LONDON (Jul. 27)
Hundreds of armed police were guarding Jewish and Israeli institutions in Britain this week in the wake of the car bomb attacks that shattered the Israeli Embassy on Tuesday and the offices of the Joint Israel Appeal early on Wednesday morning.
Scotland Yard’s unprecedented around-the-clock operation was ordered after the authorities had failed to heed a number of specific warnings from both Israeli and communal officials that an attack by Muslim fundamentalists was imminent.
The Foreign Office acknowledged publicly on Wednesday that it had received a security alert from Israeli diplomats as early as July 18, the day of the bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish community building that killed about 100 people.
The Foreign Office had passed on the warning “without delay” to the “proper authorities,” said a spokesman. Officials at the Joint Israel Appeal headquarters also passed a similar warning to police in a meeting just hours before the building was hit. The JIA is the British equivalent of the United Jewish Appeal.
The bomb outside the JTA building went off at 12:46 a.m. Wednesday, injuring five people, none seriously. The attack came less than 24 hours after a bomb exploded outside the Israeli Embassy in central London, destroying the consular offices attached to the embassy and injuring at least 13 people.
Police believe the two attacks were linked because of their timing, method and explosive power. The bombs, both of which were placed in cars outside the targeted buildings, were approximately the same size — 30 pounds.
The JIA building, which is in a northern suburb of London that is predominantly Jewish, is about eight miles away from the Israeli Embassy.
‘LACK OF WILLINGNESS TO RESPOND’
The British police reportedly responded to the Jewish officials’ warning by saying that they did not expect additional acts of terror against Israeli or Jewish targets after the attack on the Israeli Embassy earlier in that day.
Ya’akov Lehrer, head of the Jewish Agency delegation in London, which is housed in the JIA building, said Jewish Agency leaders left the meeting with British police Tuesday with the feeling there was a “lack of readiness or willingness to respond” on the part of the British officials.
In addition, the Board of Deputies of British Jews said that its repeated warnings of a potential attack had met with little response from the security services. The alleged security lapses threatened to develop into a full-scale diplomatic row on Wednesday as both JIA and embassy staff returned to their wrecked offices.
Israel’s military attache, Brig. Gen. Azriel Nevo said the attacks resulted from “true blunders” by the security authorities.
And Jewish communal officials as well as a number of members of Parliament accused the government of being “soft” on the threat posed by Muslim fundamentalists.
In Tel Aviv, Britain’s charge d’affaires, John White, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, where officials demanded greater vigilance by the British authorities.
However, as armed police stood guard on more than 100 potential Israeli and Jewish targets this week, both sides made efforts to calm the atmosphere.
Israeli Ambassador Moshe Raviv — who described the attacks as “despicable” — met Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, who pledged that Britain would do all in its power to catch the terrorists.
The Foreign Secretary also promised to provide help in repairing the damage at the embassy in Kensington.
“Mr. Hurd was very forthcoming and we were pleased with the way the meeting went,” said an Israeli official.
Board of Deputies President Eldred Tabachnik, United Synagogue President Seymour Saideman and the board’s defense committee chairman, Ronnie Stekel, met Wednesday with the minister of state, David Maclean, who pledged that the Home Office would do all in its power to protect the Jewish community both in London and the provinces.
Maclean is the No. 2 official in the Home Office, which oversees all domestic security affairs.
The massive policing operation, announced by Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir Paul Condon, would not be lifted without consultation, Maclean told the delegation.
However, Tabachnik expressed disappointment that the government remained unwilling to ban members of extremist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah from entering Britain.
“I told him that we believed we needed to send a powerful signal that they are not welcome here. We feel that one reason London has been chosen as a target is that the government has not taken tough enough a line on such groups,” said Tabachnik.
Britain’s Foreign Office said a caller claiming to belong to the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement took responsibility for the bomb outside the Israeli Embassy, but Hamas officials in the Middle East have reportedly denied involvement.
(JTA correspondent Cynthia Mann in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)