President Obama traveled to Israel for the first time in his nearly five-year tenure as commander in chief, Wednesday (March 19). The trip gives the president an opportunity to fix his relationship with the country, which has been shaky since he took office.
“Shalom,” the president said, opening his speech with the Hebrew word for “peace,” during his arrival ceremony. Arriving at the Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, the president was greeted by President Shimon Peres, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I see this visit as an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bonds between our nations.”
While in the country, the president is expected to discuss Syria, and Iran’s nuclear program, topics of which were not mentioned after he stepped off Air Force One. Instead, he focused on spreading harmony. “We stand together because peace must come to the Holy Land. Even as we are clear-eyed about the difficulty, we will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbors.”
The aforementioned “neighbors” refer to Palestine, which the POTUS never mentioned directly. His reputation in Israel has been strained amid public perception that he is more focused on a relationship with the Islamic world.
Discrepancies between Israel and Palestine are on-going, hitting a peak late last year when airstrikes at the border of the neighboring countries, killed more than 100 people within a few day.
Following the president’s lead, Netanyahu and Peres shared a message of unity. Peres noted Obama as being “very knowledgeable,” while Netanyahu thanked him for “standing by Israel during a time of “historic change” in the Middle East. “We deeply appreciate your friendship and we share your hope that the Middle East will enjoy a future of freedom, prosperity, and peace,” he added.
Netanyahu and Obama have not always been on the same page, but today’s mutual adoration was clear. “Thus United States is proud to stand with your as your strongest all and your greatest friend,” Obama said during the speech.
For the next four days, the president’s Middle East trip schedule is full until the he steps back on Air Force One to return stateside. Following his bilateral meeting earlier, he will attend a dinner this evening, hosted by Netanyahu. Tomorrow he will head to the Israel Museum, travel to Ramallah, West Bank, and give a speech at the Jerusalem Convention Center. Friday and Saturday’s agenda features his attendance at wreath laying ceremonies at Mount Herzl, a visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, and going to the ancient city of Petra.
See photos below.