US president lands in Israel, says "peace must come to the Holy Land"; Netanyahu thanks US president for "standing by Israel."
By BEN HARTMANUpdated: MARCH 29, 2018 12:26
Speaking a bit of Hebrew in front of Israel’s newly appointed ministers, local religious leaders, an IDF honor guard and dozens of reporters, US President Barack Obama on Wednesday began his first visit to Israel as president.“Tov lihiyot shuv baaretz” (“It’s good to be in Israel again”), Obama said to chuckles from the crowd, before adding that he knows “that in stepping foot on this land, I walk with you on the historic homeland of the Jewish people.”Obama began his speech by speaking at length of the Jewish historical ties to Israel, saying, “More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here, tended the land here, prayed to God here. And after centuries of exile and persecution, unparalleled in the history of man, the founding of the Jewish State of Israel was a rebirth, a redemption unlike any in history.”He spoke of how “the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sara” have fulfilled “the dream of the ages – to be ‘masters of their own fate’ in their own sovereign state.”Obama addressed the recent turmoil in the Middle East, saying, “Across this region the winds of change bring both promise and peril. So I see this visit as an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bonds 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.”He spoke of his desire to see Israel at peace with its neighbors, before stating that “the United States of America stands with the State of Israel because it is in our fundamental national security interest to stand with Israel,” and, ending his speech in Hebrew by saying, “I’m confident in declaring that our alliance is eternal, it is forever – lanetzach.”Before Obama spoke, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave a speech to mark the “historic moment.”Advertisement“Thank you for standing by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East. Thank you for unequivocally affirming Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself by itself against any threat. Thank you for enhancing Israel’s ability to exercise that right through generous military assistance, revolutionary missile defense programs, and unprecedented security and intelligence cooperation,” the prime minister said.Netanyahu praised Obama for “upholding the Jewish people’s right to a Jewish state in our historic homeland,” and for “strengthening the unbreakable alliance between our two nations during your presidency.”The prime minister also referenced a recent interview with Channel 2, where Obama expressed a desire to wear a disguise and hang out with Israelis at a cafe or bar in Tel Aviv, saying that if he could ditch his presidential security detail, “we picked out a few cafes and bars in Tel Aviv, and we even prepared a fake mustache for you.”Minutes earlier, President Shimon Peres set the theme of friendship and gratitude, with several sentences welcoming Obama to Israel and thanking him and the United States.“The people of Israel welcome you with open hearts. From the depth of our hearts, from the depths of our history, thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, America. Thank you for what you are. Thank you for what you do.”Speaking to Obama’s personal history, Peres said, “Mr. President, your story reflects the history of the world as it is, your vision reflects the future as it should be. You have offered the American people and the peoples of the world a leadership of vision, a leadership of values. A leadership dedicated to a brighter tomorrow. In times of peace, in times of war, your support for Israel is unshakable.”After the speeches, Obama was taken to visit an Iron Dome battery set up for the purpose a couple of hundred meters away. Obama told the soldiers manning the rocket defense system, “You’re doing an amazing job."A few minutes later he boarded Marine One and taxied down the runway. The helicopter took off for Jerusalem trailed by an escort of several US Army Blackhawks.