HELICOPTER EPIPHANIES

Hagel

People who have experienced profound epiphanies while flying over Israel in a helicopter:

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie:

I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories [He’s lucky they didn’t shove him out] across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.

Prime Minister David Cameron:

On my last visit here, I took a helicopter ride heading north over Israel, looking right to the Jordan River and left to the Mediterranean Sea, I really appreciated for the first time just how narrow and vulnerable this land is.

Texas Governor George W. Bush:

Ariel Sharon, then the new Israeli foreign minister, who had nearly completed a remarkable political comeback, took Bush on one of his trademark helicopter tours, designed to convey what Sharon considered Israel’s tenuous security situation.

‘They really went very low to show the Jordan River, to show the strategic importance of the ridges overlooking the Jordan River which must be controlled and the narrow waist of the state of Israel’, longtime Sharon aide Raanan Gissin told Matthews. ‘And the president was very much impressed by the geographical dimensions. “Gee”, he said. “I never realized that Israel is so small”’.

…how Bush recalls it:

Ariel Sharon… gave us a helicopter tour of the country… Shortly after the chopper lifted off, he pointed to a patch of ground blow. ‘I fought there’, he said with pride in his gruff voice. When the helicopter turned to the West Bank, he gestured at an isolated cluster of homes. ‘I built that settlement’, he said. Sharon subscribed to the Greater Israel policy, which rejected territorial concessions. He knew every inch of that land, and it didn’t sound like he intended to give any of it back.

‘Here our country was only nine miles wide’, Sharon said at another point, referring to the distance between the 1967 borders and the sea. ‘We have driveways longer than that in Texas’, I later joked. I was struck by Israel’s vulnerability in a hostile neighbourhood…

President Barack Obama:

I have long understood Israel’s quest for peace and need for security. But never more so than during my travels there two years ago. Flying in an [Israeli Defence Forces] helicopter, I saw a narrow and beautiful strip of land nestled against the Mediterranean.

and again:

I flew on an IDF helicopter to the border zone. The helicopter took us over the most troubled and dangerous areas and that narrow strip between the West Bank and the Mediterranean Sea. At that height, I could see the hills and the terrain that generations have walked across. I could truly see how close everything is and why peace through security is the only way for Israel.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel:

Hagel said he came away with a fresh perspective on Israel’s situation after a 90 minute helicopter tour of the occupied Golan Heights in the north, accompanied by his Israeli counterpart Moshe Yaalon. ‘I had been in those areas in my many visits here. But I’d never seen it the way that the minister had it laid out for me, the north along the border’, Hagel told reporters. ‘And when you have that experience, as you know so well, it really does shape the kind of challenges and the kind of world that Israel’s living with, and in a clear way’.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney:

I travelled (with some of the people in this room) by helicopter to Al-Fay Menasha. It was to tour a strategic span in the security fence, standing between the centre of Israel and the West Bank. It is at that point that one can see just how narrow the waist of Israel actually is. I was struck during that tour by the IDF officer that was briefing us. He bent over backwards to explain how low and how unobtrusive the fence was—how much effort had been expended to keep it from being too imposing. At one point, I respectfully interrupted him to explain that he didn’t need to apologise… at least not to this American. Because if America lived in a neighbourhood like Israel’s, with suicide bombers crossing into our country to kill children in school buses, we’d be building a fence that was higher, thicker and hard as concrete.

Presidential candidate and Republican Congressman John B. Anderson:

Independent U.S. presidential candidate John Anderson toured Jewish settlements today on the occupied West Bank of the Jordan River and said the controversial outposts ‘might have some defensive significance’. Anderson, on a five-nation tour to boost his image as a foreign policymaker, had his helicopter land at the Jordan Valley settlement of Phatzael, where he questioned residents about their defences.

BBC Middle East Correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes:

We’ve come up here into the air in a helicopter… It gives you an idea of just how narrow Israel is at this point.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

On a helicopter flight over some parts of Israel, he [i.e. Ban Ki-moon] said he came to better appreciate the security constraints facing Israel. He stressed his ‘conviction that the long-term safety and security of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian State go hand-in-hand’.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker:

We were looking there and you could see in a helicopter up in the air you could see how close the threats were from Hezbollah, the Islamic State, down to the problems in Gaza… You could just see why they are so concerned. And when people bring up a two-state solution and I’ve said as well after being there certainly it’s not the time for that now. They need defensible and secure borders and they’re a long way off from having that happen.

Many journalists have also experienced helicopter epiphanies over Israel.

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