Partway through a whirlwind, two-day visit to Israel last week, a delegation of top New York State elected officials including state Sen. Co-majority Leader Jeff Klein visited tunnels used by Hamas militants to infiltrate Israel.
Mr. Klein said seeing the tunnels, which Israel aimed to destroy as part of a large military operation last month, left a strong impression.
“When you read in a newspaper about tunnels, you figure you have a bunch of guys digging some holes, maybe at best a couple hundred feet,” the senator said. “These stretched miles... They were a serious deal.”
Mr. Klein added he believes he, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican state Sen. Co-majority Leader Dean Skelos were the first American officials to see the tunnels at first hand. The tunnels they saw were in Nahal Oz, a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip.
Mr. Cuomo organized the Aug. 13-14 trip to show solidarity for Israel amid rocket attacks from Hamas and an Israeli assault on Gaza. A tenuous ceasefire was underway as the delegation arrived, with Israeli casualties numbering in the dozens and Palestinian deaths at over 1,000 at the time.
Mr. Klein said the purpose of the visit was not for diplomacy, but to show that New York supports Israel. He said including his Republican co-leader of the senate was an important part of that message.
“[Mr. Cuomo] played up the fact that he had the assembly, the Democratic co-leader of the state Senate and the Republican co-leader,” Mr. Klein said. “He understood the importance of showing bipartisan effort [and] showing this is not about politics; this is about support for the state of Israel.”
“You can’t imagine someone living their life where your enemy is firing rockets into your state on a daily basis,” he added.
The delegation’s trip began with meetings with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
According to the governor’s Aug. 14 itinerary, the delegation met with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon; received a briefing on Israel’s Iron Dome, the system that shoots down rockets into the country; met with Israeli soldiers, including people originally from New York, alongside former Israeli President Shimon Peres; toured the tunnels in Nahal Oz; and met children who live close to the tunnels.
Mr. Klein discussed his trip in front of about 150 people at Chabad Lubavitch of Riverdale on Saturday. “It was very nice to hear the support that our government from New York [showed],” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the synagogue’s co-director.