Israel has more to fear from lone actors than Iran at the Olympics
The Sunday Times' report 'Israel Fears Iran Attack at Games' is not based on any new information, and the connection between Iranian terror and London 2012 is tenuous at best.
Sunday's headline on the Sunday Times, "Israel Fears Iran Attack at Games," is not based on any new, exclusive information from Israeli sources indicating that Iran plans to attack Israel's athletes at the Olympic Games, which starts in five days.
The main elements of the report are that Israel's foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, is currently hunting for European-born converts to Islam and Iranian agents who are suspected of being involved in terror attacks on Israeli targets, including last week's bombing of the tour bus in Bulgaria's Black Sea, and the fact that the security around the Israeli delegation at the London Games is especially tight, including a large team of agents from Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service.
Nothing new or surprising there. European and American converts to Islam have long been on the threat-assessment lists of Israeli and Western intelligence agencies, while, ever since the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, Israel and the host-nations have guarded sportsmen and women of the Jewish State as the crown jewels of the Games. Added to that is the fact that Israel's leaders have accused Iran of being behind the Bulgarian terror attack and there have been multiple reports of further Iranian plans to hit Israelis around the globe. Yet still, the connection between Iranian terror and the Olympic Games is tenuous at best.
Put yourself in the shoes of an operations planner of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards. You have been tasked by your masters to lay the ground for an attack on an Israeli target, a revenge on the repeated assassinations of nuclear scientists in Tehran. Resources, as always, are limited - there are only a certain number of operatives with suitable capabilities and documents to blend in and remain undetectable in a foreign country, in order to carry out a complex clandestine operation. What target are you going to choose: a high-profile one in a country professional well-organized intelligence service, surrounded by circles of security personnel on high-alert, or a low-value target in an unsuspecting country with a badly prepared and ill-equipped police?
If last week's attack is anything to go by, then it would seem that Iran and its proxies have reached the conclusion that to hurt Israel they have to go for the "soft" and "low-value" targets. Israel's athletes in London will be surrounded by multiple layers of security including tens of thousands of personnel, starting from the Shin Bet bodyguards and ending with RAF Typhoon fighter jets, Rapier anti-aircraft missiles and helicopters carrying snipers that are already shielding eastern London from an aerial attack. Add to these the resources of Britain's security services MI5 and MI6, Scotland Yard and dozens of other agencies from countries around the world working with Britain to ensure that no-one smuggles as much as a cap-pistol into the Olympic village. It is highly improbable that Iran or any of its proxies will waste time and manpower on such a target.
In addition, it would be useful to remember that Iran also has its own delegation at the Games, athletes who will be living, training and competing right by the Israelis, and would not want to do anything to harm them or distract from any glory they may bring the Islamic Republic.
That doesn’t mean that the Games are not a security headache for Israel's spy chiefs. For a start, the major focus and resources spent on London during that period can serve as a useful distraction for carrying out operations elsewhere. Four years ago, Russia used the Beijing Olympic Games to carry out a punishing military operation against Georgia, and got away with it easily. And while Iran and its minions will probably not target London while the Olympic torch is burning, there are others who may decide to do so. The other terror network with sufficient resources to operate globally, with Western-born operatives in its ranks, is al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Currently operating mainly in Yemen, AQAP hates Israel and the West just as much, if not more than, Iran, though they are also rivals in the Muslim sphere and rarely, if ever, cooperate. AQAP has tried to carry out a number of operations against American planes over the last couple of years, which is one of the main reasons why Britain has made such an effort to shield the Olympic stadium from the air. But even AQAP will probably not waste their time trying.
The British are taking no risks, but they believe they have filled the gaps. Jonathan Evans, head of Britain's domestic security service MI5, said in a rare public address last month that "the Games are not an easy target, and the fact that we have disrupted multiple terrorist plots here and abroad in recent years demonstrates that the U.K., as a whole, is not an easy target." On the other hand, he warned that there is no "guaranteed" security and that the "the dog you haven't seen may turn out to be the one that bites you." Despite the successes in foiling terror attacks, Evans warned that "in back rooms and in cars on the streets of this country there is no shortage of individuals talking about wanting to mount terrorist attacks here," and spoke of the threat of Muslim citizens of the West being radicalized and training in camps in countries such as Yemen and Sudan, traveling back to the West to carry out attacks.
While Iran and al-Qaida cannot be discounted as threats to the Olympics, the most likely potential attacker could be a lone wolf. As we saw last week in Aurora, Colorado, earlier this year in Toulouse, France and as a courtroom in Manchester, England heard throughout the last three weeks, the most unexpected and dangerous attacks can be carried out by radicalized individuals, working on their own without links to a state or a terror network.