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Security at home

NJ institutions weigh Iranian threat

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Thai police and security personnel guard the entrance of a building where the Israeli embassy is located in central Bangkok, Thailand, on Feb. 18, 2012. Heavy security was provided for the embassy following a series of three bomb explosions by suspected Iranian bombers on Feb. 14, reportedly part of an operation to target Israel’s diplomats and interests in Thailand. EPA/RUNGROJ YONGRIT

Amid analysis of the Iranian nuclear threat and how the United States should respond on a national level, recent attacks on Israeli embassies in India and Georgia have Jewish institutions asking a question that is much closer to home: Does Iran pose a local terror threat?

“Homeland security really starts as security in the neighborhood,” Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Jewish Federations of North America-affiliated Secure Community Network (SCN), told JointMedia News Service.

SCN, which partners with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and 56 major Jewish organizations, is asking Jewish organizations “to remain vigilant, to ensure that they have tested their [emergency management and response] plans,” and if they do not have plans, to develop them, Goldenberg said.

“It’s a matter of record that Jewish institutions in the diaspora have been attacked by both proxies of Iran, as well as other extremist and terrorist organizations,” he said.

While there is “no specific or imminent threat against the American-Jewish community” at this juncture, Goldenberg said, that does not mean “some lone wolf, some cell out there, is still plotting and planning, and law enforcement doesn’t know about it.”

Although he said an attack by Iran is not necessarily “likely,” the October 2011 assassination attempt on the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington suggests Iran is “not beyond setting its sights on targets within the U.S. homeland,” said Ilan Berman, vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Foreign Policy Council.

Said Berman, “You’ve seen Iran strike Jewish targets in the Western hemisphere before,” citing bombings in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in both 1992 and 1994. More recently, he said, there has been “a significant shift in Iranian strategy in terms of its willingness to target the U.S. homeland.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that Jewish targets are the most likely targets, but they certainly should be part of the calculation as you think about an increasingly emboldened Iran that’s willing to strike out against targets in the U.S. homeland,” Berman said. “They’re certainly in the mix.”

Jewish institutions in New Jersey began to implement serious security upgrades after 9/11, and many were spurred to consider additional changes after a recent string of anti-Semitic events in Bergen County, said Jason Shames, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

The recent attacks linked to Iran, Shames said, are just more of the same. “Concern in the Jewish community about local anti-Semitism or a local threat and Iran are essentially one and the same; making yourself more secure against local anti-Semitism threats will also make you more secure against threats that Iran may try to perpetrate.” Shames said he does not think anyone “has enough security to combat” a potential Iranian attack. “But we are better prepared,” he said.

Shames already has a solid security system in place, including a full-time security guard, cameras, a “man trap” building entrance with three separate access doors, staff training, and security reviews with local law enforcement. After the recent bombings overseas, he increased the lighting in JFNNJ’s parking lot and asked staff not to leave the building alone after dark.

“If you look at terrorism in this country – the first and second bombings of the World Trade Center – you can find Iranian financing, so we have to take the Iran threat seriously, which we do,” he said.

Howard Rabner, chief operating officer of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, located in Whippany, noted that his security consultant did not suggest any need to upgrade his facility’s security level after the recent attacks on Israeli embassies overseas. After 9/11, the MetroWest UJC installed a security booth and card entry system, and has retired police officers at its relocated front desk. Both JFNNJ and MetroWest also have initiated an “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign to raise awareness of the need to report any kind of suspicious activity.

Although Rabner does not personally feel any danger, he is concerned about his employees and the children in his on-site nursery school. “A lot of this we’ve done for the security and well-being and confidence of the parents who were leaving their kids,” he said.

Amy Rubin, director of administration at The Jewish Center synagogue in Princeton, said its security has been receiving additional focus since the local anti-Semitic incidents. The recent attacks overseas did not provoke any additional policy changes, but, she added, “with these global occurrences as backdrop, local things become all the more scary.”

The Jewish Center has moved toward more-controlled access, and its president, David Greenberg, is investigating upgrades to building security, including an alarm system for the building, television monitors in various locations, and ensuring that lighting on the perimeter is sufficient to be a suitable deterrent to intruders. The synagogue already gets notices about potential threats from SCN, and Rubin has been in regular contact with local police.

“Clearly if there was an attack – if something escalated between Iran and Israel – I think we would have to think about security again,” Greenberg said.

The Jewish community “should not be panicked,” said SCN’s Goldenberg, but instead needs to “remain open for business.”

“We’re not stores,” the security specialist said. “We’re places where people come to pray, people come to socialize, people come for social services from our community.”

“As long as the situation in the Mideast remains the way it does at this point,” he added, “we are asking our communities to remain very vigilant in how they are conducting business.”

JointMedia News Service

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