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With 10,000 officers, police gear up to protect massive Holocaust commemoration

Some 10,000 police officers will be deployed throughout Jerusalem and the highways leading to it later this week, as 47 delegations of kings, presidents, and other world leaders visit Israel to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, police said Sunday.

According to the head of police operations, Commander Yishai Shalem, the coming week’s 5th World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum is expected to be one of the largest and most complex security operations ever for the Israel Police.

The event is similar in scope to only three other events in the country’s history, in which several world leaders or high-ranking dignitaries came to Israel: the funerals of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres and the annual Presidential Conference, which Peres envisioned as a “Jewish Davos,” and which ran from 2009 to 2013.

“Things will need to run like a Swiss watch,” Shalem said.

The security effort — dubbed “Operation Future” — will be led by the police, with assistance from the Shin Bet security service’s Unit 730, which is responsible for protecting high-status officials. The Israel Defense Forces will also offer protection for world leaders visiting the West Bank, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and the UK’s Prince Charles, who are both slated to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Shalem said the police did not have advanced intelligence indicating that large-scale demonstrations, riots or other disruptions were expected during the state visits, but were taking the necessary precautions in case such events occurred.

According to Israel’s Channel 13 news, warnings were sent to the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip that Israel would respond forcefully to any effort to disrupt the gathering, amid an uptick in border tensions in recent days.

Police were initially concerned that some people may protest against Putin’s visit over Russia’s imprisonment of American-Israeli Naama Issachar, though recent reports of a potential breakthrough in negotiations to secure her release may result in smaller demonstrations, if they take place at all.

The gatherings are expected to cause significant traffic problems within central Jerusalem from Wednesday to Friday and along the Route 1 highway leading to the capital on Thursday morning, as Putin and US Vice President Mike Pence travel to Jerusalem from the airport, police said.

The police said they will direct drivers to alternate routes during Putin and Pence’s trips on the highway, but generally encouraged people to avoid traveling to the capital at that time.

“From 9 to 11 a.m. on Thursday, don’t drive to Jerusalem unless you have to,” Chief Superintendent Erez Amar, head of the traffic police’s central district, told reporters on Sunday night.

Amar said there may be minimal disruptions along the Route 1 highway on Wednesday, as the other delegations arrive, but a full shutdown was not expected. He also added that the highway would only be closed in the lanes from the airport toward the capital and not in the other direction.

As the majority of the visiting dignitaries were due to arrive in private planes, the events are not expected to significantly disrupt travel into and out of Ben Gurion International Airport, Amar said.

In general, police have encouraged drivers to use the Waze navigation application and the police’s information hotline — available by dialing 110 — in order to receive updates on road closures and traffic changes.

In total, 47 delegations of world leaders, including 26 presidents, four kings and four prime ministers, will arrive in Israel this week for the events, with the first — Governor-General of Australia David Hurley — landing on Tuesday. Most of the others are set to arrive Wednesday throughout the day.

The first portion of the event — a state dinner hosted at the President’s Residence — will be held on Wednesday evening. A memorial dedication — commemorating the Soviet Union’s victory in Leningrad — will be held on Thursday at approximately 11 a.m. in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park, followed by the main ceremony at Yad Vashem on Thursday afternoon.

The delegations will mostly be staying at the luxury hotels on Jerusalem’s King David Street, and, as a result, that road will be closed from Wednesday morning until Friday. Many of the surrounding streets will be closed during this time, though residents will be allowed through, police said.

In addition, the streets between these hotels and the President’s Residence, Sacher Park and Yad Vashem will be closed at various points throughout Wednesday night and Thursday. The specific times of the closures will be subject to change.

The egress from the Har Homa neighborhood was also expected to be closed on Thursday afternoon and evening, according to police.

During this time, Jerusalemites are encouraged to use public transportation, specifically the light rail, as much as possible in order to limit traffic, said Chief Superintendent Erez Tavor of the Jerusalem District police.

The bus companies operating in the capital have also been informed of the expected road closures and updated their routes accordingly, Tavor said.

The visiting world leaders were scheduled to begin leaving the country on Thursday night, with most leaving on Friday.

Following the official Holocaust remembrance events, Pence planned to visit the Western Wall on Thursday afternoon, before departing Israel first thing Friday morning.

Putin was scheduled to leave late Thursday night.

The delegations will be coming from European countries, as well as the US and Argentina, police said.

The guest list includes Pence, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Putin, Prince Charles, French President Emmanuel Macron, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zolenskyy and many more leaders from Romania, Italy, Austria, Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Sweden, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Finland, Bosnia, Iceland, Armenia, Australia, Canada and other nations.

One leader pointedly missing from the event will be Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, who announced last week he would not attend because organizers had not included him as a speaker at the forum.

Duda also criticized the fact that representatives of the US, Russia, France, the UK and Germany would all speak at the memorial while his request to address the forum was denied.

Yad Vashem said the speakers will represent the winners of World War II and the country that perpetrated the Holocaust — Germany.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Header: The King David Hotel in Jerusalem, Israel