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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


 

February 10, 2012  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Napolitano aims to quell fears over possible Iranian-backed terror attack

JTA news service


During a conference call, the Jewish community’s Security Community Network and the Department of Homeland Security tauted their joint PR program that urges Jews to keep an eye out for suspicious objects. During a conference call, the Jewish community’s Security Community Network and the Department of Homeland Security tauted their joint PR program that urges Jews to keep an eye out for suspicious objects. WASHINGTON – When America’s top intelligence official said last month that Iran’s regime is “probably” considering attacks on U.S. soil, anxiety, especially among Jews, grew. But late last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and top U.S. security officials reassured Jewish community leaders there is no imminent threat of an attack on Jewish targets in the United States.

Napolitano, top officials of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the White House held an hour-long conference call with about 200 listeners, arranged by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“The call said government and security agencies are closely monitoring intelligence information amid rising Mideast tensions, but confirmed that there are no immediate threats directed at a specific target in the U.S. at this time,” said a statement by the JFNA, which co-hosted the call with DHS and the Secure Community Network (SCN), a group that partners with JFNA to consult with Jewish communities on security.

Napolitano and other officials “stressed that there is currently no indication of any such threat, and urged the Jewish community to continue to engage in normal activity,” the JFNA release said.

A senior Homeland Security official said that Napolitano had been concerned by the level of worry in the Jewish community arising from a number of aborted attempts overseas to target Jewish institutions, as well as recent arson attacks on synagogues in northern New Jersey.

“What she was hoping to achieve was to reduce the level of anxiety,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Only 10 days before, anxiety rose when James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, issued a warning on Jan. 31 that Iran might respond to escalating international pressure over its nuclear program with terrorist attacks on overseas targets.

Although Clapper cited only one incident with his warning, intelligence and law enforcement experts say the warning was likely based on more than the evidence he cited.

“I would be surprised to learn a statement like that was not backed up by intelligence,” said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

In his written unclassified testimony submitted to the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, Clapper cited the alleged plot revealed in October to assassinate Saudi ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir at the Cafe Milano, a popular Georgetown hangout for the powerful and influential. The attack allegedly had the backing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“The 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States shows that some Iranian officials – probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime,” Clapper wrote.

Matthew Levitt, a former deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the U.S. Treasury under George W. Bush, said Clapper’s inclusion of Khamenei in his warning, even with the “probably” qualification, was no accident.

“People are careful to say what they mean, and nothing more,” he said of the intelligence community. “As soon as I read that, I said, ‘Uh-oh, that’s not just a statement to say the threat to the ambassador was real, [Khamenei] was in there to say it went to the top.”

Sources close to law enforcement say there is no specific threat of an attack, although the FBI and the DHS in recent weeks have intensified their monitoring of possible threats.

Citing an Israeli internal security document, ABC News reported Feb. 3 that Jewish and Israeli institutions in the Unites States are on high alert over concerns that they will be targeted by Iran or its proxy.

In a letter, the head of security for the Israeli consul general for the Mid-Atlantic states, according to ABC, wrote that the security threat has increased on “guarded sites” such as Israeli embassies and consulates, and “soft sites” such as synagogues, as well as Jewish schools, restaurants and Jewish community centers.

ABC reported that local and regional law enforcement and intelligence officials in U.S. and Canadian cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Toronto have increased security at Israeli and Jewish institutions, and that federal officials also have increased vigilance in looking for imminent attacks.

“In the past few weeks, there has been an escalation in threats against Israeli and Jewish targets around the world,” ABC quoted a U.S. regional intelligence document as saying. “Open source has reported many demonstrations against Israel are expected to be concentrated on Israeli embassies and consulates. Such demonstrations have occurred internationally as well as domestically. These demonstrations could potentially turn violent at local synagogues, restaurants, the Israeli Embassy and other Israeli sites.”

The document said that “Law enforcement should be vigilant when making periodic checks at all Jewish facilities.”

An Israeli intelligence report warned that forged Israeli passports might be used by potential terrorists to leave the Middle East and enter the United States and Canada.

A number of disrupted plots overseas in recent weeks have raised the concerns, said Paul Goldenberg, national director of the SCN, the organization working on strengthening security for Jewish institutions.

“The people that want to come after Israel overseas will look at Jewish targets in the host nations as well,” he said. “They will look not just at embassies, but at synagogues and JCCs as secondary targets.”

An example cited by Goldenberg of the conflation of Jewish and Israeli targets was the late January arrests in Azerbaijan of at least two citizens of that country in connection with an alleged plot to kill two rabbis and the Israeli ambassador in the capital city, Baku.

Three men reportedly were charged with weapons smuggling as part of a plot to kill two rabbis who worked for a Chabad Jewish school in Baku, as well as the Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan. Two of those charged are reported to be in custody; one is still at large.

Azerbaijan’s national security ministry accused Iranian intelligence agents of arming and equipping the three men, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported. Haaretz suggested the plot was intended as retaliation for the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau has issued a travel warning for Azerbaijan.

In addition to the Baku attacks, Bulgaria reportedly uncovered a plot against Israeli tourists. Prompted by an alert from Israeli intelligence authorities in Thailand on Jan. 13, a Lebanese man alleged to have plotted a bombing attack against Israelis and Jews was arrested.

Levitt, who is now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said there was a period in which Iran was reluctant to strike out against targets overseas.

Iran was implicated in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded hundreds. An Argentine prosecutor eventually accused five Iranians and the operational chief of Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, Imad Mughniyah, of involvement in the attack. Interpol issued warrants for their arrests in 2007.

Iran, which has always denied involvement in the AMIA attack, was stung by the diplomatic backlash in its wake, and it is widely believed to have ordered its proxies to confine operations to the Middle East.

The trigger that renewed the threat of attacks overseas was the assassination of Mughniyah by a car bomb in Syria in 2008. Hezbollah blames Israel’s Mossad for the assassination, Levitt said.

“We will pick the time, the place, the punishment, the means and the method,” Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said at the time.

Levitt said the intensification of Iran’s isolation as the result of sanctions targeting its suspected nuclear weapons program and the heightened U.S. military posture have likely contributed to the intelligence community’s sense that more attempts on overseas targets may be imminent.

“We’re at a point where Iran, when pushed into a corner and we’re finally doing things that have an impact on the nuclear program, the likelihood it lashes out increases,” he said.

Another factor that has spurred Iranian threats of retribution is the spate of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.

“From now on, in any place, if any nation or any group confronts the Zionist regime, we will endorse and we will help,” Khamenei said Feb. 3 in a sermon translated by the Associated Press. “We have no fear expressing this.”

Dubowitz said such statements merited heightened alert.

“The overall question of what other aggressive actions the Iranians are willing to take in response to our pressure means Jewish institutions in the United States need to take reasonable precautions,” he said.


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