Obama calls trip an opportunity to 'reaffirm the unbreakable bond' between the US and Israel

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 20, 2013 

President Obama landed in Israel Wednesday, pledging that the U.S. will remain a steadfast ally of Israel, amidst "winds of change" in the turbulent region.

His visit partly aimed at shoring up his standing among skeptical Israelis, Obama earned an early round of applause as he opened his remarks at the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv with "shalom," and went on to say in Hebrew, "It's good to be back in the land of Israel."

Obama, whom the Israeli public views warily after he skipped the country during his first term, sought to hit the right notes: pointedly noting the "historic homeland of the Jewish people." He called the U.S. Israel's "strongest ally and greatest friend" and noted the visit to Israel was his first stop on the first foreign trip of his second term and said the timing was "no accident.

"Across this region the winds of change bring both promise and peril," he said, adding that he sees the visit as an opportunity to "reaffirm" the "unbreakable bond" between the U.S. and Israel and restate the U.S.'s "unwavering commitment to Israeli security," as well as talk to Israelis.

"We share a common story of patriots determined to be a free people in our own land," he said. "We stand together because we are a democracy."

After the remarks, he joined Netanyahu for a tour of an Iron Dome, anti-missile system, which the U.S. has helped finance. As they were directed to the facility, Obama joked about Netanyahu was "always talking" about red lines -- a reference to the red lines that the two leaders have set in regards to military action against Iran and Syria.

Netanyahu spoke briefly before Obama took the stage, saying he wanted to thank Obama and the U.S. for "standing with Israel" -- singling out Obama for "boldly defending" the Jewish right to a homeland before the United Nations.

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