US Jewish leaders learn at Gaza barrier: ‘It’s not a riot, it’s a war’

The participants were also the first foreign group to visit Israel’s F-35 squadron.

By World Israel News staff

Participants in an annual visit to Israel by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations have toured Israel’s F-35 fighter squadron and the Gaza border as part of what was described as a first-hand look at security threats that Israel is facing, and the IDF’s readiness to confront them.

The umbrella group is headed by Chairman Arthur Stark and Executive Vice President/CEO Malcolm Hoenlein.

The visit included what was said to be the first-ever visit by a foreign group to see construction on the barrier that 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, saying that more than half of the Palestinians killed since the violence began last May were Hamas members.

“This is a war. This is not a riot,” he said.

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 (IAF) 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 is to prevent an all-out conflagration amid what he termed a “campaign between wars.” He also spoke of ongoing military cooperation and joint training exercises with other air forces, including those of the U.S., U.K., Germany, Cyprus, and Greece, among others.

Also taking part in the briefing was U.S. Air Force Colonel Matthew 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,” said the colonel.

He added that Israel was the first country outside the U.S. to take direct delivery of the F-35, an 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 a take-off by two of the aircraft.