President Barack Obama has arrived in Israel and vowed "eternal" support for his top Middle East ally.
On his first trip to the country as president, Mr Obama told the Israeli people at an extravagant welcoming ceremony that “peace must come to the Holy Land” and that goal would not be achieved at Israel’s expense. US backing for Israel will be a constant as the Middle East deals with revolution and Iran continues work on its nuclear programme, he said.
“The United States is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and your greatest friend,” he said, accepting thanks from Israeli president Shimon Peres and prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the tarmac at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport.
“Across this region the winds of change bring both promise and peril,” he said, calling his visit “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 neighbours.”
Seeking to alter a perception among many Israelis that his government has been less supportive of Israel than previous US administrations, Mr Obama declared the US-Israeli alliance “eternal”.
Even before leaving the airport for Jerusalem, Mr Obama offered a vivid display of the US commitment to Israeli security by visiting a missile battery that is part of Israel’s Iron Dome defence from militant rocket attacks. The United States has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in developing the system with Israel.
“Let me say as clearly as I can: The United States of America stands with the State of Israel because it is in our fundamental national security interest to stand with Israel,” Mr Obama said.
“We stand together because peace must come to the Holy Land,” he added. “For even as we are clear-eyed about the difficulty, we will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbours.”
Mr Netanyahu, who sparred frequently with Mr Obama over the course of the US president’s first term, was equally lavish in his praise.
“Thank you for standing by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East,” he said. “Thank you for unequivocally affirming Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself by itself against any threat.”
Although preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon is a priority of both Israel and the United States, Mr Netanyahu and Mr Obama have differed on how to achieve both ends.
Israel repeatedly has threatened to take military action should Iran appear to be on the verge of obtaining a bomb. The US has pushed for more time to allow diplomacy and economic penalties to run their course, though Obama insists military action is an option.
Adding yet another dimension to the trip, Mr Obama landed amid new questions about the Syrian regime’s possible use of chemical weapons.
He has declared the use, deployment or transfer of the weapons would be a “red line” for possible military intervention by the US in the Syrian conflict.
Israel believes that chemical weapons may have been recently used in Syria, although US officials have said they had no evidence.
Despite not coming with any new plan to get the stalled peace process back on track, Mr Obama plans to make clear that his administration intends to keep trying to get talks re-launched.