Israeli expertise enables Olympic athletes and spectators to breathe easy

Israeli judokan Arik Ze’evi leads the Israeli delegation at the opening ceremony of the 2004 Athens Olympics.As the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens began Friday, officials touted the $312 million security system installed to protect athletes, spectators and residents in the Greek host city.

Israeli judokan Arik Ze’evi leads the Israeli delegation at the opening ceremony of the 2004 Athens Olympics.As the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens began Friday, officials touted the $312 million security system installed to protect athletes, spectators and residents in the Greek host city. At least 20 Israeli companies as well as Israel’s police, army and naval forces, offered their border protection and software expertise, supplying infrared cameras, closed circuit TVs, patrol boats, software systems, even miles of black irrigation tubing, for the Olympic sites and streets in Athens.

Athens’ total security budget is more than $1.5 billion a record for the Olympics, and Israel is playing a large role. The entire system was set up by San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp., an American-led consortium that included companies such as Germany’s Siemens AG; General Dynamics of Falls Church, Virginia; New Jersey-based Honeywell International and more than a dozen Israeli companies, including Elbit Systems, Israel Shipyards, Motorola Israel and Check Point Software Technologies.

“The Israelis aren’t the first in security at the Olympics, but they’re clearly in the top four,” an industry source told ISRAEL21c.

And not just in security. According to an Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute study carried out earlier this year, Israeli companies won tenders and carried out projects worth an aggregate $220 million for the Athens Olympics. Communications firms won tenders worth $30 million, coastal and port security companies will be earning some $120 million; infrastructure suppliers won tenders worth $30 million; environmental, transport and parking companies will earn around $30 million and security consultants won tenders worth $10 million.

“It is a very vast network, and it is the first time it is being done on such a scale at an international level,” Greek police spokesman Col. Lefteris Ikonomou told the Associated Press.

During the Olympics, infrared and high-resolution cameras will be mounted on 1,250 concrete columns around the capital. A host of 12 patrol boats, 4,000 vehicles, three helicopters and one blimp have been fitted with surveillance equipment, while the consortium also installed a secure communication and information system for security services, as well as a security network for ports such as Piraeus, where cruise ships are serving as floating hotels.

Former president George H.W. Bush, his wife Barbara, and grandchildren, Barbara and Jenna, the 21-year-old twin daughters of President George W. Bush, will be cruising the Olympics aboard one yacht that will be docking in Piraeus.

Three of the coastal guard vessels were built by Israel Shipyards, an $80 million contract for the privately-owned firm based in Haifa. Built in Greece over the course of one year, the vessels are identical to the Israeli Navy’s Sa’ar 4 missile boats, and will be used to patrol the long stretch of the southern sea border, where smuggling and illegal immigration are frequent.

Rafael, Israel’s state-controlled armament development authority provided the electronic warfare systems for the vessels, making it possible to identify targets by day and night. The boats also carry heavy machine guns and 30 millimeter cannons, as well as light speedboats for rescue operations, and can travel a distance of 4,000 nautical miles without refueling.

Israel also advised Greece on how to seal its airspace and coastal waters in the event, with Israeli police, army and navy officials participating in the seven-nation security task force that includes the United States, Britain and Israel.

Cooperation between Israeli and Greek police has been intensive, said Izhak Tzur, head of the Israeli police’s training division. Tzur and the head of Israel’s border police are in Athens, after working with Greek police in Greece and Israel prior to the Olympics.

“We trained them how to access a situation, on everything connected to a major terror attack,” he said. “We shared our knowledge.”

Israel’s Shin Bet security service are also be in Athens, protecting the Israeli delegation as it has at every Olympics since the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, when 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian terrorists.

But it is the significant profits from the Olympic security contracts that show “there is a growing business in the security sector,” said Chaim Mer, CEO of C. Mer Industries which won a $25 million contract for the Olympics. “Contracts in the security sector take a long time to be signed, because we’re talking about government bodies. I worked on this contract for two and a half years before signing,” he told ISRAEL21c.

The software used in the surveillance camera recordings at the Olympics was designed to spot and rank possible risks, and can distinguish between the sound of a flat tire exploding and a gunshot. Some of that software was provided by C. Mer, which worked with Siemens Greece, providing extensive security management software for the cameras, fences and checkpoints created throughout the Olympic venues.

Despite the time and angst involved in signing contracts, providing and installing the product in the long-debated and planned Olympic Games, Olympic deals are worth pursuing, said local CEOs.

“It’s a more prestigious contract,” agreed Shlomo Nir, CEO of Controp Precision Technologies Ltd., a surveillance and reconnaissance provider that sold 18 Cedar-M observation cameras to the Olympic security consortium for protecting the seaports. The camera is part of Controp’s anti-intruder system, which creates a virtual fence around the protected perimeter, offering automatic detection day and night, by scanning a wide panoramic view of the area.

Controp’s regular clients are the Israel Defense Forces, anti-terror police units, as well as the U.S. Army and government organizations involved with securing nuclear sites.

“We’re the electro-optical specialists for protecting ports, borders, any important sites, day or night,” said Nir, a former air force officer who founded the company 16 years ago with three partners from the Air Force and Israel Aircraft Industries.

Controp didn’t need to have staff members at the Olympics, but QualiTest, a recently purchased subsidiary of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange-traded Malam Group, has a staff of 12 in Greece inspecting and testing software and security systems, said a Malam staffer.

Cellular provider Motorola Israel is also done with its work in Athens, after posting $100 million in revenue from its sale of communications systems to the Olympics. The Greek government bought Motorola’s Tetra wireless communications systems, which enable cellular and walkie-talkie systems similar to the Mirs system used in Israel to operate during the Games. Haifa-based Elbit, which specializes in defense electronics, is also reportedly pitching in with the security effort, but wouldn’t comment on its activities in Athens.

Not all the Israeli work will be viewed from behind the arenas and security centers. Netafim, the Israeli company that created the concept of drip irrigation that keeps Israeli deserts green, was hired by Athens to develop all the watering systems for the flower beds, trees, shrubbery and gardens created for the Olympics.

“We’ve been working in Athens since 1998,” says Aharon Peles, the manager for Netafim Hellas, the company’s Greece subsidiary. “We had technology that they needed, using recycled water for the gardens. They came here to see it, and they liked it. We made Athens green for the Olympics.”

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