(UPDATED) No Joke: Israel to Dig Up Obama’s Gift Tree He Planted in Jerusalem

Israeli President Shimon Peres watches at right as President Barack Obama plants a magnolia tree during a planting ceremony at the President s Residence in Jerusalem, Israel, Wednesday, March 20, 2013. Obama help plant a magnolia tree which is a descendant of an original magnolia tree from the White House grounds. Credit: AP

President Barack Obama planted a magnolia tree at the official residence of Israeli President Shimon Peres Wednesday afternoon, providing yet another photo op showing the warm relations between the two countries. Turns out it was just that – a photo op.

The Israeli sites Ynet and Maariv reported that just hours after Obama planted the tree, Agriculture Ministry officials began digging it up.

Late Wednesday night, the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post clarified that the tree had not actually been dug up yet, rather was wrapped in a special plastic netting so that it could be dug up at a later time by agriculture officials in order to inspect or quarantine it. Maariv writes that the tree will be dug up for inspection on Thursday. The Jerusalem Post reports:

The Agriculture Ministry was in contact with Beit HaNassi [President Peres’s official residence] about the tree, and all of the parties involved agreed that the tree should be planted within a special envelope for the time being, rather than directly into the ground, the ministry said. This will enable the ministry to thoroughly examine the tree, after which it will return the plant to the president’s garden, the office added.

Obama brought the tree with him on Air Force One, so the tree – like all other imported agricultural products – has to undergo the requisite tests for entry to the country.

President Peres’s office says the uprooting was decided upon ahead of time.

Agriculture officials tell Ynet that the tree will be quarantined in order to determine if there is any plant disease present. If given a clean bill of health, the plant will eventually be returned to the Israeli President’s residence after inspection.

A Times of Israel reporter wrote of the initial reports, “If this were April 1, we’d assume this was a wind-up.”

At the tree planting ceremony, Obama said, “It’s an incredible honor to be able to offer this tree to this beautiful garden with so much history with somebody who is a champion on behalf of the Israeli people and a champion on behalf of peace. And we’re very good gardeners. I’m sure this tree is going to do great.”

An Agriculture Ministry official told Ynet (Blaze translation from Hebrew), “Because the American President Barack Obama brought the plant with him and because it is forbidden to bring plants into Israel from overseas without first passing inspection or quarantine – due to the fear of importing disease or harmful pests that could be found on the plant – the tree will thus be taken for tests.”

The officials stressed there’s no diplomatic gaffe here, that officials in President Peres’s office and at the Foreign Ministry were aware of the plans.

Agriculture officials say the examination could take “months.”

Here’s the photo op of the tree planting in which Obama says the tree traveled with him on Air Force One, courtesy of Ynet: