Obama arrives in Israel.

AAA-ObamainIsrael[The live blog feed covering the President’s arrival is now closed.]

6:00pm Israel time — Private dinner begins at the Netanyahu residence.

“After hundreds of suggestions were received on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Facebook page, Sara Netanyahu has chosen the gifts that she will give to US First Lady Michelle Obama, to Sasha and Malia Obama and even to the presidential dog Bo,” notes the Prime Minister’s official website. “Ms. Netanyahu will give Michelle Obama a silver Passover seder plate that could be used at the traditional Passover seder that is held at the White House annually. To Sasha and Malia Obama, Ms. Netanyahu will give chains with silver medallions in the form of David’s harp set with Roman glass. Ms. Netanyahu will give Bo a rubber hamburger toy. Additionally, singer Idan Raichel has been chosen to appear at the dinner that Prime Minister and Sara Netanyahu will host in honor of US President Barack Obama at their residence tomorrow evening, Wednesday, 20 March 2013. Raichel will appear with several members of the Idan Raichel Project, including Maya Avraham and Kabra Kasai. They will sing “Mima’amakim” and “Min Nhar Li Mshiti”, and play an instrumental selection.”

5:58pm Israel time — “The U.S. ambassador to Syria said Wednesday the Obama administration has no evidence to support President Bashar Assad’s claims that U.S.-backed rebels used chemical weapons in northern Syria, but is looking carefully at the conflicting reports,” reports AP. “‘So far we have no evidence to substantiate the reports that chemical weapons were used yesterday,’ Robert Ford told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He later added that the administration was extremely concerned and trying to verify reports that such weapons were used in the Aleppo province and the Damascus suburbs.”

5:57pm Israel time — “The prime minister praises Obama for knowing ‘exactly when to come’ to Israel — once a government had been formed,” reports the Times of Israel. “Obama is seated at a small round table, with Netanyahu seated facing him. Sara stands to her husband’s left. Now she escorts him toward the other waiting dignitaries, including Secretary of State Kerry, Ambassador Dan Shapiro, and Netanyahu’s aides including Yitzhak Molcho and Ron Dermer. A brief chat with Netanyahu’s son, Yair, apparently talking about army service. What do you plan to study? ‘International relations.'”

5:45pm Israel time — Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, welcome President Obama and Secretary to their official residence for a working dinner. Topics: Iran threat, Syrian chemical weapons, and next steps with Palestinians.

5:30pm Israel time (6 hours ahead of Washington, DC)Full text of President Obama’s remarks upon arriving in Israel:

“Shalom. President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and most of all, to the people of Israel, thank you for this incredibly warm welcome. This is my third visit to Israel so let me just say tov lihiyot shuv ba’aretz.

“I’m so honored to be here as you prepare to celebrate the 65th anniversary of a free and independent State of Israel. Yet I know that in stepping foot on this land, I walk with you on the historic homeland of the Jewish people. More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here, tended the land here, prayed to God here. And after centuries of exile and persecution, unparalleled in the history of man, the founding of the Jewish State of Israel was a rebirth, a redemption unlike any in history. Today, the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah are fulfilling the dream of the ages — to be “masters of their own fate” in “their own sovereign state.” And just as we have for these past 65 years, the United States is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and your greatest friend.

“As I begin my second term as President, Israel is the first stop on my first foreign trip. This is no accident. Across this region the winds of change bring both promise and peril. So I see this visit as an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bonds 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. I want to begin right now, by answering a question that is sometimes asked about our relationship — why? Why does the United States stand so strongly, so firmly with the State of Israel? And the answer is simple. 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. We stand together because we are democracies. For as noisy and messy as it may be, we know that democracy is the greatest form of government ever devised by man. We stand together because it makes us more prosperous. Our trade and investment create jobs for both our peoples. Our partnerships in science and medicine and health bring us closer to new cures, harness new energy and have helped transform us into high-tech hubs of our global economy. We stand together because we share a commitment to helping our fellow human beings around the world. When the earth shakes and the floods come, our doctors and rescuers reach out to help. When people are suffering, from Africa to Asia, we partner to fight disease and overcome hunger. And we stand together because peace must come to the Holy Land. For even as we are clear-eyed about the difficulty, we will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbors.

“So 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. It makes us both stronger. It makes us both more prosperous. And it makes the world a better place. That’s why the United States was the very first nation to recognize the State of Israel 65 years ago. That’s why the Star of David and the Stars and Stripes fly together today. And that is why I’m confident in declaring that our alliance is eternal, it is forever — lanetzach. Thank you very much.”

