Is the Knesset the world’s best-protected building?

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Click photo to download. Caption: The Knesset. Credit: James Emery.

Each month, Israel’s Knesset building attracts about 18,000 visitors. These include Jews, Arabs and tourists from abroad. At the very same time, wandering through the building’s halls are the prime minister, ministers, MKs and senior officials from Israel’s most sensitive institutions, including the Israel Defense Forces, the National Security Agency, the Mossad and the police. This human mix creates the need for the most stringent security measures, including hundreds of security cameras, barriers and special security teams.

The Knesset Guard is charged with overseeing these security needs. The number of employees in the Knesset Guard has increased from 100 in 1998 to about 200 today. Employees include Druze and Bedouin officers, as well as approximately 20 women. The Knesset Guard has a total budget of NIS 56 million per year.

In addition to the rigorous security checks that thousands of invited visitors undergo near the Knesset’s Palombo Gate, there are two elite security units within the Knesset Guard that are in charge of special operations. These are the Intervention Unit and the Oz Force.

The Intervention Unit contains 35 security personnel who underwent rigorous training on their own and with instructors from the National Security Agency, explains Yosef Griff, 55, commander of the Knesset Guard. It was established, he says, in order “to respond to any incident within the Knesset building.” Behind this dry wording is a massive effort in terms of resources and manpower dedicated to preventing any assaults on the many VIPs who visit the Knesset daily. Members of the Intervention Unit walk the Knesset halls in plainclothes, carrying concealed weapons. They are tasked with maintaining public order and safety within the Knesset.

Protecting MKs under threat

At the same time, the Knesset employs a second special forces unit, the Oz Force. The Oz Force was established in 2004 and consists of 12 people. Its job is to provide security for Knesset members under threat. “The police decide when a particular MK needs a security detail,” said Griff. Among the MKs who have been given such bodyguards are former defense ministers MKs Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) and Amir Peretz (Labor), as well as former National Security Agency chief MK Avi Dichter (Kadima).

In addition, bodyguards are provided to MKs per police request on the basis of concrete threats. In the past, tight security was provided to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (mainly during his trips abroad), to MK Talab El-Sana (Ra’am-Ta’al), and to MK Hanin Zoabi (National Democratic Assembly), who received many death threats following the Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla incident, which she took part in on the non-Israeli side.

Beyond all of this manpower, about 400 cameras are scattered throughout the Knesset building documenting every step taken inside the building and conveying all that information to the Knesset Guard operations center. On the Knesset perimeter, along its high fences, another 40 state-of-the-art cameras deliver real-time information to the operations center regarding every passer-by who approaches the fence.

Just several weeks ago the operations center went on high alert when an armed soldier was seen walking with his girlfriend near the fence. An order was even given to delay the prime minister’s exit from the building, and a patrol was sent to investigate the soldier. It turned out he was an innocent pedestrian.

The Knesset Guard’s beating heart

The operations center is the Knesset Guard’s beating heart. It operates 24 hours a day and uses advanced technology that casts a wide security net and monitors everything happening in the Knesset and its vicinity.

Additionally, the operations center is staffed by specially trained operators stationed in front of six large plasma screens, each of which shows a different area of the Knesset.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Israel Hayom and is distributed with the permission of that newspaper.

Posted on May 7, 2012 and filed under Features, Israel.