When the Middle East’s most feared and maligned army was feted Tuesday night at New York’s famed Waldorf-Astoria hotel, the evening was a study in contrasts.
In midtown Manhattan, gussied-up women in low-cut gowns and bespectacled men in tuxedos sipped chardonnay and munched on cupcakes stamped with the FIDF logo while half a world away the Israeli soldiers for whom they were raising money were manning anti-rocket batteries along the Israel-Gaza border. The dinner usually draws some big names from Israel, but this year they were absent. There were, however, video messages from Gilad Shalit and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, among others.
And IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz had been scheduled to come to the $1,000-a-plate dinner in New York, but the sudden escalation in fire between Israel and Gaza that followed Israel’s killing last week of terrorist leader Zuhair Qaisi prompted Gantz to stay on the front lines. He did, however, stay up into the wee hours Wednesday morning to address the FIDF gathering via satellite, against a backdrop of an anti-missile battery near the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, not far from the Israel-Gaza border.
“This should have been a very nice trip,” he said of his planned visit to the United States, but “obviously I decided to stay here due to the escalation that we had here.
“In Israel we had to operate against this Qaisi guy,” he said. “As a result, obviously, they started to shoot fire at civilians.”
Israel has been abuzz the last few days over the relative effectiveness of Iron Dome, the anti-rocket system that went operational less than a year ago and which faced its first major battlefield test over the weekend, when Gaza militants fired dozens of rockets toward Israel. Iron Dome missiles intercepted the vast majority of the long-range ones aimed at Israeli cities, sparing Israel both civilian casualties and the launching of a major counteroffensive in the Gaza Strip.
“Iron Dome and active defense system, it’s a serious and historical military change,” Gantz said. “It hasn’t been done before.”
One of the stars of Tuesday night’s dinner — which raised $26 million for the IDF — was a combat soldier named Doron who operates one of the Iron Dome anti-missile batteries and appeared alongside Gantz in the satellite broadcast. When the evening’s emcee, radio host and Fox News contributor Monica Crowley, asked Doron how many missiles he personally had intercepted, the crowd laughed as if she were talking about football game stats. Doron’s answer: four.
The crowd cheered.
"Aren’t these guys the best!" Crowley gushed.