4:02pm Israel time — President Obama arrives at Israeli president’s residence, greets Shimon Peres, ready to begin reception and then private talks on Iran, Syria and the Palestinian peace process.

4:00pm Israel time — CBN posts news story on the presidential visit, including I did with their White House correspondent.

3:59pm Israel time — Obama motorcade moving through Jerusalem, en route to Peres residence.

3:40pm Israel time — Israeli President Shimon Peres told reception for the American President at his official residence in Jerusalem that will begin at 4pm local time, 10am Washington time.

2:40pm Israel time (6 hours ahead of Washington, DC) — “Haaretz analyst in New York Chemi Shalev points out that the American media is also providing extensive coverage of Obama’s visit to Israel. American commentators believe that the use of chemical weapons on Syria will be high up on the agenda during Obama’s meetings.”

2:31pm Israel time Israeli government releases full text of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s remarks welcoming the President(Haaretz):

“President Obama, This is an historic moment. You have chosen to come to Israel as the first foreign visit of your second term, you the leader of the United States, the world’s greatest democracy, have chosen to come to our somewhat smaller but no less vibrant democracy in the heart of the Middle East, the one and only Jewish state of Israel. On behalf of the government and the people of Israel, I come here today with a simple message for you and the American people: Thank you. Thank you for standing by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East. Thank you for unequivocally affirming Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself by itself against any threat. Thank you for enhancing Israel’s’ ability to exercise that right through generousmilitary assistance, revolutionary missile defense programs, and unprecedented security and intelligence cooperation. Thank you, Mr. President, for upholding the Jewish people’s right to a Jewish state in our historic homeland, and for boldly defending that right at the United Nations. And thank you for strengthening the unbreakable alliance between our two nations during your Presidency.

“In an unstable and uncertain Middle East, the need for our alliance is greater than ever. It is the key to thwarting dangers and advancing peace; it’s the key to achieve a the stable and secure peace that the people of Israel yearn for with our neighbors with our all hearts. We seek a peace with our Palestinian neighbors. I look forward to working with you over the next four years to make the alliance between our two countries even stronger. Mr. President, on this historic visit, you will have an opportunity to see a different side of Israel. You will see past, present, and future in this tiny land which has left such a huge imprint on the course of civilization. You will see the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls, the world’s oldest text of the Bible, written in Hebrew here 2,000 years ago, scrolls that bear witness to the timeless bond between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. You will meet the young men and women of Israel who make it one of the most creative and dynamic societies on earth. And you will see Israeli technology and innovation which is fundamentally transforming the way we live. Mr. President, Barack – on a lighter side, I had an opportunity to see your interview on Israeli television the other day. I took note of your desire to go incognito, so if you have a few free minutes, and you can arrange to slip away from your security – a daunting task – well, we picked out a few cafes and bars in Tel Aviv, as we even prepared a fake mustache for you.

“Mr. President, the people of Israel are honored to have you visit our country. We warmly welcome you as a cherished guest. We deeply appreciate your friendship. And we share your hope that the Middle East will enjoy a future of freedom, prosperity and peace. Mr. President, Baruch HaBa L’Yisrael: welcome to Israel.”

2:15pm Israel time —  There are three critical questions the president needs to answer on this trip:

1) Have diplomacy, sanctions and covert operations failed to stop Iran from  building nuclear weapons?

2) If so, will President Obama order airstrikes against Iran, or give Israel  the “green light” to hit Iran’s nuclear sites since other measures have  failed?

3) If not, why not?

To read my full op-ed on the Fox News opinion page, please click here.

2:10pm Israel time — I’m glad the President will also be visiting Ramallah and Bethlehem on this trip to the epicenter. It is important to honor the Palestinian people, listen to their hopes and dreams and concerns and seek ways to make peace. After all, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matthew 5:9)

2:05pm Israel time — What is former CIA Director Porter Goss watching for on this Presidential trip to Israel, and does he believe war will erupt between Israel and Iran in 2013? Read my interview with him.

2:00pm Israel time — CNN reports “high probability” that chemical weapons were used Tuesday in Syria….White House chief of staff calls development a “game changer” if proven true….developing.

1:52pm Israel time — Marine One lands in Jerusalem.

1:42pm Israel time Just a thought: if this is how Israelis greet the President of the United States when he touches down in Tel Aviv, imagine what it will be like when the Messiah touches down on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. (Zechariah 14:3-5 and Acts 1:1-12)

1:36pm Israel time — President Obama now aboard Marine One for helicopter ride to Jerusalem.

