While publicly staying silent on the sidelines as requested by the United States, Israel is privately pushing action by President Bush to get rid of Saddam Hussein quickly and decisively.
Confidential communications between the Israeli Embassy and Congress since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait emphasize the Washington-Jerusalem ''strategic alliance'' against the Iraqi strongman. They also make clear that Israel has no desire for any negotiated settlement that would force Saddam out of Kuwait City but keep him in Baghdad.
Behind this Israeli advice is an anxiety reflected in last weekend's Jerusalem Post headline: ''U.S. Gulf strategy has no role for Israel.'' Not only does that conceivably question the value of $3 billion in annual U.S. aid to its principal Mideast ally, but it raises the picture of a different Middle East if Saddam backs down without war under American-Arab military pressure.
On the day after Iraq gobbled up Kuwait, the Israeli Embassy here rushed to key congressional committees a paper titled ''Talking Points on Iraq's Invasion of Kuwait.'' It stated Israel's long-standing case that the U.S.-Israeli bond rises out of Arab threats.
The paper said the Iraqi aggression ''has refocused attention to the mutual threats and joint interests binding together the U.S. and Israel.'' The crisis, it added, underscored Israel's reliability as a source of accurate intelligence data on Saddam's ''tactics and strategy.''
The paper ridiculed ''a few Arab sources'' for portraying Saddam as a ''constructive player'' in the region. No names were mentioned, but Jordan and Egypt were clearly meant.
Those ''talking points'' began a stream of confidential advice to Washington from Jerusalem. Aimed at both Congress and President Bush, it presses this line: the United States must employ overwhelming military force to get rid of Saddam.
The embassy has been sending an ''intelligence analysis'' to sympathetic members of Congress since the crisis began. It has revealed intercepted messages between Arab capitals, analysis of political intelligence and translations of Arab radio propaganda. Its unmistakable message: Do not allow any compromise to delay the destruction of Saddam's military and industrial might.
One Israeli Cabinet member breaking the silence requested by the United States is right-wing leader Ariel Sharon, who has spoken out for U.S. military action. He declared that no economic blockade could deter Saddam for long and that the effect of sanctions would soon dissipate.
Behind Israel's call for American action against Iraq may be concern over how the crisis will affect its standing with Washington. At face value, the alliance would seem to be greatly strengthened by the crisis. Nagging of Israel about the Palestine question has ceased for now. Israel can say it was right and the United States wrong about helping Iraq in the war with Iran.
But the sideline role required of Israel comes as the United States makes new promises to such old friends as Egypt and Saudi Arabia and even opens closer relations with longtime enemy Syria, which has offered to send troops to the U.S.-led coalition. Saudi and Egyptian arms deals with Washington, often blocked in Congress over the years by friends of Israel, are quietly being approved under the stress of crisis. They may be down payments for building mutual confidence and trust in the future.
The worst-case scenario for Israel would be a settlement where Bush, arm in arm with Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and even Syria's Hafez Assad, negotiates a deal in which Saddam surrenders his conquered territory but stays in power.
Inevitably, the Arabs will seek to use American backing to repeat that formula to push Israel into surrendering the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza. Better from Israel's point of view that the Americans use force and use it now.