US President Barack Obama on Thursday called US support for Israel "sacrosanct" and vowed to ensure the Jewish state retains its "military superiority."
Obama's comments come ahead of a March 5 meeting at the White House with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is making a full court press to ensure US commitment to decisive action against Iran's nuclear program.
"One of our long-term goals in that region is to make sure that the sacrosanct commitment that we make to Israel's security is not only a matter of providing them the military capabilities they need, not only providing the sort of qualitative military edge that they need in a very tough neighborhood," Obama said on Thursday at a fund raiser in New York.
The United States also should co-operate with Israel "to try to bring about a peace in the region that can be lasting", Obama said. "And that is a challenge."
During Obama's speech a woman yelled, "Use your leadership! No war in Iran!"
Obama responded, "Nobody's announced a war, young lady. You're jumping the gun a little bit."
The Netanyahu-Obama meeting coincides with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, at which both leaders – and Obama's potential GOP rivals in the 2012 presidential elections – are expected to speak.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) earlier this week made an aggressive pre-buttal against potential attacks on President Barack Obama during the AIPAC conference, which analysts say is a part of Obama's push to shore up his weak Israel credentials.
The DNC is concerned that Obama's policy on Israel – with whom relations are at a startling nadir – will become a major point of contention and open the door to attacks by Republican candidates seeking to capitalize on Israel as a talking point in their campaigns.
America's Jewish vote, while small, is concentrated in key electoral college states where victory in previous elections has been hotly contested, or achieved by mere thousands of votes.
Israel has also become a major issue for pro-Israel Americans, with divisions between Washington and Jerusalem over Iran's nuclear program leading to sharp questioning of senior officials in the Obama administration by US lawmakers.
Leaks by the Obama administration compromising Israel's standing in its face-off with Iran, and potentially compromising Israeli military plans, have also backfired on the White House and created a perception of active hostility towards Jerusalem.
So has the growing perception that administration officials – seeking to break the ice with Tehran amid the nuclear standoff – are giving both Jerusalem and Riyadh the cold shoulder.
As a result – with Obama’s re-election anxieties running high – Netanyahu is seen as being in a rare power position as he heads to Washington.
Iran is expected to be the central issue in Netanyahu’s talks with Obama on Monday.