HAIFA, ISRAEL - JANUARY 31: An 'Iron Dome' short-range missile defense system is positioned near the northern city of Haifa on January 31, 2013 in Israel. Credit: Getty Images
It turns out that President Obama has revised the itinerary for his upcoming trip to Israel, skipping a previously planned tour of an Iron Dome installation for an extra stop in the Palestinian Authority-controlled town of Bethlehem.
A White House schedule released on Friday listed the Iron Dome installation visit as a part of the president's roster. There, according to Israel National News, he would have received an in-depth explanation of the highly-advanced technology that has been used to deflect literally thousands of rockets lobbed at Israel by Palestinian militants as well as learn how Iron Dome was successfully employed during last November's Operation Pillar of Defense.
But a new schedule released Monday reveals that the time-slot originally allocated to visiting the Iron Dome installation has instead been replaced by a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. While some might argue that Obama's desire to visit the birthplace of Jesus underscores his desire to pay an homage to Christendom, others might find the choice of venue questionable given that the Church of the Nativity recently became the first World Heritage site in the Palestinian territories.
The nomination marked the Palestinians' first bid for inclusion on a list of sites that hold "outstanding universal value," perhaps in a hope to lend its own statehood bids greater legitimacy.
It can also be argued that Obama could have just as easily visited any of Christianity's holiest sites in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, most notably the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is venerated as the site where Jesus was crucified, entombed and resurrected.
Palestinian riot police arrive in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity in the Biblical West Bank city of Bethlehem, in order to overlook the annual cleaning of the church on January 2, 2013. The sovereignty of the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, is shared by the Christian denominations, who also share the annual cleaning responsibilities. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
INN reports that a source in the Prime Minister's Office said Obama will be shown an Iron Dome installation after he lands at Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday instead. The source did not state whether the installation is the same one as previously planned nor did the source confirm if the tour would be as detailed as originally planned.
Obama is slated to arrive in Israel Wednesday, March 20, at roughly noontime. Following a welcoming ceremony and alleged revised tour of the installation, he is scheduled to meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres and then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at 5:30 p.m.
On Thursday late-morning, Obama is scheduled to depart for Ramallah, where he will meet with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and his PA officials.
After touring various landmarks significant to the State of Israel on Friday -- including Yad Vashem and the tombs of Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, and Yitzchak Rabin -- Obama will then sojourn to Bethlehem before returning to Ben Gurion Airport for a departing ceremony.
The Iron Dome has been an invaluable defense system for Israel since its inception. With a capability of intercepting and destroying short-range rockets and artillery shells fired from distances of up to 70 kilometers, in 2012 alone Iron Dome intercepted a staggering 90 percent of rockets fired into Israeli civilian aras from Gaza. The hope is to extend the system's range-capability to 250 km, making it even more effective.
If it were not for the Iron Dome, untold numbers of Israelis may very well not be alive today. Given its gravitas, one would think spending ample time learning about the sophisticated system that has kept America's greatest ally in the Middle East safe would be well-worth the president's time.
Why Obama chose to alter his plans to pay a more in-depth visit to the Iron Dome field unit and instead visit a site that is indeed sacred to Christians, but located within the Palestinian territories and not one within the Christian Quarter, may leave some with questions.