The U.S. tilt toward Iran amid growing speculation over a possible release of the hostages has generated a certain degree of satisfaction among foreign policy experts in Israel, where Iraq has long been viewed a greater menace to Israeli security than Iran.
One of the most distrubing aspects of the shifting alliances in the Middle East, from the Israeli viewpoint, has been the prospect of a possible U.S. reapprochement with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as Iraq drew further away from the Soviet sphere of influence.
Iraq is viewed as Israel's most implacable enemy, having participated in every war against the Jewish state since 1948 and having been a major supporter of Palestinian guerrilla groups based in Lebanon. With its French-assisted development of nuclear capability, Iraq has grown in the Israeli perspective as the most dangerous Arab rejectionist state.
The initial reaction here to the outbreak of the Persian Gulf war was one of hope that Iraq would exhaust its Soviet-supplied war machine against Iran and neutralize itself, at least for now, as a significant threat to Israel.
Now, with the possibility that the United States might become even marginally supportive of Iran in hopes of freeing the hostages, the Israelis see an opportunity in which Iraq could be weakened still further and in which Saddam Hussein's influence in the region could be diminished significantly if the war continues.
"You may think it bizarre, but Iran's interests are our interests at the moment," an Israeli Foreign Ministry official said last week. "Iran is not Arab. I can imagine Israel being supportive of Iran, as we were before the revolution."
The Israelis also are monitoring with undisguised satisfaction the continued unraveling of pan-Arabism as a result of the gulf war, including Libyan leader Muammar Quaddafi's invectives against Saudi Arabia for permitting the United States to use electronic surveillance aircraft there and the possibility that Libya could sever relations with the Saudis.
Also, Israel is not displeased with Syria's feud with the Palestine Liberation Organization for trying to mediate an end to the Iraqi-Iranian war.