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Jaffa Residents Have Conflicting Reactions to Patriot Missile Presence - 2003-03-05

Israeli and U.S. soldiers completed installation of Patriot Missile batteries around Israel's major population centers on Wednesday. The deployment is part of the effort to protect Israel from the possibility of Iraqi missile attacks, if there is a war against Iraq.

Jaffa is an ancient town, just south of the very modern city of Tel Aviv. Jaffa's winding, narrow streets are reminiscent of an earlier, quieter era.

But now, Jaffa is the site of considerable military activity. It is home to a Patriot missile battery equipped with the latest versions of the American anti-missile defense system.

Here on a spit of land jutting out into the Mediterranean, just across the street from a small park, sit six brown-gray boxes that house the missiles. The boxes are on top of their truck transports all in a row, their backs to the sea, their business ends pointed inland, toward the potential flightpaths of incoming Iraqi missiles. Three American Patriot batteries have been set up, to supplement an undisclosed number of older anti-missile systems that Israel owns. But the Patriots are just part of a complex missile defense system. With installations stretching from Haifa, in the north, down the coast to Tel Aviv and Jaffa they form one of three rings of missile defense.

The outer ring is Israel's own Arrow anti-missile system, which is said to be capable of intercepting incoming warheads at high altitude. The Patriot, manned by both Israeli and American crews, is designed for missiles at middle altitudes. The third ring of the system comes from the American Aegis guided missile cruiser now patrolling the waters off the Israeli coast.

All the activity in this Jaffa neighborhood has brought out a steady stream of onlookers, eager for a glimpse of the Patriots.

Hairdresser Yaffa Vardi says simply the presence of the missiles is comforting. She lived in Israel during the last Gulf War and said the Patriots made her feel safe then. When asked if she is worried about a war in Iraq, she said "no." She also says if there is a war in Iraq and if Iraq manages to attack Israel, Israel should attack Iraq.

Not everyone feels the same way about the presence of the missile batteries. Schlomi Bataglia says that given the fact that there is no evidence the Patriots ever succeeded in downing Iraqi scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf War, he doubts the Patriot missiles are anything more than a public relations effort aimed at reassuring Israelis.

He also regrets the damage done to the small stretch of coastline which, before heavy earthmovers reworked the site, had been an untouched natural place.

Mr. Bataglia says the military ruined in the area. Before says the area before the war was untouched and now its become very rusty, very military.

And there are other neighbors unhappy with the military presence. Jaffa is a very old Arab city and still has many Arab residents. One of them seemed to be making his own statement about the military presence as he repeatedly circled the neighborhood in his car with popular Arab music blasting from the open windows.

But for the most part, the people here seem happy to accept the missiles and are somehow reassured by their presence.