How one can Fly an American President Right into a Nation at Struggle

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By the point they got here to the again of Air Pressure One to inform us what to do in case of a rocket assault, it was clear that this was not going to be an unusual presidential journey.

The well-known blue-and-white Boeing 747 was someplace over the Atlantic Ocean this week ferrying President Biden to Israel, which is in the course of a struggle with Hamas, and the safety people had been giving directions to the touring journalists about learn how to keep away from, nicely, dying.

They handed out cheat-sheet pocket-size notecards with instructions for learn how to reply if an air raid siren went off, indicating a potential strike by Hamas whereas we had been on the bottom. What to do if there have been an assault whereas we had been below the wing of Air Pressure One on the tarmac ready for the president to disembark. What to do if there have been an assault whereas we had been within the motorcade heading into Tel Aviv. What to do if there have been an assault on the resort the place Mr. Biden was to fulfill with Israeli officers.

By no means thoughts that the teeny, tiny font of the recommendation on the notecard can be awfully exhausting to learn for the time being we thought a rocket was taking pictures our manner. But it surely was the primary time since I began protecting the White Home in 1996 that I may bear in mind such a briefing for reporters on Air Pressure One, an indication of simply how unsure the journey may very well be.

In any case, they had been bringing the president and his touring get together into a rustic at struggle in broad daylight on reside tv. Air Pressure One was to land at Ben-Gurion Worldwide Airport nicely inside vary of Hamas rockets from Gaza, a spot thought-about hazardous sufficient that many worldwide airways have stopped flying there.

Simply the day earlier than, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany needed to be evacuated from his personal aircraft on the identical airport due to air raid sirens and rushed to a shelter. The reporters touring with him? Ordered to throw themselves down on the tarmac and lie flat till the hazard handed.

Simply the day earlier than that, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken was equally hustled to a shelter throughout a gathering with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The reporters with him had been scrambled out of vans and into the stairwell of a constructing to journey out the potential assault.

It was already shaping as much as be an uncommon presidential journey in different methods. Even because the motorcade arrived at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland for the takeoff of Air Pressure One, we realized that the second half of the journey, a cease in Jordan for Mr. Biden to fulfill with Arab leaders, had simply been abruptly referred to as off due to the explosion at a Gaza hospital. Air Pressure One was rolling down the runway and the itinerary of the journey was instantly in flux.

There’s, in fact, a cause that presidents will not be typically flown into nations at struggle. When it has occurred prior to now, it was often below extra managed circumstances. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the primary president to fly to an abroad vacation spot throughout wartime when he traveled to Casablanca in the course of the North African marketing campaign of World Struggle II and nobody was informed till after he had safely arrived. Reporters thought he was heading to his Hyde Park residence in New York.

Following that precedent, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama flew to Afghanistan or Iraq below cowl of secrecy, their arrivals not introduced upfront and their temporary stays measured in hours and confined to American army bases. As soon as when Mr. Bush was being spirited out of Washington for a struggle zone journey, his cowl was nearly blown when a panhandler approached his unmarked automobile at a stoplight. Whereas the president was informed to duck down, a quick-thinking Secret Service agent within the automotive behind him shoved a number of {dollars} out the window to draw the panhandler’s consideration.

When Mr. Biden traveled to Ukraine this 12 months, he was the primary president to go to a rustic at struggle exterior the relative safety of an American army presence, however that journey was likewise shrouded in secrecy. For worry of Russian antiaircraft missiles, Mr. Biden was transported by a nine-hour practice journey to Kyiv with solely a handful of aides, guards and two journalists accompanying him.

In contrast, the White Home introduced Mr. Biden’s journey to Israel upfront. And though it requested reporters touring with him to maintain the particulars of his schedule confidential till his arrival, Mr. Netanyahu’s workplace in Israel revealed the place and when he can be going earlier than he landed.

The safety briefing on the aircraft was surreal. Whereas I had lined the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I had not been among the many few reporters to fly with Mr. Bush or Mr. Obama there. However even then, I used to be informed, reporters weren’t given the sort of briefing we got en path to Tel Aviv.

We had been informed that if we heard an air raid siren, referred to as “azaka” in Israel for alarm, we’d have roughly one minute till impression if the rocket had been coming our manner. If it occurred whereas we had been on the tarmac protecting the president’s arrival, we must always run full pace to the close by motorcade automobiles. If a siren went off whereas we had been within the automobiles, we must always keep in them — the alternative of Israeli safety protocol, which is to get out of a automobile and discover different cowl as a result of the automobile itself may very well be a goal.

As soon as within the resort in Tel Aviv the place the president would meet with Mr. Netanyahu, we must always discover a designated shelter or protected room within the constructing, referred to as “mamad.” As soon as the alarm stopped, we had been informed, it might imply the rocket had been intercepted or fallen elsewhere however we must always nonetheless shelter in place for a couple of minutes to keep away from falling particles. If we acquired separated from the president’s get together or Air Pressure One took off with out us, the small card had telephone numbers for us to name.

Luckily for Mr. Biden and his touring get together, the nervous anticipation proved worse than the truth that we’d encounter throughout our brief keep.

Whereas we had been zipped into Tel Aviv, the beachfront city seemed a lot because it all the time does. There have been loads of closely armed troopers alongside the motorcade route, however there often are anyplace a president travels. Israelis in shorts and T-shirts on a heat Mediterranean day stood alongside the highway snapping footage with their smartphones simply as folks usually do throughout a presidential go to.

For no matter cause, no air raid sirens went off in our listening to whereas Mr. Biden was on the bottom. They sounded elsewhere within the nation, we had been informed, they usually sounded in Tel Aviv after we left. However Hamas evidently selected to not provoke the American president throughout his seven and a half hours in Israel.

The journey ended with one other shock. The president got here again to the press cabin to talk with us on the report on the best way residence — one thing Mr. Biden had by no means completed earlier than throughout his presidency. (“You guys are such a ache within the neck,” he informed us.)

Sporting a light-weight blue zip-up sweater and denims, he acknowledged that the journey was a big gamble, at the least politically. Presidential journeys are often pre-scripted with sure outcomes. This one was a little bit of a flyer in additional methods than one.

However Mr. Biden appeared happy that he had completed what he needed. “I believed it was value taking the prospect,” he mentioned.