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 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Mary Allen says because of new research and her own therapy, she no longer carries around the fear of her mother, which had turned into a generalized fear of everything
updated 3:59 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gilbert Gottfried says the comedian was most at home on the comedy club stage, where he was generous to his fellow stand-up performers
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Iris Baez, whose son was killed by an illegal police chokehold, says there must be zero tolerance for police who fatally shoot or otherwise kill unarmed people such as Michael Brown
updated 8:46 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Maria Cardona says as he seeks a path to the presidency, the Kentucky Senator is running from his past stated positions. But voters are not stupid--and they know how to use the internet
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gene Seymour says the shock at the actor and comedian's death comes from its utter implausibility. For many of us over the last 40 years or so, Robin Williams was an irresistible force of nature that nothing could stop.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Soledad O'Brien says the story of two veterans told in a documentary airing on CNN shows the challenges resulting from post-traumatic stress
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT