US Prez Barack Obama on first Israel visit

US President Barack Obama arrived in Israel on Wednesday as he began his first trip ever to Israel and second to the Middle East.

Updated: Mar 20, 2013, 21:10 PM IST

Zeenews Bureau

Tel Aviv: US President Barack Obama arrived in Israel on Wednesday as he began his first trip ever to Israel and second to the Middle East.

Syria and Iran will dominate the talks other than the mutual issues between Palestine and Israel.

Experts are not reading much into the visit saying that it serves more as a symbolic trip and that no headway decisions on Palestinian peace process should be expected.

Obama’s Air Force One landed at Tel Aviv airport today afternoon, where Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu were present to greet him.

From there, Obama will head to Jerusalem for meetings with Israeli leaders.

Obama will also be making first trips as president to the Palestinian Authority and Jordan this week.

The centerpiece of the first leg of the trip will be a speech to Israeli university students on Thursday, during which Obama is expected to renew U.S. assurances to stand by Israel as it seeks to counter threats from Iran and protect its people in the midst of civil war in neighboring Syria, where new questions were raised Tuesday about the Assad regime`s possible use of chemical weapons.

Ahead of Obama`s visit, an Israeli Cabinet minister, Yuval Steinitz, said it is "apparently clear" that chemical weapons were recently used in Syria, and that the alleged attack will be a main topic of conversation with the president. The Obama administration said Tuesday it had no evidence to support the regime`s claims that rebels were responsible for a chemical attack.

Obama has declared the use, deployment or transfer of the weapons would be a "red line" for possible military intervention by the U.S. in the Syrian conflict.

Before he even leaves Ben Gurion airport for the 45-minute helicopter flight to Jerusalem, Obama will stop to view an Iron Dome battery, part of the missile defense system that the United States has poured hundreds of millions dollars into developing. Israeli officials credit Iron Dome with significantly reducing the impact of rockets fired into its territory from militants in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon and don`t want to see U.S. funding cut due to budget constraints.

Once in Jerusalem, a potent religious symbol as well as one of the main obstacles to an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, Obama will make several cultural stops — to see some of the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls and pay tribute to the founder of modern Zionism — intended to show his appreciation for the Jewish people`s millennia-old connection to the land that is now Israel as well as the horrors of the Holocaust. He will also visit the Church of Nativity, which is revered throughout Christiandom as the site where Jesus was born.

Obama will make an almost perfunctory visit to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority`s headquarters in the West Bank, where he will meet embattled Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to assure him that an independent Palestinian state remains a U.S. foreign policy and national security priority. Despite not coming with any new plan to get the stalled peace process back on track, Obama plans to make clear that his administration intends to keep trying to get talks relaunched.

Preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and the Syrian crisis from spilling over into the broader region are top priorities of Israel and the United States, although they have differed in the past on precisely how to achieve both ends.

srael repeatedly has threatened to take military action should Iran appear to be on the verge of obtaining a bomb. The U.S. has pushed for more time to allow diplomacy and economic penalties to run their course, though Obama insists military action is an option.

Obama will close out his Mideast trip with a 24-hour stop in Jordan, an important U.S. ally, where his focus will be on the violence in Syria. More than 450,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan, crowding refugee camps and overwhelming aid organizations.

With Agency Inputs