JERUSALEM — President Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday for a four-day Middle East visit that will focus on slowing down Iran’s nuclear program, getting oil to American gas pumps and improving relations with Saudi Arabia.
As Mr. Biden disembarked from Air Force One, Israeli officials including President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett were waiting to greet him, alongside the U.S. ambassador, Thomas R. Nides.
After stepping out from the plane, Mr. Biden descended the stairs and fist-bumped a waiting official as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken followed behind. The national anthems of both countries were then played.
In his welcoming speech, Mr. Lapid called Mr. Biden’s visit both historic and deeply personal.
“It is historic, because it expresses the unbreakable bond between our countries,” Mr. Lapid said, adding: “It is also a personal visit, because your relationship with Israel has always been personal. You once defined yourself as a Zionist. You said that you don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist. You were right, and in your case: a great Zionist and one of the best friends Israel has ever known.”
Mr. Lapid also confirmed that the two leaders would discuss Iran and their joint efforts to enhance cooperation among Middle Eastern countries. Once isolated in the region, Israel is increasingly involved in regional diplomacy, after landmark diplomatic deals with three Arab countries in 2020 — and officials hope that further progress will be made during Mr. Biden’s visit.
Wearing aviator sunglasses, Mr. Biden said it was “an honor to once again stand with friends and visit the independent Jewish state of Israel.”
He recalled visiting Israel as a young senator for the first time in 1973 — a few months before the Arab-Israeli war, also known as the Yom Kippur War — and speaking with Golda Meir, the first of the 11 Israeli prime ministers Mr. Biden has so far met.
On Wednesday, the American leader restated his strong backing for Israel and his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, after criticism that his administration has not prioritized the issue.
“We’ll discuss my continued support, even though I know it’s not in a new term, for a two-state solution that remains in my view the best way to ensure the future of equal measure of freedom, prosperity and democracy for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” Mr. Biden said.
Before his arrival, the Israeli government had made several small gestures to the Palestinians, including granting some new work permits for Gazans. But there are few expectations that Mr. Biden’s visit will have a significant effect on Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, cut a peripheral figure at the welcoming ceremony. Now out of office, he is the leader of opposition and will have only a brief meeting with the president on Thursday.
But the two men have a warm if often fraught relationship that goes back four decades, and Mr. Biden made a point of seeking out Mr. Netanyahu during a group photo for Israeli and American officials. Mr. Biden gave Mr. Netanyahu a long, warm handclasp, and both men gave the impression of being happy to see each other.
At the end of the reception ceremony, Israel’s current prime minister, Mr. Lapid, joked about his and Mr. Biden’s respective trajectories since an earlier meeting between the two in Washington.
He told Mr. Biden: “I don’t know if you remember, but eight years ago we met at the White House when you were vice president. You said to me, ‘If only I had hair like yours, I would be president,’ to which I answered, ‘And if only I had your height, I would be prime minister.’”