Congress calls them “constituent work weeks” or “recess.” And while many members of Congress use breaks from the legislative session to travel back to their home districts, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, used this week to travel to Israel.
He began Thursday with a tour of an Iron Dome battery in southern Israel — an advanced missile defense system developed by the Israelis after a 2007 border attack from Lebanon. Portman, the ranking member on the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee on Senate Armed Services, fought for additional funding for the program last week. This week he went to the source to check its progress.
“The Iron Dome system is a proven way for Israel to defend its people from hostile threats,” Portman said. “This cooperative effort between our two governments will also help enhance U.S. missile defense capabilities.”
Portman met separately with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. A government official familiar with the trip told ABC News the senator’s meeting with Netanyahu lasted about an hour and centered on regional security issues. Iran and Syria were discussed.
“This past year has been very turbulent for the Middle East, and my conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu strengthened my belief that we need to remain vigilant in our support of our critical ally,” Portman said.
In his meeting with Barak, Portman pitched the unique capabilities of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, the Ohio-based factories that make Abrams tanks. The Manufacturing Center could soon become a causality of the Pentagon’s deep budget cuts but Portman has fought the Pentagon’s proposals to defund JSMC. He recently helped secured $90 million to keep the factories open for another year.
JSMC has recently begun work on the chassis for the Israeli Namer battle tank. This and other foreign sales will be key to keeping the plant open as U.S. vehicle production is reduced.
According to an aide, Portman believes his meetings with Netanyahu and Barak went “very positively.”
Portman is no stranger to foreign travel having visited at least a dozen countries while serving as US Trade Representative under George W. Bush. Since he became a senator, he has been to Germany, South Korea, India, Italy, and now, Israel.
Portman’s name has been mentioned as a possible running mate for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.