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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

November 17, 2017  RSS feed
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Text: T T T

Local man’s dogged support for Iron Dome helps save lives of Israelis and Palestinians

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press


An Iron Dome missle defense battery shown in 2014 near the southern Israeli town of Ashdod. 
Photo by David Buimovitch/Flash90 An Iron Dome missle defense battery shown in 2014 near the southern Israeli town of Ashdod. Photo by David Buimovitch/Flash90 When Eric Lynn met President Barack Obama in the White House in September 2010 to seek funding the Israel’s Iron Dome defensive missile system, he recalled a time two years earlier when he stood with Obama, then a U.S. senator running for president, in Sderot, Israel.

Lynn, a native of St. Petersburg and currently a board member of the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, worked for candidate Obama as a Middle East policy advisor. He and Dan Shapiro, also a Middle East policy advisor and fundraiser for Obama, had put together a trip to Israel for Obama in July 2008. While there, they visited the southern town of Sderot, located less than 9 miles from the Gaza strip. The locals had gathered many of the spent rockets that Hamas had fired from Gaza and stacked them next to the local police station.


Iron Dome was a key topic when Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, right, met with US Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, left, at the Pentagon in summer 2010. St. Petersburg native Eric Lynn, seated at the head of the table, served as special advisor on the Middle East in the Defense Department Policy Office, and was a staunch proponent of the Iron Dome system. Iron Dome was a key topic when Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, right, met with US Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, left, at the Pentagon in summer 2010. St. Petersburg native Eric Lynn, seated at the head of the table, served as special advisor on the Middle East in the Defense Department Policy Office, and was a staunch proponent of the Iron Dome system. With the pile of rockets as backdrop, Obama told residents and Israeli officials, “...I can assure you that if – I don’t even care if I was a politician – if somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

After Obama was elected, Lynn went to work in the Pentagon for the U.S. Department of Defense in early 2009 at the age of 30, as a senior advisor under Defense Secretary Bob Gates. He served as special advisor on the Middle East in the Policy Office, which included being lead on U.S.-Israel defense policy issues.


President Obama and Eric Lynn at the White House President Obama and Eric Lynn at the White House Shortly after starting his job, Lynn said, “Among other items on my desk was a file on the Iron Dome project, and it was stamped in 2008 as rejected.”

Today, the Iron Dome rocket defense system is hailed as a highly effective defense system that has about a 90 percent success rate of shooting down rockets fired at Israel population centers and blowing them up before they can harm people. But when Lynn looked at the file and began asking why the project was rejected, he said a number of generals and defense officials told him the Iron Dome system – entirely the creation of a company in Israel – was not accurate and too costly.

Lynn’s duties brought him into frequent contact with Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz, the IDF defense attaché in Washington at the time and later IDF chief of staff. Gantz wanted the U.S to take a second look at the Iron Dome system, saying since it was tested by U.S. officials earlier and deemed ineffective, vast improvements had been made.

“I encountered a lot of rejections and heard ‘no’ many times,” Lynn said.

But he was finally able to set up a meeting with Defense Secretary Gates. Until then the project had not come to Gates for review and he was not familiar with the full details.

In a recent Jerusalem Post story on Lynn’s fight to get funding for the Iron Dome project, Lynn was quoted as pointing out to Gates that “this is a particular system of technology that we don’t have available ... that Israel is on the front lines, that they are taking fire, schools are getting hit and that they have technology which we should check to see if it can save lives.”

Lynn said he won Gates’ support to get a second test of the improved system at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama and the Iron Dome proved to be highly effective.

Later that year, after putting together a funding request, Lynn and his friend Dan Shapiro, who by then was the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East (and later became U.S. Ambassador to Israel), met with Obama at the White House. Also at the meeting in the Situation Room were Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary Gates, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy and other members of the National Security team, Lynn said.

Lynn and Shapiro told the president that Israel was seeking to build 10 Iron Dome defensive systems at a cost of about $400 million and needed about half of that funding from the United States.

Lynn reminded Obama of his visit to Sderot two years earlier, saying, “Mr. President, you told us and everyone you wanted to do everything to protect Israeli civilians – just like if it was your daughters; this is something we can do to protect Israeli civilians and other civilians.”

Lynn said Obama immediately embraced the idea. “This is not even a difficult decision. This is absolutely something I want to support. Let’s move forward,” Obama said.

With backing from the president, the Pentagon and pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, Congress quickly approved the funding, and in subsequent years has continued to provide funding, adding on a provision that some of the Iron Dome production be done in the United States, creating jobs for Americans.

The Iron Dome technology determines the trajectory of the rockets, identifies those likely to strike populated areas, and shoots those rockets down before they reach their targets.

Lynn said Iron Dome has about a 90 percent success rate and it was his favorite project during his service at the Department of Defense. In addition to serving as Secretary Gates’ lead on the Iron Dome project, other duties included working on joint U.S.-Israel training exercises, the sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets to Israel, and on the David’s Sling and Arrow antimissile systems being developed for use in Israel against mid-range and long-range guided missiles. His tenure at the Pentagon also included serving under Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who succeeded Gates in that position in 2011.

Lynn left his Pentagon job in late 2014 and returned with his family to St. Petersburg.

Since then he has dabbled in politics. He filed to run in the Democratic primary for the congressional seat then occupied by David Jolly, but was persuaded to step aside when former Gov. Charlie Crist entered the 2016 race. He then ran for a state house seat and lost.

Lynn, 39, and Frank Sanchez, former Under Secretary of Commerce, now run a firm called CNS Global Advisors, a strategic consulting business on national security and defense matters.

It was at a defense conference in Israel last year that he gave some details of his work to get the Iron Dome funded, resulting in a reporter from the Jerusalem Post writing the behind-the-scenes story recently about Lynn’s work.

Here is an excerpt from that story:

The final chapter in Lynn’s Iron Dome story came three years later. On August 26, 2014, the day that Israel and Hamas agreed to a final cease-fire, Lynn was present at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence for a small meeting along with then-IDF chief Gantz and US envoy retired general John Allen.

Netanyahu said, “I want to thank you Eric, and Dan [Shapiro] and Benny that you made sure we have Iron Dome. As prime minister, if I had not had it, we would not be ending the conflict right now. It was a game changer. I would have had to have ordered a full invasion [of the Gaza Strip] if rockets had hit Tel Aviv.”

The prime minister continued, “This not only saved Israeli civilians lives, but thousands of Israeli soldiers’ lives and thousands of Palestinian civilians lives who could have been in danger if we had needed to go in to retake Gaza.”

Lynn said that of all of the work he has done in public service, he was “the most proud” of this accomplishment, because “it worked in combat and it saved lives.”


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