JOLTED three times by Iraqi missiles, Israel is struggling to adjust to a war in which it is a victim but not a participant. ``This is very strange for Israel,'' says Reuven Gal, director of the Israeli Institute for Military Studies near Haifa. ``This is the first time Israel has been involved in a war where most of the men have remained home and where we've had to remain passive. The sense of being nonactive is quite unusual for Israelis and increases the sense of vulnerability.''
On Tuesday night, an Iraqi Scud missile eluded two United States Patriot defensive missiles and crashed into a densely populated Tel Aviv neighborhood. Seventy people were injured and three died. The high casualty toll had a profound effect in Israel and has intensified pressure on the government to retaliate.
Israeli officials say it is now just a question of when, not if, Israel will strike back at Iraq.
At press time yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was meeting with his Cabinet to discuss Israel's response to the attack.
Despite three missile attacks on central Israel in six days, Israelis are attempting to reestablish a normal routine. Workers were ordered back to their jobs Tuesday. Most stores have reopened for limited hours. Only schools remain closed.
By day, streets bustle with shoppers catching up after a week's confinement. But by night the cities are largely deserted as Israelis return home to wait and wonder when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will strike again.
Tuesday's attack has weakened confidence that two batteries of Patriot missiles airlifted to Israel last weekend would provide an effective shield against Iraqi Scuds. Meanwhile, Israeli military sources soberly predict that the threat posed by Iraqi missiles could last for weeks, despite intensive search-and-destroy missions being carried out by coalition pilots over western Iraq.
``This is the first time the front has been our own backyard,'' says a Tel Aviv resident who was born in Palestine 20 years before the state of Israel was established. ``I've played a role in every war Israel has fought. This time I'm forced to be passive. The sitting and waiting - that's what's hard.''
``Wars we know how to handle,'' adds another Tel Aviv resident. ``But this is terror and we don't know how to handle it.''
Tired of waiting, many have moved to less threatened areas.
Ironically, some have sought refuge near the very Arabs they have so long feared. Jerusalem hotels are bulging with guests who are banking that Saddam will not attack a city with a large Palestinian population.
Thousands more Israelis and many foreign diplomats have streamed to the Red Sea resort of Elat at the southern tip of Israel.
Those who remain behind voice a mixture of resignation and defiance.
``This is peanuts compared to what we went through in the  war of independence,'' says Miya Mayarchak, a Tel Aviv medical aide. ``I won't let the Iraqis decide where I live. If it's necessary, we can go on like this for months. We'll have butterflies in our stomachs, but we'll also have our gas masks and our gallows humor.''
``I had often wondered how people survived in Lebanon all these years,'' recalls another Israeli, a secretary from Jerusalem. ``As I was hanging laundry the day after the first attack, I suddenly understood.''
For another Israeli, an elderly Jewish woman who survived the war years in Nazi Germany, the somber air raid sirens that have wailed across Israel seven times touched a deeper emotion.
``We're not afraid of war,'' she says. ``But the sirens bring back our history. The sirens are a reminder of a time when we were so helpless.''
In addition to the emotional costs, the Iraqi threat has taken a huge economic toll on Israel.
Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai told visiting US Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger Tuesday that the war was costing Israel $500 million a day in lost tourism, trade, and investment; disrupted employment; Iraqi missile damage; and increased civil and military defense costs.
Just hours before Tuesday's attack, Mr. Modai presented Mr. Eagleburger with a request for $3 billion in aid to cover war costs. Israel is also asking for $10 billion over the next five years to help defray the costs of absorbing Soviet Jews now arriving in Israel. Modai insists there is no linkage between the aid request and continued Israeli restraint in dealing with Iraq, though few doubt that Israel is in a good bargaining position.
Israeli sources explain the unusual length of Eagleburger's visit - now in its sixth day - as an effort to moderate Israel's response to new attacks.
``As long as he's here, he knows Israel won't retaliate,'' says a Foreign Ministry official.
The US has reportedly agreed that, if the US cannot prevent missile attacks, Israel has the right to respond. But Washington remains apprehensive that any retaliation might weaken the anti-Iraq alliance, whose Arab members are reluctant to be seen as partners with the Jewish state in a war against Iraq.
Israeli sources say any retaliation must meet three requirements: It must be coordinated with the US; it must be effective in striking at Iraqi missile batteries or inflicting sufficient damage on Iraq to deter their use; and it must not weaken the anti-Iraq coalition. The Israeli Cabinet is said to be discussing several military options, though no details have been made public.
According to news reports, the US, Britain, and Israel are consulting on possible targets for an Israeli retaliatory strike. The US and Israel are said to be discussing a possible air corridor to Iraq, presumably through Jordan or Saudi Arabia.