Touring northern, southern borders, US envoy pledges Iron Dome replenishment

Army provides Biden’s UN envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield with rundown of security challenges stemming from Iran; meeting Gantz, she urges him to avoid settlement building, evictions

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield tours Israel's southern border, with IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi on November 16, 2021. (US Mission to the UN/Twitter)
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield tours Israel's southern border, with IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi on November 16, 2021. (US Mission to the UN/Twitter)

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield toured Israel’s northern and southern borders on Tuesday, with IDF officials briefing the envoy on the diverse array of security challenges posed by Iran’s influence in the region.

Thomas-Greenfield was on the second day of her first-ever trip to Israel, and the first such tour by a cabinet member in the Biden administration since the formation of the new Israeli government last June. She will also be making visits to Ramallah and Amman for meetings with Palestinian and Jordanian leaders later in the week.

On the Gaza border, Thomas-Greenfield was briefed on the security and humanitarian situation in the coastal enclave. She visited the Palmachim Air Force base in central Israel where she received an overview of the country’s air defense capabilities, including the Iron Dome and David’s Sling weapons systems, “which our nations developed together to save the lives of innocent civilians,” Thomas-Greenfield tweeted later Tuesday.

“We will replenish the Iron Dome system and support Israel’s ability to defend itself,” she added, emphasizing a pledge made by US President Joe Biden.

The US House overwhelmingly passed legislation to provide $1 billion in supplemental funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system, which worked on overdrive during last May’s Gaza war. The legislation is being held up in the Senate though, by Republican Rand Paul, who is demanding that funding for it be stripped from US aid to Afghanistan.

Separately Tuesday, Thomas-Greenfield met with the World Food Program’s Palestine director Samer Abdel Jaber, discussing the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield tours the Palmachim Air Force base on November 16, 2021. (IDF)

“We’re committed to working with the UN & partners to marshal support and provide targeted humanitarian assistance directly to Palestinians in dire need,” the envoy tweeted after the meeting.

On the northern border, she toured a tunnel that Hezbollah fighters managed to dig into Israeli territory, which was later uncovered by the IDF. The envoy was briefed on the security challenges Israel faces, amid Lebanon’s ongoing economic collapse, the entrenchment of Hezbollah in the country, and Iran’s influence in the area, the army says in a statement.

The ambassador also met with officials from the UN’s Interim Force In Lebanon, thanking them for their work to maintain calm on the Israel-Lebanon border and pledging to continue working with them to address UNIFIL’s challenges and help the force implement its mandate, her office said.

Israel has long argued that UNIFIL has not done enough to prevent Hezbollah’s armament in southern Lebanon and that its mandate should be expanded.

Thomas-Greenfield was accompanied during the day by senior IDF officials, including Deputy Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi along with Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan. The latter envoy said in a statement that he was confident that the visit would equip Thomas-Greenfield with the tools and perspective necessary to address Israel’s security concerns at the Security Council.

“We have seen together air defense systems such as the Iron Dome, which is an integral part of our security alliance — a development that protects the citizens of Israel and will soon also protect the lives of American soldiers in battlefields around the world,” Erdan said.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield tours the Palmachim Air Force base with Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan on November 16, 2021. (IDF)

In his own statement after the visit, Halevi said the tour was “another example of the deep cooperation between the IDF and the State of Israel and the United States,” and highlighted the joint US-Israeli response to the threats facing the Middle East, namely from Iran.

“Iran undermines security stability in the region, through its proxies in Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip,” Halevi said.

Thomas-Greenfield finished her day meeting Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who thanked the envoy for “her professional and personal contribution” to Israel-US ties, according to his office.

He also spoke about “the Iranian aggression that is undermining regional stability,” citing Iran’s nuclear program and backing of proxy groups.

The US readout, on the other hand, highlighted that Thomas-Greenfield had urged Gantz avoid taking steps that undermine prospects of a two-state solution, such as settlement activity and home evictions.

Israel recently advanced plans for roughly 3,000 settlement homes in the West Bank for the first time since Biden entered office, sparking Washington’s ire. The issue of Palestinian evictions has been a thorn in bilateral relations for months, with the US warning Israel against booting residents from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and other neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Israel contends that its a matter for its courts to decide, while Palestinians point to discriminatory legal statutes.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield meets with Defense Minister Benny Gantz in northern Israel on November 16, 2021. (Matty Stern/ US Embassy Jerusalem)

Thomas-Greenfield and Gantz met in the Galilee region with the former expressing “the United States’ ironclad commitment to Israel’s security, including efforts to curb Iran’s regional aggression and the replenishment of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system,” her office said.

They also discussed expanding upon the Abraham Accords and lowering tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, per the US readout.

“The two leaders expressed support for a strengthened UNIFIL mandate, and addressed the importance of Sudan’s returning to a civilian-led transition,” the statement adds. Israel is believed to have established working ties with the Sudanese military, which took control of the country in a coup last month.

The US has reportedly been pushing Israel to encourage the Sudanese military to return power to the civilian-led transitional council. The Sudanese army had been the driving force behind the country’s effort to normalize with Israel. While the civilian government went along with the initiative, it was seen as more apprehensive.

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