TEL AVIV, July 29 (JTA) — Israel will play a key role in security preparations for the upcoming Athens Games, training Greek police in crowd-safety contingencies and the protection of VIPs in case of a terror attack. As part of a seven-nation security task force, Israel — along with the United States, Australia, Britain, France, Germany and Spain — is leading the mammoth effort to secure the first Olympics since the Sept. 11 attacks. Although Israeli officials are tight-lipped about exactly how the Jewish state will be helping out behind the scenes, reports have indicated that Israel will dispatch naval vessels to patrol the extensive Greek coastline while Israeli military and intelligence officials will be coordinating with their Greek counterparts, the U.S. Army and NATO throughout the 16-day event, which begins Aug. 13. Security operations are expected to cost an estimated $1.2 billion, nearly four times what Australia spent on the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney. Despite assurances from Greece that the security situation is under control, questions loom as to whether or not Greek security services will be able to keep 10,500 athletes, along with some 2 million spectators, safe should a terror network such as Al-Qaida try to attack the world’s largest sporting event. Construction for the event has been sluggish, and some security experts have expressed concern that there will be insufficient time to thoroughly test security systems — but Israeli police officials who have been helping train their counterparts, say the Greeks are ready. “I think they are very prepared and will be able to handle the Olympics,” Izhak Tzur, the head of the Israeli police’s training division, told JTA. He and the head of Israel’s border police will be in Athens during the Olympics in an advisory capacity. Cooperation between Israeli and Greek police has been intensive, Tzur said. Police chief Shlomo Aharonishky went to Greece in November to meet with top Greek security officials, and Greek police officers have traveled to Israel for training. “We trained them how to access a situation, on everything connected to a major terror attack,” he said. “We have shared our knowledge.” More than 70,000 police officers and soldiers will be helping provide security for the Games. NATO is lending a hand in the security push, with plans to dispatch air and sea patrols, a stand-by special forces unit and a unit that deals with nuclear, biological or chemical threats. In an interview with the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Greece’s public order minister, Giorgos Floridis, said Israel had helped his government develop feasibility studies on security and develop plans for handling suicide bombers as well as providing assistance on how to gather intelligence on potential threats and terror organizations. Israeli security companies like the Haifa-based Elbit, which specializes in defense electronics, are reportedly among private firms pitching in to the security effort. Elbit officials, however, declined to comment on any involvement in Athens. The Israeli Olympic Committee would not give details on security arrangements for the Israeli athletes, but said they would be cooperating fully with the local authorities. Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security service will maintain a presence in Athens, protecting the Israeli delegation as it has at every Olympics since the 1972 Summer Games in Munich when 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian terrorists.
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Dina Kraft is a contributing writer to JTA.
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