President Obama sought to reaffirm the “unbreakable bond” between Israel and the U.S. today, after he touched down at Tel Aviv airport at the start of a three-day Middle East trip. Observers on both sides of the Atlantic expect that the trip will not result in any significant progress in the interminable Israeli-Palestinian struggle.
“I see this visit as 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,” he said at the red-carpet welcoming ceremony at the airport. “I am confident in declaring that our alliance is eternal, is forever.” The president then added the Hebrew word for forever, “lanetzach.”
Though Obama’s supposed “testy” relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been written about ad nauseam in Israel and the U.S., Obama wasn’t above gently poking fun at Netanyahu shortly after he arrived.
A major goal for the Israelis during Obama’s trip is to persuade him to be more aggressive in preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, and to establish a red line point where progress on the bomb would compel the U.S. to take action.
Netanyahu even drew a cartoon of a red line and a bomb during his address to the United Nation in New York. So when Obama, after exiting Air Force One, was told by an Israeli official to “follow the red line” on the tarmac to view the Israeli-made Iron Dome anti-missile battery, the president joked as he stood next to Netanyahu, “He’s always talking to me about red lines.”
“So this is all a psychological ploy,” he added.
Obama, Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres all gave speeches emphasizing the strong bond between the two nations.
Beginning his speech with “shalom,” the Hebrew word for “peace,” Obama said he was “confident in declaring that our alliance is eternal.”
“The United States is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and your greatest friend,” he said.
Since Israel is an increasingly isolated nation with very few friends or allies other than the U.S., critics might parse Obama’s statement and say it was not a particularly strong declaration of the bond between the two countries.
Obama said it was no accident that he had made the first overseas trip of his second term to Israel.
“Across this region, the winds of change bring both promise and peril,” he said.
Netanyahu thanked Obama for “standing by Israel at this 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 had jokes of his own, picking up on comments Obama made before the trip expressing the desire to put on a disguise and go to a Tel Aviv bar. Netanyahu said that he had lined up a few locations and “even picked out a fake mustache for you.”
Before heading off to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah, Obama will be meeting tomorrow with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. Palestinians are not pleased with Obama, believing he has backed away from statements he made early in his first term about his concern for their status.
“It’s not a positive visit,” Wasel Abu Yousef, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is led by Abbas, told Reuters.
Demonstrating the tension surrounding his visit, Palestinian police in Ramallah yesterday scuffled with a crowd of demonstrators protesting Obama’s visit.