July 31, 2012
by Steven L. Pomerantz
JINSA leaders, including special guest Navy SEAL Lieutenant Commander Leif Babin, USN (ret.), arrived in Israel on Sunday June 24 for a one-week visit. The agenda had been carefully formulated to address issues of major and immediate concern, including the Iranian threat, implications of the so called “Arab Spring,” the status of the peace process as well as other military and national security matters that are always of interest to JINSA members.
Leif Babin, who has been a featured speaker before JINSA audiences, brought a unique perspective on military affairs to the delegation. Leif spent 13 years on active duty with the U.S. Navy, including nine years in SEAL Teams. He deployed three times to Iraq (2004, 2006, 2009-10) and supported forces deployed to Afghanistan and elsewhere. For his actions in combat, he was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He received a second Bronze Star for his leadership in training and mentoring more than 50 SEAL officers.
In keeping with the JINSA ethic that all work and no play make a well informed individual, we began our business sessions approximately two hours after hitting the ground with a round table dinner featuring four prominent journalists, including the editor in chief of the Jerusalem Post as well as JINSA Fellow Evelyn Gordon. The wide-ranging presentations and discussions that followed set the table for the rest of the week.
In succeeding days, we met with two Cabinet Ministers as well as Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. Although many issues were discussed, it is fair to say that none loomed quite as large and immediate as the threat posed by Iran. While none of the officials we met with were willing to delineate the specific course of action that Israel would take in the face of the Iranian nuclear program, nor the timetable associated with these actions, all agreed that permitting Iran to acquire nuclear weapons was beyond the realm of possibility. They each emphasized that the Iranian nuclear program was not specifically an Israeli problem and they hoped that a solution would be forthcoming through the efforts of other concerned countries. In the end, however, because of the unique threat to Israel presented by Iran, there is full agreement and firm resolve to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
In addition to current government leaders, the delegation also met with key former officials, including recently retired Chief of Military Intelligence Major General Amos Yadlin, former Mossad Director of Global Operations Yoram Hessel, and retired National Police Major Generals Mickey Levy and Simon Perry. All of these gentlemen have close and longstanding relationships with JINSA. That, combined with their experience and knowledge, made their presentations meaningful and their insights both well informed and straightforward.
We were extremely fortunate to be in Israel during the week of the Israel Air Force pilot graduation ceremony at Hatzerim Air Force Base. It speaks well to JINSA’s reputation that we were able to secure an almost last-minute invitation to this event, which is attended by the leadership of the State as well as the families of the graduates and others fortunate enough to secure a hard-to-get ticket. What we saw was well worth the trip to the desert and the heat of the grandstand!
The military show was truly impressive. Even more striking was the spirit of the event in which more than 30 young officers are presented their pilot’s wings. Although military dignity, decorum and pomp were observed, there included an element of a Jewish party, with family and friends of each of the graduates wearing color coordinated t-shirts emblazoned with a photograph of their individual graduate. For those of us who are concerned about Israel’s future and security, this day was particularly reassuring.
Speaking of great young people, we also happened to be in Israel at the same time as the second group of cadets and midshipmen from West Point, the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the Coast Guard Academy, who were on their two-and-a-half week JINSA sponsored program in Israel. We met them for lunch in Haifa and had the opportunity to get to know them a bit and listen to them talk glowingly about their experiences in Israel and their impressions of the country and its people. To say that they are an impressive group would be a gross understatement. Once again, those of us JINSA members who think and worry about the future of our country and its military (and I suspect that covers just about all of us) can take great comfort after spending time with the future leaders of our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. We also validated, first hand, the success and value of JINSA’s Military Academies Program; certainly one of the most important programs JINSA carries out every year.
In addition to meeting with policy makers, and government leaders, no JINSA trip to Israel would be complete without spending some time with the “troops” –those who take the policy and the grand strategy and implement it on the ground. To that end we spent a few hours at the Bomb Squad school and “museum” near Bet Shemesh where we had a presentation and were able to view many of the “tools of the trade” terrorists use in their effort to spread death and destruction. We also visited the Israeli Navy at the Haifa naval base and spent some time aboard one of their warships.
Additionally, the delegation took part in several tours including at the Begin Center and through the ancient Hasmonean tunnels in the Old City of Jerusalem. Dinners were held with speakers such as prominent Israeli Arab writer and journalist Khaled Abu Toameh and with a representative of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet).
Those of us responsible for planning the week’s events used the term “ambitious” to describe it. We packed as much as we could into each day and I hope we will be forgiven if we pushed a bit hard. The feedback we received after the trip indicates to us that we mostly got it right and that we should do it again. If you are interested in participating at a future Leadership Trip, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Steven L. Pomerantz is JINSA’s Director for Counter-Terrorism Programs and a former Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.