TEL AVIV — Israel's confidence that the global focus on the Persian Gulf conflict would improve its relations with the United States has given way to pervasive anger at the Bush Administration for being kept at arm's length during the crisis.
Mistrust deepened during President Bush's trip last week to Saudi Arabia and Egypt and because of his meeting with Syrian President Hafez Assad in Switzerland. Bush skipped Israel on his tour of the Middle East, as did Secretary of State James A. Baker III. Bush kept Israeli officials on edge for several days before announcing that he would receive Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in Washington during a scheduled visit next month.
Commenting on Bush's visit to the Middle East, a columnist in the centrist Hadashot newspaper remarked: "Yitzhak Shamir gets a slap in the face, not even a consolation prize in the form of James Baker."
Since the gulf crisis began Aug. 2, Bush has telephoned dozens of world leaders, but Shamir is still waiting for a call, Foreign Ministry officials say.
The perceived slights have brought to the surface Israel's anxiety over America's alliance with Arab states that oppose Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Israeli officials and commentators are wondering aloud whether the new lineup might eventually lead to new pressure on Israel to give up its hold on the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and to return the annexed Golan Heights to Syria.
Israel has complained about new U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia as well as the write-off of Egyptian military debts. In Israel's view, both steps altered the regional military balance to Jerusalem's disadvantage.
Bush's meeting with Assad was galling because Israel considers Syria an implacable and dangerous enemy.
"Israel doesn't see a great difference between Assad and Saddam Hussein. Assad is also a cruel dictator who doesn't hesitate to use force," Defense Minister Moshe Arens said.
Israeli officials tempered their dismay with support for the apparent need of Washington to shore up its alliance against Iraq by currying favor with Arab states. "The paramount goal over and above all else at this time in the region is the existence and strength of the international coalition," Prime Minister Shamir said last week.
But when asked to characterize U.S.-Israeli relations, Shamir responded with unusually restrained language: "The relations between us are not chilly, they are rather normal relations."
Concern over the emerging diplomatic pattern is aggravated by the exclusion of Israel in military plans, Israeli officials say. Despite statements by President Bush that the United States is in close contact with key Israeli officials on gulf policy, senior military officials here insist that no detailed coordination has taken shape.
Military officials painted a gloomy picture of the possible results of the lack of a joint battle plan. In the event Israel is attacked by Iraq and strikes back, Israel's air force might inadvertently fire on U.S. planes or hit American ground forces fighting Iraq at the same time.
"We don't want to shoot Americans on the way to Iraq," warned a senior military official who has been in recent contact with Pentagon officials.
When the gulf crisis erupted in August, Israeli officials predicted that a string of disputes with Washington would be swept away in the name of keeping faith against a common foe; Israel's value as a strategic ally in the Middle East would be consecrated and the Palestinian issue buried.
Instead, Washington asked Israel to keep a low profile in the conflict. Except for routine visits of Mediterranean-based U.S. ships to Haifa and exchange of intelligence information, Israel would have no role in the buildup of force against Iraq.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian conflict, rather than fading from the scene, burst into renewed prominence in October when Israeli police killed 20 Palestinians during a morning of unrest in Jerusalem. The Shamir government angered Washington by refusing to permit a United Nations team to visit Jerusalem to look into the incident. Baker likened the rejection of the U.N. probe to the refusal of Iraq to bend to international will and withdraw from Kuwait.
Israeli officials have expressed alarm that a new order is emerging in the Middle East that could diminish Israel's role as America's chief regional ally. Israel receives more than $1.8 billion in annual military aid from the United States, based in part on a strategic partnership built up between the two countries during the Reagan Administration.
The alliance was designed to counter Soviet incursions into the Middle East. With that threat all but vaporized, Israel is concerned that its special relationship with Washington may also dissolve.
During the current crisis, weekly high-level meetings between Israel and American military staffs continue as they did before Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, and the two countries have discussed possible bombing targets in Iraq. However, the communication stops short of spelling out a full battle plan with Israeli participation, Israeli officials said.