President Isaac Herzog received the diplomatic credentials of Thomas R. Nides, the United States' new ambassador to Israel, at a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on Sunday.
In his remarks, Herzog said that welcoming the new ambassador "is a celebration of a shared vision and common values: liberty and equality, freedom, human rights and friendship with our closest ally."
The president praised the Abraham Accords, and then pivoted to Iran, which he said is "without a doubt the greatest challenge Israel and the Unites States face."
He said, "We are closely following the international community’s recent negotiations with Iran. Israel will welcome a comprehensive, diplomatic solution which permanently solves the Iranian nuclear threat. In the case of a failure to achieve such solution, Israel is keeping all options on the table, and it must be said that if the international community does not take a vigorous stance on this issue – Israel will do so. Israel will protect itself."
He also expressed his appreciation for U.S. President Joe Biden's statements at his Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony in the White House last week, in which he also welcomed Israel's ambassador to the United States, Herzog's brother Michael.
"Far beyond the personal connection, this is heartwarming because it is a consistent display of President Biden’s longstanding, genuine friendship with Israel," Herzog said in his speech. "I take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to President Biden, for his tireless support and his uncompromising commitment to the ironclad relations between Israel and the United States."
In his own remarks, Nides said that his agenda as ambassador will be primarily to "reinforce our unshakable and enduring commitment to Israel's defense," He added that he would like to reiterate Biden's message "that the United States fully supports replenishment of the Iron Dome."
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"We will continue to collaborate close to advance peace and stability in encountering the threat from Iran and poses to Israel and the region. As President Biden has made it very, very clear, the United States is committed to ensuring that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon."
Nides added that he wants to deepen "people-to-people connections," particularly those in business, and that he will continue working with his administration and with Israel "in hopes of Israel joining the Visa Waiver Program."
He also said he anticipates working with Israel to protect freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly to make sure all voices are heard "and to highlight the efforts to advance the rights of members of vulnerable minority communities." He said he will work with the administration to fight efforts to delegitimize and isolate Israel internationally, as well as to reject the BDS movement and boycott laws.
In a personal moment, the president also surprised Nides by inviting the ambassador's Hebrew school principal from his childhood in Duluth, Minnesota, to the ceremony.
Later on Sunday, Nides also met with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem. The meeting was concluded with a joint candle lighting.
"It has been said so many times before that we have shared values. This is not a cliché ... we are talking about the most deeply rotted values, the values of freedom," Bennett said during the meeting.