Iran, Syria, Arab spring top Obama’s agenda on Israel trip

Olivier Knox
The Ticket

President Barack Obama arrives in Israel on Wednesday without Michelle Obama, without Vice President Joe Biden, without a specific plan to relaunch the Middle East peace process, but bearing a heavy agenda focused on Iran, Syria and regional unrest.

Obama has visited Israel before—he traveled there as a presidential candidate, midway through 2008—but this will be his first time since taking office. His trip will also feature talks with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and with King Abdullah in Jordan.

The visit will be packed with symbolic stops, such as a return visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and photo-op tour of an “Iron Dome” anti-missile battery. But Obama won’t address Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and his official public schedule does not include a stop at the Western Wall. (Stay tuned on that one, though. Not being on the public schedule is not necessarily the same as not being on the itinerary—security precautions sometimes occasion strategy omissions.)

Below are key stops on his schedule, as provided to reporters in a conference call on Thursday with Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro. Much of it was disclosed days ago by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Obama arrives in Israel on Wednesday, one day after the 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq. Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will welcome him at the airport.

Obama will then view an Iron Dome battery—one brought to Ben-Gurion airport, not in the field where the missile-defense system shoots down Palestinian rockets.

Rhodes called U.S. investments in Iron Dome “one of the clearest manifestations of our support for Israel and its security” and the visit “is a signal of that continued support for Israel and its security, and the close relationship and partnership that we have on the security issues.”

Obama will meet with Peres at his residence, and subsequently will hold talks with Netanyahu at the latter’s residence, followed by a joint press conference and a dinner.

“There will be a broad agenda for our governments to address while the president is in Israel, including our efforts to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, the ongoing situation in Syria, the developments in the wider region that pose both opportunities and security challenges, and efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace,” Rhodes said.

On Thursday, Obama will visit the Israel Museum and see the Dead Sea Scrolls. He will also visit what Rhodes called “a technology exposition.”

After that, he’ll travel to Ramallah for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. They’ll hold a press conference and then have lunch. Obama will also meet with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

“The United States has supported the significant institution-building that the Palestinian Authority has undertaken in the West Bank,” Rhodes said. ”It’s a chance to discuss our continued support for the PA, as well as to discuss ways to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace going forward.”

Obama will then deliver a speech at the Jerusalem International Convention Center—remarks targeting young Israelis, including university students. He’ll emphasize “not just the nature of the challenges that we face today, but where the United States and Israel are working to move together as we head into the future," Rhodes said.

That will come before a dinner with Peres.

On Friday, Obama will lay a wreath at the grave of the father of modern political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, and the final resting place of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

After that, he will visit Yad Vashem to lay a wreath and make a speech. Then he’ll be off to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Obama will then travel to Jordan, meet with King Abdullah and hold a joint press conference. The two leaders will also dine together. Obama then will head to Amman. Concerns about refugees fleeing the bloodshed in Syria will likely top the agenda there.

On Saturday, Obama will visit Petra. It’s the last stop on his publicly available schedule.