Tiny Israel has never had to tend to so many V.I.P.’s at once, complete with overnight stays and scores of elaborate schedules, and its diplomatic corps, police force and other government agencies were scrambling to prepare. (Leaders who attended the Rabin and Peres funerals mostly flew in and out on the same day.)
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs employs only five protocol officers, but many others were pitching in, including retirees. Some 10,000 police officers were being deployed to provide security and direct traffic, more than a third of the 29,000-strong nationwide force, along with hundreds more volunteers.
Asked on television what he feared most about what could go wrong, Ofer Shomer, a Jerusalem district police commander, replied, “Fear is not a word that exists with us.” The Israel Police force, he said, was highly experienced and had prepared for every scenario, from freak weather to sabotage.
King David Street, with its luxury hotels housing many leaders, was being “hermetically sealed,” the police said. And no-fly zones for all aircraft, including drones, were established over the main gathering points: Yad Vashem, the Israeli president’s residence, and the Crowne Plaza hotel, where Vice President Pence will be staying.
At the presidential residence, officials detailed the preparations for Wednesday’s dinner with breathless detail, noting even that “the grand piano has been tuned.”
But the home’s modest proportions were not enough to accommodate all 250 attendees. Only 60 ranking guests were to be seated indoors, in a soaring room showcasing 1970s-era Israeli art. Their “plus-ones” were to dine in a tent outside. Another tent was reserved for their many bodyguards.
The gathering came smack in Israel’s wintry rainy season. And with heavy downpours and even some flurries drenching Jerusalem on Tuesday, the president’s aides also mustered hundreds of portable heaters to keep the luminaries stuck outside from freezing.