Netanyahu, in a speech to the United Nations in September, said Iran was about six months away from being able to build a bomb. Obama told an Israeli television station this past week that the U.S. thinks it would take "over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon."
Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., tried to play down any division on the Iranian issue ahead of Obama's trip. He said Friday that "the United States and Israel see many of the same facts about the Iranian nuclear program and draw many similar conclusions."
Obama's visit to Israel may quiet critics in the U.S. who interpreted his failure to travel there in his first term as a sign that he was less supportive of the Jewish state than his predecessors. Republican lawmakers levied that criticism frequently during last year's presidential campaign, despite the fact that GOP President George W. Bush did not visit Israel until his final year in office.
The centerpiece of Obama's visit will be a speech in Jerusalem to an audience mainly of Israeli students. It's part of the president's effort to appeal to the Israeli public, particularly young people.
He will make several cultural stops, all steeped in symbolism, in the region. They include the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem; Mount Herzl, where he'll lay wreaths at the graves of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, and Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister who was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish extremist who opposed Rabin's policy of trading land with the Palestinians for peace; and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, a revered site for Christians.
In a sign of the close military ties between the U.S. and Israel, Obama will view an Iron Dome battery, part of the missile defense system the U.S. has helped pay for.
Traveling to the West Bank, Obama will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah. Obama and Fayyad will visit a Palestinian youth center, another attempt to reach the region's young people.
Obama will make a 24-hour stop in Jordan, an important U.S. ally, where the president's focus will be on the violence in neighboring Syria. More than 450,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan, crowding refugee camps and overwhelming aid organizations.
The White House said Obama had no plans to visit a refugee camp while in Jordan, though he will be discussing with government officials how the U.S. can increase its assistance.
In his talks with Jordan's King Abdullah, Obama also will try to shore up the country's fledgling attempts to liberalize its government and stave off an Arab Spring-style movement similar to the ones that have taken down leaders elsewhere in the region.
The president's final stop will be in Petra, Jordan's fabled ancient city.
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