Obama says US firm in commitment to Israel's security
US president highlights hopes for peace - without directly mentioning Palestinians
US president Barack Obama and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu view an Iron Dome missile defence battery at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv today. Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters
US president Barack Obama said at the start of his first official visit to Israel today that the US commitment to the security of the Jewish state was rock solid and that peace must come to the Holy Land.
"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 neighbours," Mr Obama said at a welcoming ceremony at Tel Aviv airport.
"I am confident in declaring that our alliance is eternal, is forever," he added.
President Obama faces strong doubts among Israelis over his pledge to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. In his welcoming remarks to the US president, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu cited an Israeli right to self-defence, which he said Mr Obama supported.
"Thank you for standing by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East," said Mr Netanyahu, whose relationship with the US president has often been testy.
"Thank you for unequivocally affirming Israel's sovereign right to defend itself by itself against any threat," the right-wing Israeli leader said before viewing with Mr Obama an Iron Dome anti-missile battery that was brought to the airport for the president to see. The system is partially US-funded.
At the ceremony, Mr Obama spoke of his hopes for peace - without directly mentioning Palestinians. US officials said he was not bringing any peace initiative with him.
"We stand together because peace must come to the Holy Land," Mr Obama said. "Even as we are clear eyed about the difficulties, we will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbours."
US-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled since 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement-building in the occupied West Bank.