(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
MK Nachman Shai (Labor) addressed American Jewish leaders, saying “I think that when we talk about Israeli national security, you are part of that security."
Shai, a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, addressed the participants of the 45th annual National Israel Leadership Mission on Wednesday.
“I’m calling for more involvement by you in Israeli internal life. You are eligible to express your views. I believe it’s time for a new paradigm in Israeli-Diaspora relations," Shai concluded.
American Jewish leaders toured the Gaza border and viewed Israel’s new F-35 squadron on Wednesday as part of a first-hand look at security threats the country is facing and the IDF’s readiness to confront them.
The tour was part of the 45th annual Conference of Presidents (COP) Leadership Mission to Israel, led by Chairman Arthur Stark and Executive Vice President/CEO Malcolm Hoenlein.
The group began with the first-ever visit by a foreign group to see construction on the barrier Israel is sinking deep into the ground along its border with the Gaza Strip. Mission participants received a detailed briefing on the threat posed by Hamas tunnels dug to cross into Israel, and the methods being used to prevent this. They also watched some of the heavy machinery in action.
The Deputy Commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division gave the group a strategic overview at the divisional headquarters near the border. Among other security topics, he spoke of the ongoing unrest at the border fence, explaining that more than half of the Palestinians killed since the violence began last May had been Hamas members.
“This a war. This is not a riot. This not the ‘yellow vests,’” he said, referring to the violent social protests taking place lately in France.
The Deputy Division Commander also spoke of the 2.1 million people in the Gaza Strip, as well as the schools and universities they have.
“They educate many professionals, including engineers,” he said. “They are capable of great sophistication. The hand grenades Palestinians throw during these violent confrontations are identical to Israeli grenades, but they are manufactured in Gaza, as are many of the other weapons used against Israel.”
Delegates then went to the Nevatim air base near Arad for a briefing by the base commander, Israel Air Force Brigadier-General Eyal Grinboim, and Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Hect, head of the Air Force’s International Affairs Branch. Hect explained that the IAF’s job was to prevent an all-out conflagration in what he referred to as a “campaign between wars.” He also spoke of ongoing military cooperation and joint training exercises with other air forces, including those of the US, the UK, Germany, Cyprus and Greece, to name just a few.
Also taking part in the briefing was US Air Force Colonel Matthew B. Willis, the American air attaché in Israel, who told the mission participants, “You have contributed much more to Israeli defense than you would think. The MOU [defense memorandum of understanding between the US and Israel] went into effect this year, but allocation has increased from $3.1 billion to $3.8 billion. Our money is well spent in Israel.”
He added that Israel had been the first country outside the US to take direct delivery of the F-35, an ultra-sophisticated, American-built combat aircraft that is the newest in the IAF’s arsenal. The Nevatim base is now home to those jets.
The participants were the first foreign group to visit the F-35 squadron. They received a briefing by Major M., the squadron’s executive officer, and got an up-close look at the stealth jet – witnessing in the process a thunderous take-off by two of the aircraft.
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