(TEL AVIV, Israel) -- Arriving in Israel Wednesday morning for his first presidential visit to Israel, President Obama sought to reassure Israelis of the strong support from the U.S. as they face increasing threats in the region, declaring "our alliance is eternal."
Standing on the tarmac in Tel Aviv, Obama said it was "no accident" that he chose Israel for the first foreign trip of his second term.
"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 neighbors," Obama said.
"We stand together because we share a common story -- patriots determined to be a free people in our land, pioneers who forged a nation, heroes who sacrificed to preserve our freedom, and immigrants from every corner of the world who renew constantly our diverse societies," he said.
White House officials have lowered expectations ahead of the president's trip, saying Obama will not present any new peace initiatives and expects no breakthroughs during his four-day stay in the region.
But it was clear the president was happy for some time outside the Washington beltway.
"It's good to get away from Congress," Obama said to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a candid moment captured by television cameras.
The president did not reference the Palestinians by name during his brief remarks, referring to them instead as Israel's "neighbors."
Obama's highly symbolic visit will consist largely of choreographed photo-ops and political tourism as Obama tries to win over the support of the Israeli people. The centerpiece of the trip will be the president's speech to the Israeli people Thursday.
The president has his work cut out for him. Polls here show Obama is still deeply unpopular with Israelis and he's had a rocky relationship with Netanyahu.
Looming over the trip is the nuclear threat from Iran. Behind the scenes, Israel's new coalition government wants reassurance that the Obama administration will take out Iran's program if they cross the infamous "red line" and develop a nuclear weapon.
The U.S. and Israel don't see eye-to-eye on the timeline for taking action against Iran. Obama has said it would take Iran over a year to develop such a weapon, but the Israelis believe they could develop one much sooner.
"As I begin this visit let me say as clearly as I can -- the United States of America stands with the state of Israel because it is in our fundamental national security interest to stand with Israel," Obama said. "It makes us both stronger, it makes us both more prosperous, and it makes the world a better place."
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