JERUSALEM — Congressman Dave Reichert (R-8th) made his first visit to Israel last week, not as part of a formal congressional delegation, but with a small group of first responders whom he regards as his peers.
Reichert, who spent the majority of his working life in law enforcement before his election in 2004, spent a week learning about Israel’s security operations and meeting Israeli defense personnel in a visit organized by Proactive Global Security (PGS), a private security consulting company.
PGS, a recipient of Department of Homeland Security grants, specializes in training U.S.-based first responders in the latest Israeli security techniques and has previously provided consulting for Pierce County and other Washington state security personnel.
In promotional materials for the Reichert trip, PGS stated: “Our goal is to provide critical training in first response, and be a partner in establishing the foundational relationships necessary to develop a regional response plan, which includes coordination between the public and private sector.”
Reichert was accompanied by Capt. Peter Brummel of Eastside Fire and Rescue; Acting Lt. Erik Allen, Deputy Director of the Washington State Fusion Center; Detective Tim Renihan of the Seattle Police Department Intelligence Division; and officers from Fairfax, Va. and Denver, Colo.
Speaking at a dinner in Jerusalem at the end of the trip, attended by a number of Israeli opinion makers and a smattering of Seattle-area immigrants, Reichert said there was no substitute for seeing Israel’s security situation on the ground.
“I was aware of the size of Israel on a map, but when you travel to the border with Syria and Lebanon or down to Gaza, you realize how small it really is,” he said. “Small and surrounded by enemies.”
Referring to the years he spent solving the Green River killings, “I thought 19 years was a long struggle,” Reichert said. “But 65 years is a really long time and you have many more years ahead of you.”
“People in the U.S. can’t understand how you survive and continue to fight,” he added.
Given Reichert’s law-enforcement background, he said he was most moved by his meetings with Israeli soldiers, in particular those stationed a few hundred yards from the border with Gaza.
“Those tank brigade soldiers have an incredible sense of commitment and professional dedication,” he said.
The group met with Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister for intelligence and strategic affairs, and deputy defense minister Danny Danon as well as security officials at Ben Gurion Airport and the Port of Ashdod. They were introduced to police department officers in Jerusalem and Sderot and medical personnel from Magen David Adom and Hadassah Hospital.
Brummel, of Eastside Fire and Rescue, told JTNews it would take him several months to digest the material he’d been exposed to in Israel. Learning more about the Iranian nuclear threat from Steinitz was an eye-opener, he said.
Brummel also expressed admiration for regular Israelis he’d met during the visit.
“The passion Israelis have for their country and the commitment to go about your daily life in areas where people don’t want you is remarkable,” he said.
“Israeli police are in a remarkably more complicated situation than we’re in,” said Acting Lt. Erik Allen of the Washington Fusion Center, a coordinating body of city, county, state and federal first responders.
Allen was on duty during the attack on the Jewish Federation building in Seattle in July 2006 and recalls the urgent intelligence sharing that took place between local and New York police departments and ultimately with Israeli intelligence, in an effort to determine whether the perpetrator was part of a larger conspiracy.
Allen said the contacts with Israeli intelligence and police officials made on this visit will be invaluable in developing and maintaining a positive relationship to fight terror.
“Email and phone calls can only do so much,” he said.
Though Allen learned plenty to bring back to his post in Seattle, the Middle East conflict left him with much more ambiguity.
“Overall, I don’t know whether to be encouraged or discouraged by the situation,” he said.
Since entering Congress, Reichert’s only previous trips abroad have been to visit U.S. troops. But he believes this visit to Israel will leave a lasting impression.
“Israel and the U.S. need to be united. Your enemies are our enemies,” he said. “This trip will have a ripple effect.”