Israel prepares for Obama with no-fly zones and snipers at junctions

Security arrangements for presidential visit will be draconian, but police chief aiming for minimum impact on the lives of Jerusalem residents

President Shimon Peres meets with then-US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama at the President's Residence in Jerusalem July 23, 2008 (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi /Flash90)
President Shimon Peres meets with then-US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama at the President's Residence in Jerusalem July 23, 2008 (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi /Flash90)

Beginning with a welcoming ceremony on the tarmac of Ben Gurion Airport March 20, and ending 48 hours later when Air Force One lifts off, US President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Israel will be handled like a military operation, with no room for errors.

On Sunday, Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino oversaw a meeting of the entire police senior brass, during which he heard from them on ongoing preparations and explained to them the importance of everything going smoothly.

“It is an operation on a national scale,” said Danino, conceding that security arrangements would have an impact on the lives of Jerusalem residents, “but we must do everything possible to reduce the impact by proper planning.”

On Wednesday, when traffic control officers wait for Air Force One to approach, Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport will be as secure as a fortress, prepared for the launch of operation “Unbreakable Alliance.” Police helicopters will hover over the area and hundreds of cops will be stationed around the airport, providing 360-degree protection. Israel’s airspace will be a no-fly zone for an hour while the jet carrying the president makes its approach.

On the tarmac, the president will be welcomed by the nation’s most senior dignitaries, including the president, the prime minister, Cabinet ministers, the IDF chief of staff, the police commissioner, the chief rabbis and the president of the Supreme Court.

Following the ceremony, Obama and his delegation will board 12 Blackhawk helicopters that will fly them to Jerusalem. The Israeli officials will reportedly follow them by car.

When he does travel by land, the US president’s convoy will comprise dozens of vehicles, including armored limousines, traffic police motorcycles, a SWAT team vehicle, several ambulances, and police cars. Every interchange will be blocked and secured by snipers.

The president’s hotel is reportedly already in the process of being transformed into a sterile fortress.

“This is a huge security operation, in which thousands of police officers, Shin Bet agents and US secret service agents will be participating. Success, as far as we’re concerned, means zero mistakes,” a senior police official told Maariv.

On Wednesday, Obama is scheduled to visit an Iron Dome battery, hold a formal reception with President Shimon Peres, and conduct a joint press conference, followed by dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Thursday the president will visit the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, perusing the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit and a new technological display. He will also travel to Ramallah, where he will meet the Palestinian leadership, before returning to Jerusalem to deliver a public address and have dinner with Peres.

On Friday, the final day of his visit, Obama will lay wreaths on the tombs of Theodore Herzl and former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at the Mount Herzl cemetery, and visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, before making his way back to the airport.

In a preparatory meeting on Sunday attended by representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office, the President’s Residence, the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the Israel Police, the Jerusalem Municipality, Ben Gurion International Airport and other agencies, National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror said it was essential that the visit go smoothly from start to finish.

“It is important for us that the prime minister and the president have fruitful and productive talks — this is the basis for the continuation of work over the next four years,” said Amidror, adding that “it is important to us that the president and all those who watch the visit see the beautiful Land of Israel as much as possible given the short schedule.

“Cooperation between all elements — among all the Israelis, and between us and the Americans — is also vital for the success of the visit,” said Amidror.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister’s Office launched a mobile application to follow the president’s visit in real time.

The app, which is available for free through Israel’s Apple store, will assist journalists covering the visit and allow Israelis to receive real-time updates, including video streaming. It will be available shortly for Android as well.

JTA contributed to this report

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