Police's headquarter in Jerusalem has been flooded with visitors from afar. Police delegations and chiefs of police from the Czech Republic, Croatia, Serbia and Germany have descended on the building to meet with their Israeli counterparts.
And the traffic of foreign visitors isn't one way. Each year, many Israeli police delegations travel abroad to talk about their work and foster contacts in police forces around the world.
It's up to Lt.-Col Diane Eldad-Sheetrit, head of the Israel Police's International Relations Unit, to coordinate the numerous interactions between Israeli police officers and law enforcement officials from around the world.
The existence of the unit headed by Eldad-Sheetrit may not be well-known, but the work it does plays a vital role in helping Israeli officers share their specialized knowledge of dealing with terrorism. The unit also fosters international cooperation to tackle transnational organized crime rings.
"The world is a global village. Every visit helps make personal connections, and can make future international policing operations easier," Eldad-Sheetrit said earlier this month.
"The number of connections is huge. And it is growing every year," she added.
On average, 250 delegations visit Israel a year, ranking from police chiefs to senior commanders to low-level investigators. One hundred and eighty-seven Israeli delegations headed overseas last year.
"The Israel Police is considered to be the best in the world in dealing with explosives. The police's explosive labs and mobile forensics labs, as well as its emergency planning and mass casualty incident responses, are very highly regarded," Eldad-Sheetrit explained. "So is our crime-fighting ability."
Eldad-Sheetrit says global interest in the Israeli police's ability to respond to terrorist threats peaked after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
"Police forces woke up to the threat. They wanted to receive information, and they wanted to learn it at the best school," she said.
BEYOND TERRORISM, the Israel Police has worked with several foreign forces - particularly in eastern Europe and the US - to dismantle smuggling rings that traffic drugs, organs, and even women.
But Eldad-Sheetrit faces a logistical problem. With a police budget that is shrinking every year, she needs to figure out how to fund the trips abroad which provide officers with crucial specialized crime-fighting skills. Luckily, many of the countries overseas that host Israeli police officers also fund the journeys.
"The lectures given by Israeli officers have been very successful. From South America, to Brazil, to Argentina and Europe," Eldad-Sheetrit said with pride.
"In Germany, three senior officers gave a lecture to the German federal police (the Bundespolizei) and Berlin police officers on counter-terrorism," she continued. To help bring the subject matter to life, the Israeli officers simulated an infiltration of a suicide bomber into the Israeli embassy building in Berlin.
Similarly, members of the Israel Police's national bomb squad travelled to Los Angeles for 10 days to talk to their LAPD counterparts on neutralizing explosive devices. And the LAPD officers recently visited the Israel Police's bomb squad school in Bet Shemesh, where they witnessed a drill involving a car bomb attack on an embassy.
On rare occasions, the stormy waters of Middle Eastern affairs have made themselves felt at international police conferences.
"Israel is a member of the Euro-Med partnership, which includes all EU states and nine Mediterranean states," said Eldad-Sheetrit. As part of an initiative known as the CEPOL EUROMED police project, police from European states, together with Israel, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, among others, meet every few months to improve cooperation.
Syria has never sent a police delegate to the conferences, but Lebanon has. "The Lebanese delegate didn't want to shake hands at one conference," Eldad-Sheetrit recounted, adding that "we [try to] leave politics aside."
International policing cooperation has also been active in the Far East. "Before the Beijing Olympics, the Israel Police was asked by China to assist in security and riot control," said Eldad-Sheetrit.
"They asked to learn about crowd dispersal and non-lethal crowd control," she recalled. "They wanted to copy Western [policing] models."
As part of the Sino-Israeli policing cooperation, Ins.-Gen. David Cohen was invited to the Chinese capital, and was given a tour.
But the cooperation between the two forces didn't end there. "Israeli crime organizations are beginning to appear in China, although Thailand is their main hub in the Far East," Eldad-Sheetrit said. "China is attractive to them in terms of intellectual property crimes."
Back in Israel, Eldad-Sheetrit works with permanent representatives of the FBI and NYPD all-year round.
"The NYPD attache attends the scenes of terror attacks to take notes on how they are dealt with. He is allowed free access around the scenes," she said.
Ultimately, Eldad-Sheetrit says it is the personal connections that prove to be the most important aspect of the Israel Police's foreign relations.
"Officers I met in police conferences were able to respond immediately to requests for cooperation afterwards," she said. "These contacts are vital for police specialization, and continued international cooperation."
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