US President Barack Obama landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday for his first trip to Israel as president, stating that he had visited Israel twice before prior to his presidency and, adding in Hebrew, that it was "tov l'he'ot shuv b'aretz," (good to be in Israel again.).
Obama, beginning a three-day visit in Israel, stated that it was no accident that the first trip of his second term was to Israel, as the two countries are both democracies that share a great deal in common.
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Obama spoke of the Jewish people's 3,000 year-old connection to the land, stating that the founding of the State of Israel was a tale of redemption "unlike any other in history."
Obama said that his visit was "an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our nations, to restate America's unwavering commitment to Israel's security and to speak directly to the people of Israel and to your neighbors."
"We stand together because peace must come to the Holy Land," Obama stated, saying that while the US was "clear-eyed about the difficulties of making peace," America still strives for peace between Israel and its neighbors.
"I am confident in declaring that our alliance is l'netzach, eternal, is forever," he added, employing the use of Hebrew.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed Obama upon his landing, thanking him and the American people for "standing by Israel."
He thanked Obama and the US for "affirming Israel's right to defend itself against any threat," for the "generous military assistance," and for the "unprecedented security cooperation."
President Shimon Peres also addressed Obama in a welcome speech on the tarmac of Ben-Gurion Airport, saying his visit to Israel was “a crown demonstration of the profound relationship between our two nations.”
Peres emphasized Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security saying that Obama “enabled our security in an extraordinary way, to project strength.” Peres added “Strengthening security is the best way to strengthen peace.”
Perhaps in the hope that Obama will be able to reignite the long-stalled peace process with the Palestinians, Peres said that Israel “Longs to see the end to the conflict with the Palestinians. To see the Palestinians enjoy freedom and prosperity in their own state.”
Obama's three-day state visit will encompass trips to Yad Vashem, Mount Herzl and the Israel Museum, as well as the obligatory series of meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama will then head to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah II.
Some 1,000 people in total were at the airport to greet Obama on his first visit to Israel as president, including Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, who greeted him as he stepped off of Air force One.
As he walked down the red carpet from Air Force One, Obama was also greeted by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger. He soon after shook hands with the ministers of Israel's newly sworn-in government, one-by-one.
The US president was a given a demonstration of the Iron Dome missile defense system, a battery of which was transported to the airport for the occasion.
The president was transported by helicopter to Jerusalem for a reception at the President’s Residence. This was to be followed by a marathon three-part meeting with Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Residence: an initial two and- a-half hour meeting, followed by a 20-minute press conference, and then a dinner.
The visit, announced last month, will cover a host of hot topics, including the increasingly precarious situation in Syria, Iran's nuclear ambitions and a moribund peace process. Netanyahu's new government includes rightist partners such as Bayit Yehudi, whose pro-settler affiliation may well have raised some eyebrows at the State Department in recent weeks. Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett has called for Israel to annex huge swathes of the West Bank, while foreign minister in waiting Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beytenu has announced that he will oppose any idea of a new settlement freeze.
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