Ambassador Dan Shapiro at the Conference of P
Ambassador Dan Shapiro at the Conference of PFlash 90

President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel is important for the strengthening of the ties between the United States and Israel, U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said on Monday.

Speaking at the gathering of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, Shapiro said that Obama’s visit is “more historic than sometimes is appreciated in the sense that only four previous sitting United States presidents have ever visited Israel."

“The choice of Israel as the first overseas visit of President Obama’s second term is emblematic of the strong and unbreakable bilateral relationship between the United States and Israel,” said Shapiro. “It’s an opportunity to reaffirm our deep and enduring ties as well as convey the recognition that we have a common set of interests to advance and to protect and a common set of challenges to tackle together.”

Those mutual challenges, he said, are Iran and Syria, as well as returning to the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“Israel has the right and ability to defend itself against any combination of threats,” said Shapiro. “We’d like for every Israeli, whether they speak English or Hebrew or Arabic or Russian, whether they live on a moshav in the Arava valley or in the heart of Tel Aviv or in a village in the Galilee, to understand the commitment of the United States to Israel and that the U.S. supports Israel’s ongoing advancement and prosperity as a strong, secure Jewish democratic state. We want everyone in this country to understand the importance of the U.S.-Israeli relationship and invest in it so that it can remain strong and dynamic in the decades ahead.”

Regarding the efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Shapiro said that there is “extraordinarily close high-level coordination” between Israel and the U.S. on the issue.

“We have a common goal: to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, not to contain a nuclear Iran,” he stressed. “We have a shared preference to try to resolve this issue diplomatically, but also a shared principle that no options are off the table, including the military option. A nuclear armed Iran is not just an existential threat to Israel, it would also pose a grave threat to the security of the United States and our allies in the world.”

In his speech at the same gathering on Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned that Iran is taking steps that are bringing it closer to the “red line” he set in his UN speech last September.

“I drew a line at the UN, last time I was there,” said Netanyahu. “They haven’t crossed that line, but what they’re doing is to shorten the time that it will take them to cross that line. And the way they’re shortening that time is by putting in new, faster centrifuges that cut the time by one third, so that Iran is putting itself in a position to cross the red line and have enough material to produce one nuclear bomb’s worth of highly enriched uranium. This has to be stopped, for the interest of peace and security, for the interest of the entire world.

“How do you stop it? Well, you have to put greater pressure on them,” he added. You have to upgrade the sanctions. And they have to know that if the sanctions and diplomacy fails, they will face incredible military threat. That’s essential. Nothing else will do the job. And it’s getting closer.”