Over the last few weeks, I covered some of the high points of our recent jaunt to Israel, but, needless to say, not everything was thoroughly covered. So here are a few other things we did and places we went in Israel that we have not visited or covered before — or at least have not done so in quite a long time.
Speaking of high points, our visit to Masada was really special — that is, especially hot — and something I do not believe I have done in 30 years. I was mildly reluctant to place myself in those large cable cars that bring you up to almost the peak of the mountain plateau, but I kept quiet about it and figured that if everyone else was doing it, I guess I could do it, too. And I’m glad I did, as there was quite a piece of history up there, and the view overlooking so much of the terrain is simply breathtaking.
The top of Masada would have been a sensible place for a cellphone tower that would be able to cast its signal for perhaps miles around in each direction. My phone did have reception up there, but I noticed on the bus on the way there that my phone clicked and notified me that it was now roaming in Jordan, which is just across the very visible river and over those mountains yonder.
In addition to Masada, we traveled to the Golan Heights for a peek into Syria, and on another day rode by bus to an Iron Dome installation just outside Ashkelon that only a week prior to our arrival was busy deflecting incoming rockets from Gaza. The days are a bit intertwined in my memory, but on one of those days — it was probably the same day as the Iron Dome visit — we traveled to a corner of the Tel Nof Air Force Base to learn how the new, sophisticated IAF drones serve and protect the country.
So let’s take these three events one step at a time. It was a hot but sparkling summer day as we made our way toward the Dead Sea and the historical mountain that represents a significant event in the long, circuitous history of the Jewish people. This is the location of the notorious mass suicide of 960 Jews about 2,000 years ago as a response to the possibility of capture by Roman troops and subjugation as slaves and interminable imprisonment.
Today, as over the last many decades, Masada is one of Israel’s great tourist attractions. As the cable car ascends the mountain, the climbing path is visible below, but it appeared empty that day, possibly because of the extraordinary summer heat. If you have never been up there, just know it is quite an experience. We were there midday, but one has to wonder what it must be like to watch the sun rise or set from this otherworldly vantage point.
The Masada experience can be viewed from various historical perspectives. In many ways, it is a reflection of the vast history of persecution of the Jewish people from time immemorial. It is in some ways similar to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, where Jews took matters into their own hands instead of becoming another footnote in the history of pogroms and torment of Jewish communities throughout the ages.
The more things change, the more they definitely stay the same — with one very outstanding rejoinder, and that is that Jews no longer have to resort to the types of extreme measures our ancestors did on Masada and in the Warsaw Ghetto in order to save face and themselves.
In that vein, our next stop was near Ashkelon at one of the Iron Dome installations staffed by young IDF soldiers in shifts around the clock. The two Iron Dome devices, if you can call them that, are set up in a wide, open, dirt-covered field surrounded by a secure but rather makeshift fence. No one can go too close and no photos can be taken.
One of the English-speaking soldiers told us that while the day of our visit was quiet, that was not the case the week prior as a fusillade of rockets was fired from Gaza aimed at a number of cities in close proximity to the Gaza–Israel border. The Iron Dome, which is quite effective in destroying incoming missiles before they can make contact with civilian areas in Israel, is Israeli-manufactured technology built with American money generously provided by Congress in light of the barrage of missiles from Gaza that Israel has been subjected to over the last few years.
The technology associated with the Iron Dome has been upgraded with the development of the David’s Sling, which also destroys incoming missiles from enemy countries. The Sling destroys the incoming missiles at a much higher trajectory and with a force that completely obliterates the missile, not even allowing any debris or shrapnel to fall to earth and injure civilians or damage property.
At the Iron Dome site we are told that the battery, which, from our vantage point, looks like an anti-missile defense system housed in a wooden crate, can shoot as many as four anti-rocket missiles at a time. The Iron Dome and David’s Sling have changed Israel’s ability to defend her citizens and have altered the dynamic in the region with the ability to prevent Israel’s merciless and savage enemies from inflicting death and injury on its innocent civilians.
When one turns around, about a hundred feet from the Iron Dome system, the outline of the city of Ashkelon with its many-storied apartment buildings is clearly visible. It is frightening to think or try to imagine the type of damage those enemy missiles would inflict without Israel’s smart and precise defense weapons.
The long ride from Jerusalem to the Golan Heights — about three and a half hours each way — was rather uneventful. We were at this same location about a year and a half ago and it was from this same vantage point that we were able to hear gunfire and bombs exploding in the distance. Of course, that was back when ISIS was still doing their thing and dreaming about attacking Israel, but they have largely been put down, and the Iranians in Syria have already been forced by Russia to withdraw about 50 miles from the Israeli border. On the day we were there it was serenely quiet. From a platform area atop a steep hill you are able to see Syrian homes near the border. This is the same area where Middle East reporters for various networks stand and transmit live reports, saying they are standing at the Israel–Syrian border.
While it looks close, it really isn’t. No one from Syria can shoot into this area, and many groups and couples can be seen having picnics and taking leisurely walks on a day off from work. There’s also a great restaurant up here with kosher ice cream and other dishes, so the biggest hazard on this part of the border might be the calories you consume.
Later we had a great visit to the Tel Nof Air Force base. At the base, we met with the commander of the drone operation of the IDF. Drones are pilotless aircraft that can be operated from the base deep into enemy territory. Some of them are equipped with missiles as well as with the most advanced reconnaissance and photographic ability from 30,000 feet in the air.
In a conference room on the base, we were shown actual footage of an operation where troops in Gaza were using a drone as “backup.” The drone was watching it all and feeding information to commanders on the ground, like an eye in the sky. One of the important functions of the drone in situations like this is to keep an eye on terror suspects traversing rooftops to attack forces during an operation.
We then walked out to the airfield where a drone was being serviced, and at another end of the area a drone was returning from an operation. This is an excellent innovative technological tool, the next level of warfare that minimizes danger to Israel’s forces.
These were the additional highlights of what I now consider our refresher course on visiting Israel. It was truly a comprehensive and ideal exercise, which was exhilarating, but also kind of tiring. Make that very tiring, but still excellent and rewarding.
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