Israel | Local

On Israel trip, Rep. McSally sees security threats, Israeli resiliency firsthand

Rep. Martha McSally on the 2015 Republican congressional trip to Israel, after a briefing about the operation of an Iron Dome missile defense battery, seen behind her. (Courtesy Office of U.S. Rep. Martha McSally)

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally joined 25 Republican legislators on a whirlwind trip to Israel earlier this month. McSally, who was elected to represent Arizona’s Second Congressional District last fall and serves on the Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, said she chose to participate in the trip to get a clearer picture of Israel’s current security situation.

“Israel is such a close ally and the U.S.-Israel relationship is so important,” McSally told the AJP. “There are security threats from Hamas and Hezbollah, and the instability around them is very serious and certainly much more increased than the last time, when I was there as a tourist. As a member of Congress, I wanted to be able to see that firsthand and talk to the leadership and Israeli citizens about their concerns and challenges.”

McSally said that many of those concerns focused on the Iranian nuclear agreement. “It was so important to get over there, both Democrats and Republicans, to hear from leadership and people throughout the society about their perspective, because Israel is on the front line of Iran’s sophisticated state sponsorship of terror.” She said she was struck by what she described as “across the boards” objections to the agreement.

“This isn’t about partisan politics; this isn’t even about party politics in Israel. We met with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and the opposition leader [Yitzhak Herzog], and to hear them both in lock-step agreement against this Iranian nuclear deal was vitally important for my colleagues to hear.”

The trip was organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, a charitable organization affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and was geared primarily for new members of congress. AIEF brought a delegation of Democrat lawmakers to Israel the week before, with a day of overlapping activities between the two groups.

The legislators met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, journalists, engineers responsible for developing the Iron Dome and David’s Sling defense systems, retired military personnel and soldiers. They visited communities near the Gaza border in the south and the Golan Heights in the north, where they could hear explosions from the civil war in Syria.

McSally said she was impressed by the resiliency of Israelis. She mentioned a wedding photo that one of their contacts shared: a bride and groom, with Tel Aviv in the background. “In the scenery above, you can see some sort of white little area and you would think oh, maybe that’s fireworks. It was a missile that had been fired by Hamas and intercepted by Iron Dome, and it was blowing up in the sky in the distance behind this happy couple. And this is normal to the Israeli people.”

Visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum was an especially moving experience for McSally. “It brought a deep reminder of what we all know to be factually true, but connects your soul with the horror of it all and inspires vigilance that it never happen again,” she said.

She was inspired by the young men and women of the Israel Defense Forces, who have to make split-second life or death decisions. In meeting with young entrepreneurs, McSally said many of them credited their propensity toward innovation to their experience in the military. McSally had the opportunity to meet with MK Yoav Kish, a newly elected Israeli lawmaker who, like McSally, was also a fighter pilot in the military.

On a lighter note, McSally said that she enjoyed leading a group of legislators and staffers in a run around the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem each morning.

Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is a feature writer and editor living in Tucson. She can be reached at [email protected]