After a four year absence, the U.S. Navy is again visiting the Israeli port of Haifa. During the Cold War, when the U.S. had a strong naval presence in the Mediterranean, Haifa was a major port of call for American warships. Free spending U.S. sailors pumped up to $20 million a year into the local economy. There were fewer visits in the 1990s, as the number of American warships in the Mediterranean declined with post-Cold War cutbacks. But after the USS Cole was bombed in Yemen, and the current Palestinian terror campaign against Israelis began in 2000, the visits to Haifa stopped altogether.
American sailors look forward to shore leave more than the those in other navies because, since 1914, no alcoholic beverages are allowed on American warships. No wine for the officers at dinner, no beer for the sailors after a hard, hot day of work. Moreover, for the past year, sailors have been having a rough time when they do get ashore. Overthrowing Saddam Hussein was very unpopular in Europe and in the Moslem world. Who knew such a bloody tyrant has do many friends? But the result has been that American sailors cannot find a friendly port of call anywhere in the Mediterranean. Well, thats not entirely true. The people who run the harbor side bars and clubs frequented by free spending sailors still like Americans. But go beyond that neighborhood and you are likely to encounter a hostile atmosphere. This makes it rough for the many sailors who like to do the tourist bit.
The mayor of Haifa has been pestering American naval and diplomatic officials for the past four years to get the U.S. sailors back to Haifa. He points out that the locals are friendly and, given the fact that Islamic terrorists are all over Europe, Haifa is at least as safe as any other Mediterranean port. So the navy recently sent a tug and a destroyer for a visit. But the crews were not allowed ashore. Well, its a start.