U.S. President Barack Obama 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 an arrival ceremony 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 about his belief that "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 U.S. president later met with Mr. Peres in Jerusalem after being serenaded by Israeli children waving the flags of both nations.
Mr. Obama said he benefited from the Israeli president's views on how to deal with turmoil in the Arab world, the perceived "perils of a nuclear-armed Iran" and the "imperatives" of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
"I reaffirmed to President Peres, as I will throughout my visit, that in this work, the state of Israel will have no greater friend than the United States. And the work we do in our time will make it more likely that the children we saw today, alongside children throughout the region, have the opportunity for security and peace and prosperity."
Speaking alongside Mr. Obama, the Israeli president said both nations are trying to restart Israeli negotiations with the Palestinians.
"We have already agreed that the goal is a two-state-for-two-peoples solution. There is no better one, more achievable one. We consider that the president of the Palestinian Authority Abu Mazen as our partner in that effort to stop terror and bring peace."
Earlier, Mr. Netanyahu showed Mr. Obama a battery of Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system that Washington has helped to fund. Israel used the Iron Dome to shoot down hundreds of rockets fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip during an eight-day conflict last November.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu have cited the Iron Dome as an example of "unprecedented" security cooperation between their nations. In a meeting at Mr. Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence, the two leaders were expected to discuss the Iranian nuclear program, the Syrian civil war and efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Both men laughed and joked as they chatted in front of the cameras before the talks. Their personal chemistry appeared to be warmer than in previous years, when they repeatedly disagreed in public about issues like Iran and Jewish housing projects on occupied land the Palestinians want for a state.
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.