U.S. President Barack Obama has declared that America's alliance with Israel is "eternal and forever" as he began his first visit to the Jewish state since taking office.
In a brief address to dignitaries at Ben Gurion airport Wednesday, Mr. Obama said he made Israel the first overseas stop of his second term because wants to "reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our nations."
He also said he wants to speak directly to the people of Israel and their neighbors and believes "peace must come to the holy land."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres welcomed the U.S. president at the airport. Mr. Netanyahu thanked Mr. Obama for defending what both have called "Israel's right to defend itself, by itself, against any threat."
The Israeli prime minister escorted Mr. Obama on a tour of a battery of Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system that Washington has helped to fund. Israel used the Iron Dome to shoot down rockets fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip during an eight-day conflict last November.
Both leaders have cited the Iron Dome as an example of "unprecedented" security cooperation between their nations.
Mr. Obama is due to hold talks with Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Peres on the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program and the crisis in Syria.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is joining Mr. Obama for the tour, which comes as a new Israeli government featuring pro-settlement ministers takes office.
Mr. Obama is set to travel to the West Bank on Thursday to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
On Friday, his schedule includes talks with King Abdullah in Jordan, where the United States has been helping authorities to cope with a flood of refugees from the Syrian civil war.
In addition to the meetings, Mr. Obama is scheduled to visit a set of cultural and religious sites in the region, including seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum and a stop at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Many Palestinians have said they are disappointed with Mr. Obama, and see little reason for optimism in his second term. There were scattered protests in the Palestinian territories on Wednesday ahead of Mr. Obama's arrival.