President Donald Trump has canceled a scheduled trip to the mountain fortress of Masada after Israeli authorities informed his team that the president would not be able to land his helicopter at the ancient site.
Trump was slated to give a speech at the location, but the address will instead be delivered at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
“The president will deliver remarks at the Israel Museum and celebrate the unique history of Israel and of the Jewish people while reaffirming America’s unshakable bond with our closest ally in the Middle East,” said U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster at a White House press briefing.
While helicopters used to be allowed to land at Masada, an Israeli Air Force regulation now bans landing at the summit, which stands 1,300 feet above sea level.
The regulation was established following a 1997 landing by the IAF in the middle of Masada, which caused damage to the site because of the helicopter’s rotors blowing dust and debris.
Former presidents, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, landed at the base of the summit and took a cable car to the top, which is the normal means of visiting the location.
Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage site, built on top of a mountain overlooking the the Dead Sea in southern Israel’s Judean Desert.
The Jewish historian Josephus records that King Herod the Great, put in power by the Roman government, built the palace fortress as a place of refuge in the event of a revolt by his Jewish subjects.
The fortress’ defining moment in history came when about 1,000 Jewish rebels occupied it around A.D. 73 and killed themselves after a long siege by the Romans rather than be captured alive.
Eitan Weiss, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, indicated that a reason for the schedule change was the desert temperatures at the site, which are forecast to hover in the 90s next week.
— Eitan Weiss (@EitanWeiss) May 17, 2017
Newsweek reported that “Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, tweeted that a raft of decisions on the Trump administration in regard to the visit has ‘soured’ Israel’s mood. As well as the Masada cancellation, Trump will only spend 15 minutes at the national Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, a move likely to offend the Israelis.”
The president will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at Yad Vashem.
Israelis will likely appreciate that Trump plans to be the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. He will also visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, regarded as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, last week that he is looking forward to Trump’s visit.
נפגשתי היום עם שגריר ארה”ב החדש בישראל, דיוויד פרידמן: לעונג הוא לראותך ולקבל את פניך בירושלים, בירתנו הנצחית! pic.twitter.com/peHn96rCfN
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) May 16, 2017
Netanyahu was among the first foreign leaders Trump hosted at the White House after assuming office.
The president stated, “With this visit, the United States again reaffirms our unbreakable bond with our cherished ally, Israel.”
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