Skip to main content

Ambassador: Trip signals Obama's ties with Israel

By Michael Oren, Special to CNN
updated 7:39 AM EDT, Mon March 18, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Israeli ambassador: Barack Obama making first trip to Israel as president
  • Michael Oren says trip will reinforce Israel's legitimacy and reassure the nation
  • Obama will inspect anti-missile battery and visit grave of father of Zionism, he says
  • Oren: Israel will demonstrate its appreciation for U.S. support for Mideast peace and security

Editor's note: Michael Oren is Israel's ambassador to the United States.

(CNN) -- This week, Barack Obama will embark on his first trip to Israel as president. The visit will enable him to engage, experience and touch Israelis in ways that move and bolster us.

In seemingly small gestures that are nevertheless immensely meaningful to Israelis, and in declarations designed to be heard throughout the region, Obama will reinforce Israel's legitimacy and reassure a nation facing monumental challenges. Israelis will know -- justly, incontestably -- that we are not alone.

That realization will contrast with earlier reports of Israeli skepticism about Obama and his commitment to the Jewish state. Israel is situated in a region rife with turmoil, anti-Semitism, and terror, and its survival is threatened daily. Though the Israel Defense Forces are formidable, Israelis need to feel that the leader of our greatest ally, America, always stands beside us.

Michael Oren
Michael Oren

Obama sought to allay these concerns, telling the U.N. General Assembly in September 2011 that "the Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland." He repeatedly upheld the unbreakable bonds between the U.S. and Israel, and his total dedication to Israel's security.

Now the president has chosen Israel as the first foreign destination of his second term. Immediately after landing, he will visit a battery of the anti-missile system, Iron Dome. Designed by Israel and funded by the president and the Congress, this particular battery was deployed at the height of November's fighting with Hamas and within an hour intercepted a terrorist rocket heading for Tel Aviv.

The only anti-missile system in history to succeed in combat, Iron Dome saved lives and avoided war, affording the Israeli government the precious time needed to negotiate a cease-fire. While speaking with the young soldiers who man Iron Dome, Obama will remind the Middle East of America's pledge to enable Israel to defend itself by itself against all enemies.

Less dramatic, perhaps, but no less significant will be the president's tour of the Israel Museum's treasure, the Shrine of the Book. A white-tiled structure recalling the ancient jars in which they were hidden, the Shrine houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, the world's oldest Jewish manuscripts. By surveying Hebrew texts composed in or around Jerusalem thousands of years ago, Obama will signal the unbroken link between the Jewish people and their ancient land.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



That message will be reiterated at Obama's last stop. Ascending the mount that serves as Israel's equivalent to Arlington National Cemetery, the president will lay a wreath at the grave of Benjamin Ze'ev (Theodor) Herzl. Fifty years before the Holocaust, Herzl envisioned the creation of a Jewish state in the land of Israel and fathered the Zionist movement.

In 2010, former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, an outspoken friend of Iran, refused to pay similar homage to Herzl. Doing so, he knew, meant acknowledging the Jewish people's unassailable right to self-determination in their forebears' land. But Obama will do just that, while the Middle East watches.

There will be other highlights in the president's visit. He will tour Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial, not to associate Israel's creation with the Nazis' Final Solution, but rather to reaffirm Israel's right to defend itself from genocidal threats, such as those made by Iran.

The president will also address an audience of hundreds of students from leading Israeli universities, who will be eager to hear his vision for Israel and the Middle East and his appreciation of Israel's many accomplishments in the technological and scientific fields.

Obama on Iran: 'All options on the table'

Beyond the public events, though, Obama will be meeting at length with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Contrary to press reports, their relationship has been open and friendly. This will mark their 10th meeting and, indeed, Obama says that he has spoken to the prime minister more frequently than any foreign leader.

The two leaders will discuss issues of critical importance to the security of both nations --restarting unconditional peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians to create a solution based on two states for two peoples, monitoring Syria's chemical weapons arsenal and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Presumably, these issues will also be raised in the president's meetings in the West Bank and Jordan.

The message, however, will be the same: America remains committed to security and peace in the Middle East and dedicated to a safe and recognized Jewish state of Israel. Israel will show its appreciation for that resolve when President Shimon Peres bestows on our visitor Israel's highest civilian medal, the Presidential Medal of Distinction. By the time Air Force One takes off from Ben Gurion Airport, it will undoubtedly leave behind an Israeli people profoundly affected and reassured.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael Oren.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT