Less than 90 minutes after leaving vibrant Tel Aviv we were stood on Israel’s border with Gaza. Monday was a beautiful, peaceful day in southern Israel. But the peace is deceptive.
A few weeks ago the air was heavy with the wail of rocket sirens. Over a thousand rockets had been fired at Israel by Palestinian Islamic Jihad in just a single weekend.
The region’s many residents will have had as little as 10 seconds to make life and death decisions.
The IDF colonel – talking to the group of 7 Conservative MPs on a CFI delegation – pointed out a Hamas watch tower. It had been built to allow Hamas terrorists to look over the border fence into Israeli communities. Locals living in the nearby kibbutz had been shot at multiple times from positions like this.
The range of threats was made horrifyingly clear in the IDF’s Canopy of Fire command centre. We sat in the room where the IDF oversaw their operations with a bank of screens displaying some of the cameras actively looking for suspicious activity. Footage showed everything from neutralised cross-border terror tunnels, UAV’s dropping explosives on Israeli military vehicles, and even Russian-made anti-tank missiles hitting a civilian bus.
Hamas may have sat out the most recent ‘round’ of conflict as it continues to rebuild after the events of last year, but it is no less committed to threatening Israel. It was worrying to hear that the group – alongside the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad – were now expanding within the West Bank. This is compounded by the ever-deepening uncertainty over the unpredictable events that will follow the eventual departure of President Abbas.
And yet, despite all the unenviable security challenges, Israelis have adapted. The Gaza border area is thriving. We learned that the population of Sderot – a city lined with bomb shelters at every turn – and the wider southern region was one of the fastest growing in the country.
At a flower-growing business on the border we saw the determination to make the most of life. The business had borne the brunt of multiple near-fatal rocket strikes, and still it was proud of their exporting of geraniums into the Gaza Strip and all over the world.
In dealing with these constant threats, it was palpably clear that Israelis of all walks of life genuinely value the UK’s friendship.
It is no exaggeration to say we are living in a golden era of relations between our two countries, with the UK now considered as one of Israel’s most trusted and valued allies in the world.
There is an already well-established awareness that both of the incoming Conservative leadership candidates are committed to building this relationship further. Israel is excited about the prospect of a free trade deal. Commitments from both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to review the relocation of the British Embassy to Jerusalem and a tough stance on Iran had not gone unnoticed.
Despite all the challenges we have seen and heard about this week it has been heartening to see Israelis and Palestinians working side by side in every day life, not least Watergen’s provision of technology to produce fresh drinking water for a Gaza hospital and Save a Child’s Heart Children’s Hospital in Tel Aviv. Recent progress made on normalising Israel’s relationship with Arab countries through the Abraham Accords is a huge step forward and I hope that our Prime Minister will look at the role that Britain can play in helping to facilitate similar dialogues.
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