President Obama arrived in Israel Wednesday, pledging as he landed that the U.S. will remain an "eternal" ally of Israel, amid "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 seemed in 2009 to suggest that Israel was created after the Holocaust, sought to hit the right notes: pointedly calling Israel 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, timing that he said was "no accident.
"Across this region the winds of change bring both promise and peril," he said. The visit, he said, gives him an opportunity to "reaffirm the unbreakable bond" between the U.S. and Israel, restate the U.S.'s "unwayvering commitment to Israeli security," as well as talk to Israelis.
"We stand together because 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 democracies."
And he pledged a lasting partnership, saying that the U.S. relationship with Israel is in both country's national security interest and makes the two countries stronger and "more prosperous.
"That is why I'm confident in declaring that our alliance is eternal, it is forever," Obama said, repeating the word in Hebrew, lanetzach.
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.
The two will talk privately tonight -- and then hold a press conference. On the agenda: Iran's suspicious nuclear weapons program, Syria and the prospects of a resuming peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.