“Shalom,” Mr. Obama said after embracing President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who waited for him on a red carpet under the shadow of Air Force One at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport.
“I see this visit as an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bonds between our nations,” the president declared in a stately arrival ceremony after Mr. Peres and Mr. Netanyahu offered thanks to the United States for standing by its ally.
Mr. Obama did not mention the Palestinians by name in his brief remarks, speaking instead of Israel’s “neighbor.” Nor did he allude to Iran or Syria, the other top items on his agenda. But he invoked the Jewish people’s 3,000-year history in this land, referring to modern Israelis as “the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah.”
“I walk with you on the historic homeland of the Jewish people,” he said as Israeli and American flags rippled and sunlight glinted off the horns of an Israeli military brass band.
The president’s words seemed to presage a visit that will be heavy on symbolism and short on any proposals to advance peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Mr. Obama was almost immediately driven to a nearby hangar to inspect a battery of the Iron Dome air-defense system, a squat, mobile, desert-colored weapon pointed skyward. The system, built by Israeli companies but largely financed by the United States, is credited with intercepting more than 400 rockets fired from Gaza at Israeli cities and towns.
His inspection was the first in a series of carefully choreographed stops designed to convey a single message: the president cares about the Israeli people and will do whatever is necessary to protect them from Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and other enemies.
Mr. Obama, officials said, has not come bearing a bold, or even modest, proposal to revive long-stalled talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. His reference on Wednesday to the divide was cursory.
“We stand together because peace must come to the Holy Land,” Mr. Obama said. “Even as we are cleareyed about the difficulty, we will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbors.”
Rather, he is seeking to make a connection with the Israeli people, many of whom view him with a jaundiced eye after four years in which he did not come here and sparred with Mr. Netanyahu over issues like Iran and Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
In more than four hours of planned meetings with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Obama is expected to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and the status of Western diplomatic efforts to curb it; the civil war in Syria, where the government and rebel forces accused each other on Tuesday of using chemical weapons; and the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
In his remarks, Mr. Netanyahu said: “Thank you. Thank you for standing with Israel.”
The White House has energetically played down expectations for the visit, eschewing talk of “deliverables,” the diplomatic jargon for policy achievements, and suggestions that it represents a “reset” of the relationship between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu.
The timing all but guarantees that no serious diplomacy can be done: Mr. Netanyahu has just cobbled together a new coalition government with an untested collection of parties, and Mr. Obama, barely into his second term, is introducing a new secretary of state, John Kerry.
Promoting the military and intelligence ties between the two countries was a safe initial subject. The United States has committed nearly $1 billion to the Iron Dome system, which was put into service in April 2011, shooting down short- and medium-range rockets fired from Gaza.
Obama, Arriving in Israel, Offers Reassurance – New York Times
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