By Judie Jacobson
HARTFORD — On Friday, June 3, Congressman John Larson of Connecticut’s 1st District will join a congressional delegation headed for Israel, with a stop in Jordan.
In a conference call with the Ledger’s Editorial Advisory Board and editorial staff from his office in Washington D.C., a week prior to his trip, Larson pointed to Israel’s defense needs — and what the United States is doing to meet those needs — as a primary focus of the trip. The visit, Larson’s fifth trip to the Jewish state, will include meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as members of the Knesset and Defense Department.
“The passage in the House of Representatives most recently of the National Defense Act, which provided $600 million for Israeli cooperative missile defense, including $62 million for Iron Dome, $150 million for David’s Sling and $120 million for Arrow 3 — which exceeds by $460 million the President’s request — demonstrates. that there will be no daylight between the U.S. Congress and Israel in terms of our commitment to defense, especially the more strategic concern of missile defense, especially in light of the discussion that we had last year building up to the agreement with Iran,” Larson told the Ledger.
Larson noted that Israel will be the first U.S. ally to receive the F35 fighter plane, whose engine is manufactured in Connecticut. And, in an unusual move, the U.S. will allow Israel to alter the fighter plane to suit its needs — a testament to what Larson calls the “unique relationship” between the two countries. Expected delivery of the fighter planes is this September.
“The F35 is an incredible defensive and intelligence weapon for the Israelis that they heretofore haven’t had,” he said. “This will especially help out in Gaza where it will have the ability to intercept and knock out rocket launchers. Between David’s Sling and the Arrow 3 program and Iron Dome, we’re well coordinated. This will add the final piece on the chessboard. When a missile is fired, the F35 is able to fire back a rocket that traces it directly back to the origin of where that missile was launched. By all accounts, this will be a game- changer — people who launch the missile are going will be struck right at the sight of the launch.”
On the flip side, the delegation will also be privy to a tour of some of the cutting-edge technology developed by the Jewish state.
Other defense issues up for discussion, says Larson, will be how to counteract the “terror tunnels” that continue to be constructed underground by Hamas terrorist in Gaza into southern Israel, as well as the spate of stabbings in Jerusalem by Palestinian terrorists.
At present, the delegation has no meetings scheduled with the Knesset’s opposition leaders, though he is open to the idea.
“I’m hopeful [that meetings can be arranged], but there’s nothing specific on the itinerary,” he said, adding, “I always make it a point when I travel abroad to try to seek out the other point of view and get an understanding from the people on the ground; when we’re talking with our troops in intelligence over there I do the same thing just so that I can hopefully gain a broader perspective of how people are thinking of feeling on all sides of the issue.”
Larson also hope to connect with a contingent of approximately 50 UConn Hillel students whose Taglit Birthright trip will overlap with the congressional delegation visit.
In addition to Israel, the congressional delegation will stop in Jordan primarily, says Larson, “to meet with refugees and show our support for Jordan’s efforts not only in keeping the peace in the holy city, but also in coordinating the huge refugee problem the country faces. It will also give us an opportunity to talk about ISIS and how we are strategically following through with its elimination.”
Asked to comment on the growing tension between Israel’s political leadership and its senior military staff, Larson said, “There was obviously more than a little shock when the defense minister [Moshe Ya’alon] announced his resignation on Friday, and the fact that in doing so he said that he had lost faith with Netanyahu and was fearful of Israel’s future. It will be interesting to see how Netanyahu couches this and what he has to say.”
Behond that, Larson said, he would reserve comment until he had the opportunity to talk to the prime minister face-to-face.
“It’s not often you get these opportunities so I’m honored that I’m going to be able to go over there. I look forward to having better answers upon my return — and that‘s the whole purpose of a mission to begin with — to get what you can’t get here in a briefing room, and you can only get when you chat first hand; to see people’s body language, their reaction; the look in their eyes.”.
Switching to the topic of presidential politics, the Ledger asked Larson to comment on Senator Bernie Sanders choice of two outspoken and often virulent critics of Israel to serve on the Democrat’s platform drafting committee.
“I feel pretty confident that we have a strong person who will be heading up the platform committee in Governor [Dannel] Malloy,” he said. “Even though Sanders people will have a presence, I think there will be equal amount of balance and push-back by people on the steering committee. Certainly, Hillary Clinton, who will be the nominee, will have a very strong say in all of that.”
Larson will brief the community on his visit at a town meeting to be held upon his return at the Mandell JCC in West Hartford.