Ronald Reagan once said that the friendship between the United States and Israel is “based on historic moral and strategic ties, as well as our shared dedication to democracy.” With that in mind, I recently traveled to Israel with a Congressional delegation in an effort to strengthen the partnership between our two countries.
Throughout the trip, we met with top Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin. We also met with members of the Israel Defense Forces, the opposition leader, leaders from the Palestinian Authority, local historians, and Israeli business officials.
I was especially impressed by the Israel Defense Forces and their commitment to defending their country. I had the opportunity to visit with young men and women who serve in the IDF during a luncheon near the Gaza Strip. I have no doubt in the ability of these individuals to stand up against the radical terrorists who continue to attack Israel.
We were also able to get a firsthand look at the Iron Dome technology, which is the air defense system designed to intercept short-range rockets and artillery developed jointly between the U.S. and Israel. The system was very effective during last year’s conflict between Israel and Hamas. There are a number of Iron Dome sites set up all across Israel that have saved thousands of Israeli lives, and I am proud the United States helped make this technology possible.
We also traveled to the Golan Heights in the northern part of Israel near the border with Syria. From there, we viewed some of the territory claimed by the Islamic State. Israel is in an impossible position, under attack from literally all sides, with a major Islamic terrorist organization and a country experiencing civil war just miles from its border.
As you may expect, much of our trip focused on the proposed nuclear agreement between the United States and Iran. Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, expressed serious concerns that Iran will use the $150 billion in sanctions relief to fund terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, who have repeatedly attacked Israel. We can’t forget that Iran is the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in the world, and it does not make sense to give them access to billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets.
I knew before I visited Israel that the Iran nuclear deal was bad for the American people, but this trip has further reinforced my concerns. I will certainly oppose the Iran nuclear agreement when it comes before Congress for a vote, and I will work to convince my colleagues to do the same.
All political and national security issues aside, Israel is also home to a number of historical and holy sites. As a Christian, it was very powerful to travel in the area where Jesus once walked. I had the opportunity to pray at the Western Wall, which is the western wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. We also visited the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where Mary lay the Baby Jesus in the manger.
So as President Reagan said, there are clear political, security, and cultural ties between the United States and Israel, and now is certainly not the time to be turning our back to Israel. I made sure to tell all the Israeli people I talked to that the United States is going to continue to stand strong with Israel against the violent extremists who threaten their way of life.
Bradley Byrne is a member of the U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.