Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to stand by Israel “every step of the way” during a speech to that country’s parliament.
The speech shied away from criticism of Israeli policy, made no suggestions on how to move forward sagging peace efforts and did not mention the occupation of the West Bank.
Hours later, Palestinian militants from Gaza fired dozens of rockets into southern Israel in the biggest such barrage since 2012’s Israeli military operation, with the stated aim of stopping cross-border rocketing. One woman was lightly injured running to a secure room but otherwise there were no casualties, Israel’s Ynet news agency reported.
Islamic Jihad took responsibility, saying it was in response to Israel’s "assassination" of three of its fighters. The barrage comes a day after three militants were killed in an Israeli strike in Gaza after they opened fire on an army force, according to the military
The army opened fire after the barrage on two "terrorist locations" an army spokesman said.
Most of Mr Cameron’s speech, which followed talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was devoted to projecting Mr Cameron’s credentials as a friend not only of Israel but of Jews in Britain. It received a standing ovation.
In his Knesset speech, Mr Cameron noted his Jewish roots – his great grandfather was a German Jew who immigrated to Britain 150 years ago – but said he was influenced in his views by “the enormous contribution of the Jewish people to my country and the world’’.
He said one of his most moving experiences was hosting a reception in January for 50 Holocaust survivors.
“I want every child in Britain to learn about the Holocaust and how vital it is to fight discrimination,’’ he said.
After reviewing what he said was Britain’s “vital role in securing Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people” – a reference to the controversial 1917 Balfour Declaration promising a Jewish national home in Palestine – Mr Cameron moved on to a discussion of the need to ensure Israel’s security today. The country is “narrow and vulnerable”, still comes under missile attack from Gaza, faces Palestinian incitement and, as evidenced by its seizure of a ship carrying weapons last week, faces “despicable” Iranian efforts to smuggle weapons to Gaza.
“Let me make it clear, with me you have a British prime minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable and whose commitment to Israel’s security is rock solid,” Mr Cameron said. “I will always stand up for the right of Israel to defend its citizens.”
On the peace process, Mr Cameron said Britain “fully supports the great work” of US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is attempting to devise a framework that will enable the extension of peace talks beyond their April expiry.
He was careful to balance out his one pro forma objection to Israeli policy with reproach of the Palestinians, saying: “We back a halt to settlement activity and an end to Palestinian incitement, too.”
Mr Cameron's visit comes at a particularly tense time in Israeli-Palestinian relations and a week before a crucial meeting at the White House between President Barack Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yet he carefully refrained from adding any British policy suggestions.
“I will not tell you how to run your peace process. You know I want peace and a two state solution. You don't need lectures from me.” Instead, Mr Cameron asked his Israeli audience to “imagine what this land will be like if a two state solution is achieved.”
Israel more secure, an Arab world where Israelis could travel and do business, “agreements signed with every major trading bloc in the world” were some of the enticements Mr Cameron offered up.
“We will be with you every step of the way,” Mr Cameron promised.
But the vision seems to be becoming more distant. The Palestinians are rebuffing the Israeli demand that they recognise Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people as well as insisting on recognition that their own capital be established in East Jerusalem, something Israel thus far rejects. Adding to the tensions are a spate of shooting incidents including one at the Allenby Bridge crossing with Jordan in which Israeli troops shot and killed a Jordanian-Palestinian judge. The Israeli army said he attacked soldiers, but amid a furious reaction in Jordan voiced regret for the shooting.
Mr Netanyahu's speech to the Knesset in honour of Mr Cameron's visit was anything but conciliatory towards the Palestinians. The Israeli leader implied that Jews have a greater right than the Palestinians to the land and argued that the Arab presence in Palestine before Zionism was not substantial. “The Palestinians must recognize the historical connection of the Jewish people to its homeland, the land of Israel and its rights in it.”
“If time is running out, it is because of the refusal of the Palestinians to recognise the Jewish state and security arrangements. This is the root of the conflict, not settlements in Judea and Samaria,” he said.
This evening a press conference with Mr Netanyahu and Mr Cameron was scheduled but The Independent was not permitted to attend by Israeli officials and Downing Street's press office, which invited the UK-based journalists who had traveled with Mr Cameron to participate but effectively barred accredited Jerusalem correspondents of British newspapers.