TEL AVIV, ISRAEL // President Barack Obama landed in Israel today, opening his first trip to the country since taking office.
Air Force One touched down in Tel Aviv after an overnight flight from Washington. After an arrival ceremony at the airport, Mr Obama will head to Jerusalem for meetings with Israeli leaders.
Upon landing, Mr Obama joked to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that he was "getting away from Congress."
Israeli President Shimon Peres welcomed Obama, declaring that "A world without America's leadership, without her moral voice, would be a darker world. A world without your friendship, would invite aggression against Israel."
Mr Obama called the US Israel's "strongest ally and your greatest friend."
In a veiled reference to tensions and regime changes in the region, he added: "The winds of change bring both promise and peril."
The president will also make stops in the West Bank and Jordan while in the Middle East. Mr Obama's agenda will focus on the prospects for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, Iran's disputed nuclear programme, and the ongoing violence in Syria.
However, White House officials have downplayed the prospects for major breakthroughs on any of those issues.