The government is investing in home front security more than any of its predecessors, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told a crowd of olim at Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday, a statement expected to fuel speculation that an Israeli strike on Iran in the future was increasingly likely.
Speaking to 350 immigrants from North America, the prime minister said the surprise appointment of Avi Dichter to the position of home front defense minister earlier in the day illustrated the importance of protecting Israel’s urban centers from potential attack.
“My government is investing in home front security like no other has and I consider this to be very important,” he said.
Netanyahu commended Dichter, a former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief who crossed political lines in the move from Kadima, and said he has proven leadership skills on his resume.
Although he did not mention Iran by name, Netanyahu apparently alluded to it when talking about the rise of a “new anti-Semitism.”
“There is a rise of a new anti-Semitism but it changes form. We see today a virulent attack on the Jewish people and we have to defend ourselves from that,” he said.
“The most important thing is to defend the Jewish state. This we are doing – this you are doing,” the prime minister told the olim.
Israel says Iran is trying to obtain a nuclear bomb and has hinted it may attempt to stop it from doing so by military means.
Tehran has denied Israel’s claims. Flouting international censure, it maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful means. If attacked, Iran may retaliate against Israel either directly or through proxies such as Hezbollah.
The event at Ben-Gurion Airport was organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh, a group which facilitates aliya. in cooperation with the Jewish Agency, Immigrant Absorption Ministry and Friends of the IDF. It welcomed 350 olim from 37 states in the US and territories in Canada, including 127 young adults expected to join Israel’s military.
Upon arrival at Terminal 3, the newcomers were introduced to Israeli foods like sabih (an eggplant and hard-boiled egg sandwich) and burekas while a band played an uplifting medley of contemporary Hebrew hits by Sarit Hadad and Eyal Golan, as well as old classics like “Kol Haolam Kulo” (All of the World is...).
Dignitaries of Jewish NGOs greeted the olim enthusiastically. “There are two things I want to tell you: First, you go to your places – Beit Shemesh, Ra’anana, Efrat – open your bibles and it will be your guide,” said Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.
“There is no difference between ancient history of our people and modern life. Second, nobody has built this state for you. We are all building it together.”
El Al CEO Eliezer Shkedy kept his speech short and to the point, welcoming the new Israelis on behalf of his airline.
“Nothing about Iran?” Danny Oberman, an NBN executive, asked the former chief of the Israel Air Force after his terse speech. Shkedy had no comment.
Indeed, the specter of war with Iran – which has been discussed obsessively in the Israeli media for years – loomed large over the event.
“We brought them here right in time for a war,” one Israeli journalist was heard quipping on the sideline. “Let’s turn the plane around.”
But an anecdotal survey of olim revealed few if any were worried about a potential war with Iran or its ally Hezbollah.
“If [war breaks out], then I’ll be serving and I’ll do what I have to do,” said Itay Solomon, an 18-year-old American Israeli about to join the IDF.
“With Netanyahu as prime minister, I’m not worried.”
Tony Gelbart, a cofounder of NBN, thanked the large contingent in the audience set to join Israel’s military.
“This exciting new initiative will greatly benefit all the brave young men and women who choose to come to Israel and help protect the country,” he said.
“We are thrilled that FIDF has given us the opportunity to extend the level of service and care that we already provide, so that lone soldiers from around the world will now all receive the same high level of support.”
The flight, one of two such special charters each year, also marked a decade since NBN was founded. The group, which streamlines Jewish immigration from North America, claims credit for significantly easing the absorption of olim, doing away with red tape and setting up social support groups.
Still, aliya from that part of the world remains stubbornly low, proportionately speaking.
In 2011, some 3,500 of the six or so million Jews in North America moved to Israel, a rate far lower than most other regions in the world.