1:15pm Israel time — PM to Obama: “Thank you for unequivocally affirming Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself against any threat.”

1:10 PM Israel time Jordanian King Abdullah makes news by saying it’s just a matter of time before Assad’s regime falls in Syria.

1:07 PM Israel time — Obama and Netanyahu enter motorcade — driving over to see Iron Dome anti-rocket battery on the grounds of the Tel Aviv airport. “Obama meets with Iron Dome soldiers. Obama tells Iron Dome crew: All of you are doing an outstanding job. We’re very proud of you. (Chemi Shalev, Haaretz)”

1:05 PM Israel timeFox News correspondent Ed Henry notes the Obama recently said he wished he could put on a fake mustache and slip away from his Secret Service detail to sit at a cafe and chat with Israelis in person. Netanyahu jokes with Obama upon arrival that he’s willing to help Obama accomplish this desire and that Israel has even created a fake mustache for him.

1:00 PM Israel time — President Obama opens remarks in Hebrew, “Tov lihyot ba’aretz” — it’s good to be in Israel. Then says U.S.-Israel alliance is “eternal, forever.” Says it is in America’s national interest to stand with Israel.

12:57 PM Israel time — President Shimon Peres makes opening remarks (reported by Haaretz):

” President Barack Obama, Dear Friend — Welcome to Israel. We welcome you as a great President of the United States of America. As a remarkable world leader. As a historic friend of Israel. Of the Jewish People. Your visit here is a crown demonstration of the profound relationship between our two nations. The people of Israel welcome you with open hearts. From the depth of our hearts, From the depths of our history, “תודה רבה” Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, America. Thank you for what you are. Thank you for what you do. Thank you for the hopes you carry with you. In a few minutes you will be on your way to Jerusalem. Our ancient capital. The cradle of all believers, of all prayers. You will see the hills and mountains where our prophets preached. Where the soul of the Jewish People was born. Where the State of Israel was created.

“America and Israel are somewhat different in size. In size, not in destiny. The American dream stems from the bible. The Israeli spirit is inspired by American exceptionalism. We are separated by an ocean and united by the commitment to freedom, to justice, by the ongoing struggle for peace. We face the same dangers. We share the same hopes. Mr. President, the United States became great by giving. Not by taking. Your generosity enabled freedom to prevail all over the world. A world without America’s leadership, without her moral voice, your moral voice, would be a darker world. A world without your friendship, will invite aggression against Israel. Mr. President, your story reflects the history of the world as it is. Your vision reflects the future as it should be. You have offered the American people and the peoples of the world a leadership of vision, a leadership of values. A leadership dedicated to a brighter tomorrow. In times of peace, in times of war, your support for Israel is unshakable. You enabled our security in an extraordinary way, to project strength. To strive for peace. Strengthening security is the best way to strengthen peace. We long to see end the conflict with the Palestinians. To see the Palestinians enjoy freedom and prosperity in their own state. We extend our hand in peace to all the countries of the Middle East. America stood by our side from the very beginning. You support us as we rebuild our ancient homeland and as we defend our land. From Holocaust to redemption. From Truman to Obama. Mr. President, wherever you go in our land, you will meet the friendship and warmth of the people of Israel. Mr. President, the people of Israel want you to feel at home. So, welcome home Mr. President.”

12:52 PM Israel time — President Peres: “A world without America would be a darker world.”

2:42 PM Israel time (6 hours ahead of Washington, D.C.) — President’s first comment to Netanyahu, “It’s good to get away from Congress.”

12:26 P.M. Israel time — Prime Minister Netanyahu greets the President.

12:13 P.M. (Israel time, 6:13 A.M. Eastern time) — U.S. President Barack Obama lands at Ben-Gurion Airport.

12:09 P.M. — Israeli airspace has been closed as Air Force One is expected to land at 12:30 P.M.

Interesting notes:

  • The White House entourage and Secret Service have taken over all of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem — no other guests allowed to stay there
  • The press corps is staying around the corner at the Inbal Hotel
  • 15,000 Israeli police officers are protecting the President during this visit.

** Please be praying for the Lord to protect the President, the nation of Israel, and all who are involved on this important state visit.

>> NOTE: I’m tracking coverage from the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, Times of Israel, AP, Reuters, CNN, Fox News, and numerous other journalists, analysts and friends.

>> NOTE: I’m going to be live Tweeting the next few days through the President’s visit to the epicenter — Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. I’ll also be re-Tweeting key tidbits, stories and analysis I’m seeing from others. Please send me stories you find interesting, and please follow along — @joelcrosenberg

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