TEL AVIV, JAN. 19 -- As U.S. and Israeli military personnel rushed tonight to set up Patriot missile batteries to defend against Iraqi missile attacks, Israel again agreed to delay entry of its forces into the Persian Gulf War, official sources said.

The decision came after a day of tense dialogue with Washington in which Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's government pressed the United States to make way for an Israeli air attack on Iraq, officials said.

The Bush administration eventually persuaded Shamir to wait and see if the new Patriot batteries, combined with intensive allied air coverage of western Iraq, could halt the missile strikes that terrorized Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities for two consecutive nights.

"We said we will wait and see if this works, maybe until tomorrow morning," said a senior government source of Israel's latest, fragile understanding with Washington. Shamir reluctantly agreed Friday not to retaliate for a first Iraqi missile barrage, only to see three more missiles slam into Tel Aviv early today. Thirty Israelis have been injured so far by at least six missile blasts in the Tel Aviv area and two in Haifa.

Two Patriot anti-missile batteries of 36 missiles each, together with U.S. crews trained in their operation, arrived in Israel this morning aboard U.S. C-5 transport planes, officials said, and one was reported already operational tonight.

On Israeli television, Defense Ministry Director General David Ivri said the United States had rushed in the Patriots because it "wants to make it possible for us not to retaliate."

Explaining the dangers of Israeli involvement in the war, Ivri said, "If we had to retaliate, we would have to go over Jordan or Saudi Arabia, if not both, and there have been indications that Jordan would retaliate against us. That would send the war out of control."

He added that "there would also be political gains for Israel after this war" if it helped to minimize the scale and casualties of the conflict. Shamir's government and many Israeli citizens feel that following the gulf war Israel will be pressed by the United States and its allies to resolve the Palestinian problem by withdrawing from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The latest Israeli concession to Washington's desire to preserve its coalition with Arab states came after a day in which Israeli government and military officials insisted that the United States and its allies should accept Israel's wish to retaliate against Iraq and participate in the defense of its citizens. "We reserve the right to take whatever action we think is needed to defend our cities," Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said.

Military officials warned the public that Iraqi missile strikes could continue for several more days, and continued the state of emergency that has largely confined the country's 4.8 million citizens to their homes since early Thursday. The army said it was not convinced that Iraq could not strike Israel with chemical weapons. All of the warheads to hit the country so far have been conventional bombs weighing about 400 pounds.

Shamir's government is constrained from retaliating by the virtual necessity of prior coordination with U.S. forces, officials here said. Israeli sources concede that the country's powerful air force cannot easily go into action against Iraqi targets unless allied planes now constantly flying over Iraq make way.

Still, government sources here said Israel would eventually insist on taking action even if it failed to obtain Washington's consent and cooperation. "If they don't want to cooperate," an official said, "they will put us under so much pressure there will eventually be an explosion that they will not be happy with. If they want to control our explosion, they need to cooperate."

Some analysts here speculated that an Israel deprived of allied cooperation might resort to launching some of its own missiles at Iraqi targets. Foreign analysts say Israel's home-produced Jericho missiles are at least as powerful as, and probably more accurate than, Iraq's modified Scud rockets, although the Jericho has never been used in war.

In any case, if more missiles fall on the country despite the Patriot defense, officials say, Israel will renew its demands to act immediately.

"Public opinion demands that we do something," one official said. He added: "We've been very lucky that no one has been killed so far. But can you imagine now what would happen if there's another attack and even two or three people were killed? The psychological blow would be devastating. And if we've taken no action by then, there would be enormous public anger and outrage."

Israeli officials also argue that Israel must strike Iraq to preserve the strength of its deterrence to Arab attackers in a region likely to remain dangerous long after the gulf war. Statements by Egyptians and Syrians indicating that they would accept Israeli retaliation were cited today by Israeli officials as proof that the U.S. concerns about the political impact of Israeli action were exaggerated.

"The Arab states who live in this region understand that Israel must respond. Even the Syrians," said Yossi Ben Aharon, a senior aide to Shamir. "The United States seems more concerned about their reaction than they are."

Israel had been promised two batteries of Patriots by Washington early in the gulf crisis but they did not arrive until this month, and Israeli crews for the weapons are still training in the United States.

Zeev Schiff, a senior defense correspondent for the Haaretz newspaper, said that apart from the Patriot batteries, Washington had failed to supply Israel with $700 million in additional military equipment promised in October. "Because the administration was so concerned about maintaining our low profile, they didn't act, and now it's very late," he said.

Although some senior Israeli officials privately echoed such recriminations toward the United States, military and government spokesmen had nothing but praise in public for the U.S. military performance against Iraq.

"I'm sure the allied forces are doing their best to destroy all of the military capabilities of Iraq," the army's chief spokesman, Brig. Gen. Nachman Shai, said at a press conference. "I don't intend to criticize, just the opposite, only to praise them and wish them the best."

"The fact that mobile missiles are there should not be taken as a failure of the allied forces," Shai said, "because mobile missiles can move all over," making it difficult to find and destroy them.

Netanyahu also praised the U.S. performance and said U.S.-Israeli cooperation was improving. "We are satisfied with the consultations between us and the United States and we are clearing up some of the {coordination} issues," he said.

Netanyahu told a press conference that in considering military action, Israel faced "two issues." One, he said, was retaliation for the Iraqi action, which, he said, was not urgent. "We took note of what Iraq did. We did not forget what they did. But that today is not our principal concern."

Instead, Netanyahu said, Israel felt compelled to act because of the need to head off further Iraqi missile attacks. "If Israel's citizens were not under attack and if it were over, then the issue of self-defense would not be so pressing," he said. "But now we must see what the Israeli government can do and must do to defend the country."

Asked if Israel felt its air force could do more against the Iraqi missile threat than was already being done by the U.S. and allied planes, Netanyahu said: "It's not a question of who is better. The idea is that any country that is attacked, even if it has the assistance of other forces, acts to secure its own citizens."