Israel and Southern Arizona have ties that bind — in both the economic and national security realms. U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, who describes himself as “a strong supporter of Israel,” participated in a fact-finding trip to Israel from Aug. 5 to 11. Barber is a Tucson Democrat and a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
He was among a congressional group that met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdalla in Ramallah, Barber told the AJP by phone from Jerusalem. They also met with the Israeli company that makes the short-range rocket interceptor Iron Dome, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems, which makes components for David’s Sling, a longer range missile defense system it developed jointly for Israel with Rafael, “is very interested in co-production of Iron Dome. Israel needs back-up for production” because of its own vulnerability, he said.
Such collaboration could have a great economic impact on Southern Arizona, said Barber, adding that officials at the University of Arizona Tech Park “have reached out to the Office of Science in Israel to bring high-tech industries here.”
As for the newly revived Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, Netanyahu, Peres and Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, “all gave high praise to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for his persistence and understanding of the issues,” said Barber.
This is the first-term congressman’s first trip to Israel. “I’m just amazed at what the country has endured and survived. I have nothing but the highest praise for the people living under the danger of attack. I’m overwhelmed by what I found here. We have to do everything we can to support Israel,” he said.
Barber was particularly impressed with Peres, who recently turned 90. “He’s a true statesman, a very wise man. He’s gentle, kind and has hope for the future. [Peres knows] how we need to invest in science. He’s a man who’s seen it all, from Israel’s struggle to become a country to current peace negotiations,” said Barber. “I’ve always wanted to come to Israel. It’s a life-changing experience.”