Peres Funeral Poses Unprecedented Security, Logistical Challenges

Major-General Alon Levavi in the situation room of the Israeli police headquarters in Yerushalayim, as security preparations are underway for the funeral of former president Shimon Peres.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Major-General Alon Levavi in the situation room of the Israeli police headquarters in Yerushalayim, as security preparations are underway for the funeral of former president Shimon Peres.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The state of Israel has had long practice in security matters and is no stranger to large contingents of foreign dignitaries. But security and logistics for the funeral of former president Shimon Peres pose a formidable challenge even for Israel.

The inpouring of heads of state and senior officials will likely surpass even the scale of the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin in 1995. The potential for a terrorist attack at such an occasion is always high, and though officials are avoiding the term, it is certainly on everybody’s mind.

Israel’s Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich on Wednesday described the operation as, “very complex and in many ways unprecedented compared to what the police have accomplished in the past. It’s a huge challenge as regards security, traffic, public order and different intelligence and technological interfaces.”

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld noted that “thousands of police officers will be present, including undercover officers and border police.”

Lior Akerman, former deputy head of the Shin Bet, explained to Ynet on Wednesday that, “the Shin Bet is primarily responsible for personal protection such as the Prime Minister, President, and Israeli Government Ministers. It is also responsible for the protection other heads of states, in cooperation with foreign security services and their embassies. It is aware of all security arrangements, down to the exact number of body guards, and who is carrying a weapon.”

An elaborately planned and publicized schedule of arrivals and ceremonies, from Ben Gurion Airport to the Knesset, Mount Herzl Cemetery and the hotels of the capital and back again is necessary to avoid chaos, but it also creates opportunities for evil.

“Whoever wants to plan an attack has two full days to prepare and they know exactly when and where people will be arriving. It is a security nightmare,” admits Akerman.

“Terrorist organizations have an opportunity to catch a lot of officials at the same place and at the same time. The risk is clear and understandable, so the challenge here is to hermetically seal travel routes, the entrances and exits (to the events), and to establish a secure perimeter so that no one can get close. The Shin Bet knows how to do it.”

Purely in terms of logistics, it’s awesome. Especially if there are last-minute changes in the guest list.

U.S. President barack Obama will attend the funeral. Other dignitaries expected to attend include French President Francois Hollande, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German President Joachim Gauck, Charles, the Prince of Wales, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Togo President Faure Gnassingbé, European Union President Donald Tusk, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Canadian Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, former British Prime Minister David Cameron, Australian Governor General Peter Cosgrove, representatives of the Jordanian government and representatives of the Egyptian government, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

An early report said that Hillary Clinton would be at the funeral, but her campaign later said the report was erroneous; with just weeks until the presidential election, she will not be able to attend. However, former president Bill Clinton will be there.

Queen Elizabeth, who in November 2008, conferred an honorary knighthood on Peres, was a possible attendee. But at age 90 herself, she has decided to cut down on her travels abroad.

Some 50 private jets carrying the world leaders are scheduled to land at Ben Gurion airport throughout the day on Thursday. (Although if that’s the final figure, it will not beat Peres’s own standing record of more than 60 aircraft of foreign dignitaries who flew in for his 90th birthday.)

This would be an enormous task to handle on any ordinary travel day, but less than a week before Rosh Hashanah, when arrivals and departures reach an annual peak, the Israel Airport Authority will have its hands full, to say the least.

The IAA set up a special command Wednesday morning that would allow the air traffic operations division, the control tower, and ground operators to boost arrival and departure capacity at Ben-Gurion Airport to an estimated 34 arrivals and departures per hour. Passenger influx to Ben-Gurion is projected for approximately 95,000 people Thursday.

Hotel accomodations depend in no small part on the U.S. delegation, the largest and most important.

At first, it was understood that Obama was coming, but there was uncertainty as to whether he would stay in Israel overnight. Had he done so, fewer rooms would have been available for other guests at the King David Hotel, due to the size of the presidential entourage. However, it was decided that he will be returning to the U.S. shortly after the funeral (assuming he comes).

The King David was swamped by requests from embassies to finalize arrangements for their presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers. But the answers to their requests had to wait for the Americans to make a decision.

All the other U.S. officials will stay at the David Citadel Hotel, while all heads of state and government or their deputies will stay at the King David Hotel.

Foreign ministers and other dignitaries will be provided with suites and guest rooms at the Waldorf Astoria, Mamilla and Inbal hotels.

The concern arose that there would not be sufficient rooms in Yerushalayim’s best hotels, and that some of the visitors would be sent to Tel Aviv, but room was made for them all by relocating regular guests at the abovementioned four most prestigious hotels in the city.

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