President Obama's Israel visit highlights common goals and a rare friendship

President Obama will be welcomed in Israel today by a spirit of friendship built on shared values, opposition to a pursuit of nuclear weapons by Iran, and commitment to a peaceful solution with the Palestinians. Such cooperation is not common in the Middle East.

Baz Ratner/Reuters
Israeli schoolchildren hold Israeli and American flags at the residence of President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem March 19 during a rehearsal for President Obama's visit Wednesday. Shai Bazak, Consul General of Israel to New England, says 'past differences of opinion between US and Israeli administrations...cannot overshadow the long history of cooperation and mutual admiration between Israel and the United States.'

On Israel's Independence Day some homes in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and other Israeli cities and towns sport two flags waving in the breeze. One, of course, is that of the State of Israel. It has also become a custom for some Israelis to fly the flag of the United States beside that of Israel on this important holiday. Today, it is not unusual for Israelis to adorn their cars with these two symbols as well.

These examples, along with many others I could offer, demonstrate the deep affection that Israelis have for the US. This is not just a matter of geopolitical interest, but a relationship based on common cultures, values, and worldviews between two countries built on core principles of freedom, democracy, and respect for human rights. These common ideals are felt and embraced by the people of Israel every day.

It is this spirit of warmth that President Obama will experience during his visit to the State of Israel. While some might point to past differences of opinion between US and Israeli administrations, such differences cannot overshadow the long history of cooperation and mutual admiration between Israel and the United States.

Such friendship is not a common thing in an area like the Middle East. In other countries one does not have to look very hard to see blatant expressions of hatred toward the US, reflected in the burning of American flags and in fiery anti-US rhetoric. Such hostile sentiment pours forth on a daily basis from the surrounding Arab countries where rulers are actively opposed to the efforts of their citizens to develop open civil societies and embrace democracy.

There are many challenges facing Israel today, perhaps chief among them the general instability in surrounding countries, as well as the threat posed by terror groups operating to the north of Israel in Lebanon and to the south and west of Israel in the Gaza Strip. Such organizations continue to stockpile rockets and other weapons to be used against Israeli civilians at some point in the future, likely at the request of their Iranian masters.

And then there is the existential threat Israel has had to face since the day the nation was born some 65 years ago, manifest in the expressed desire of enemies in the region who have vowed to wipe the country off the face of the earth, a threat that arguably no other nation in the world has been forced to endure for so many years.

In his conversations with Israeli leaders, Obama will likely discuss one of the most urgent matters impacting the safety of the world today: Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. The Iranian regime is, in fact, arguably close to achieving this, something that is a source of deep and urgent concern for leaders in America, Israel, and Europe.

World bodies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council have also recognized this threat, and moved to place sanctions against Tehran for their reckless pursuit. There is almost no difference of agreement between Israeli, American, and European leaders on when Iran could come to possess such weapons capability.

The world should stand today against this very real danger, which poses a threat not only to the peace and stability of Israel and the Middle East, but to the entire community of nations.

At home, Israel continues to desire peace with its neighbors and to find a solution with the Palestinians that will allow for the existence of two separate nation states, living side by side in peace and security. In the same vein, we look forward to a day when we can live in harmony with the countries around us. Until that day arrives, however, we must continue to be vigilant, safeguarding the security and well-being of our citizens.

It is in this spirit ­– one of friendship and shared values, of a common commitment to oppose an Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons, and of hope for a lasting, peaceful solution to the conflict between Israel and her neighbors – that President Obama will be welcomed in Israel today.

Shai Bazak is the Consul General of Israel to New England.

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