Israel Seeks Pivotal Role in U.S. Security Initiative

With U.S. lawmakers now focused on the creation of a Department of Homeland Security, Israel is hoping to play a pivotal role.

Uzi Landau, Israel’s minister of public security, met congressional leaders late last month to discuss the possibilities of U.S.-Israeli cooperation within the emerging Department of Homeland Security.

Specifically, Landau is seeking a point person within the department to work with other countries, especially Israel.

“Israel has become a laboratory for suicide bombings and terrorism,” said a consultant to the minister, who sat in on the U.S. meetings. “We are learning how to deal with terrorism.”

Israeli officials say that Israel can provide cooperation on research and development of homeland defense strategies.

Israel can also share information on terrorist suspects, exchange information on how to combat individual threats, and engage in joint training with the United States on counterterrorism procedures.

Many of these initiatives are already proceeding informally.

The United States has looked to Israel frequently since the Sept. 11 attacks for counterterrorism advice, specifically on airline security.

But Landau wants the cooperation to be formalized within the emerging new department.

For Israel, involvement in this new endeavor is seen as a way of paying back the United States.

Israel receives nearly $3 billion each year from the United States in economic and military assistance, and Israeli officials believe they can return the favor by providing advice and aid in the one area where they are universally accepted as the world leader — homeland security.

“Here’s Israel, with this tremendous amount of experience and knowledge,” the consultant said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for Israel to provide something to the United States.”

Israeli officials said they were received positively on Capitol Hill.

The Department of Homeland Security was proposed by President Bush last month to bring together government agencies that deal with domestic terrorism, such as the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, Customs Service and some offices within the FBI and CIA.

The initial plans for the agency do not include any office to coordinate international support.

Currently, homeland security is coordinated through the White House and its Office of Homeland Security. Landau and other Israeli officials have met with Tom Ridge, who leads that effort and is considered a favorite to run the new department, once it is created.

Some have questioned whether it is premature for Israel to be seeking a role within the department before it is even created.

But Israeli officials counter that current threats of terrorism in the United States — such as the massive alert during Fourth of July celebrations — highlight the need for immediate cooperation, even if it is not formalized until later.

And Arab American leaders are said to be concerned about increased interdependence between Israel and the United States, and what effects it could have on U.S. policy in the Middle East.

“There will be some hesitancy because already Muslims are saying it is a usurpation of American values,” said Tom Neumann, executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

“But the best interests of the United States are served by dealing with Israel.”

A spokesman for the White House Office of Homeland Security was unavailable for comment.

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