Israel extends Obama effusive welcome on historic trip

Israel Wednesday gave an effusive welcome to Barack Obama, praising him for his "unshakeable" support and defence of the Jewish state at a ceremony as he arrived for his first visit as US president.

Walking down the aircraft steps, Obama greeted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres with an embrace before taking to the red carpet where he shook hands with scores of officials and politicians.

Speaking at a welcoming ceremony on the tarmac, Netanyahu said he wanted to extend "a simple thank you for standing by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East.

"Thank you for defending Israel's right to unequivocably defend its right to exist," he told Obama with whom he has had several very public disputes.

"Thank you, Mr President, for upholding the Jewish people's right to a Jewish state in our homeland and for boldly defending that right in the United Nations."

Peres also heaped praised on Obama for America's support for Israel, and said the closeness of the two allies had helped protect the Jewish state.

"A world without your friendship would invite aggression against Israel," said Peres, 89, who is known for his warm relationship with the US leader.

"In times of peace, in times of war, your support for Israel is unshakeable."

Obama said the US bond with Israel was "eternal" but said his desire was to see Israel living in peace with its neighbours.

"Our alliance is eternal, it is for ever," he said at the outset of his third trip to the Jewish state, but only his first as president.

"The United States is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and your greatest friend.

"Peace must come to the Holy Land. We will never lose sight of an Israel at peace with its neighbours."

Peres told Obama Israel wanted to end its decades-long conflict with the Palestinians and see them enjoying their own state.

"We long to see an end to the conflict with the Palestinians. To see the Palestinians enjoying freedom and prosperity in their own state," he said.

"We extend our hand in peace to all the countries of the Middle East."