TEL AVIV, JAN. 28 -- Israel's roller-coaster relationship with the United States has hit an apogee of pro-Americanism with the deployment of U.S. Patriot antimissile batteries against attacks from Iraq.
"Yankee, Welcome Home to Israel!" trumpets a huge poster affixed to Jerusalem-bound public buses that, since the start of the Persian Gulf War, have been filled with Tel Aviv residents fleeing Iraqi Scud missile attacks against Israel's largest city.
Women volunteers from the Soldiers' Welfare Association have been baking cakes and preparing food packages for soldiers based at Patriot batteries around Tel Aviv, and members of the Israel-American Friendship League have started inviting U.S. troops to their homes for dinner.
Every day, grateful Israelis show up among crowds of curious onlookers at the perimeter of a missile base not far from the center of the city and wave greetings to the crews inside.
Israel's telephone company, Bezek, has installed special telephone lines at American Patriot missile batteries to enable GIs to connect directly to operators in the United States for collect or credit card calls to their homes.
The U.S. soldiers, the first American military forces ever stationed in Israel on a combat footing, have been "adopted" by units of the Israeli army, which have provided snacks and companionship. A citizens' group in Haifa, where Patriots have intercepted Iraqi Scud missiles, has teamed with local kibbutzim (cooperative farms) to make the Americans welcome, and Haifa merchants have donated 60 transistor radios to the Patriot battery near there.
Haifa is used to visiting American military personnel because the Navy's Sixth Fleet regularly calls at that Mediterranean port city for shore leave.
An Israeli affinity for Americans is nothing new, partly because of the large number of Israelis who also hold U.S. citizenship, partly because of the influence of American movies and television, and not least because of the $3 billion in military and economic aid the United States provides Israel annually.
Zeev Chafets, managing editor of Jerusalem Report magazine and a dual-national who has written books about Israel and his home city of Detroit, said many Jerusalem residents who failed to hear the first missile warning siren last week got word of the danger from friends and relatives in the United States who learned of it watching television and telephoned Israel. "Then on television they showed a Patriot crew and the most incredibly beautiful American woman soldier you could imagine, defending against Iraqi missiles, came on the screen. It's no wonder Israelis are feeling pro-American," Chafets said.
It wasn't always so. Anti-Americanism has surfaced in Israel so many times over the years that it is difficult to measure the peaks, but a few that come to mind occurred during the Pollard spy scandal; when former prime minister Menachem Begin upbraided then-U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis for treating Israel like a "banana republic"; and when Washington applied pressure on the Begin government after it annexed East Jerusalem.
Harry Wall, Israel director of the Anti-Defamation League, compared the transformation in Israeli opinion to the reception U.S. soldiers received in Italy during World War II.
"Americans are fighting Israel's most dangerous enemy, and they're doing a damned good job," Wall said. "You get less criticism here about what Americans are doing or not doing in Iraq than you would get at a Pentagon briefing.
"What we are seeing is not only an outpouring of support for Israel in the United States, but a remarkable demonstration of pro-American feeling in Israel. For Israel, it means that the sense of isolation and vulnerability is considerably reduced."
Increased Israeli confidence in the United States, Wall said, could pay dividends in any future attempt to negotiate a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict because of "a sense that the United States has responded to Israel in a crunch situation."
"When we get into the difficult period of negotiations, Israelis will realize that they are being asked to take risks by a friend who was there when needed," Wall said. "Israelis, like anybody else, like to be loved. The United States just may find this approach gets them further."
One Israeli with a special perspective on Israel-U.S. relations at the outset of the Persian Gulf War is Avraham Daniel, whose family immigrated to Israel from Iraq in 1950 and whose house in South Tel Aviv was damaged in the first Iraqi missile attack Jan. 17.
As he looked out over a muddy field on which a Patriot battery had just been set up, Daniel said, "You know, when we quarrel with the United States now and then, you hear some Israelis say, 'Why should we take this money from the Americans? We don't need them.' Well, this shows that if it weren't for the Americans, we'd be finished."