Much as I hate to pour cold water into the warm bath of approbation in which Israel's "restraint" has plunged it, the truth is that the Israelis have very little choice.

In order to strike back at Iraq they need our cooperation in the form of such intelligence data as aircraft identification codes; otherwise, they run the unthinkable risk of getting into dogfights with American planes.So long as we refuse to give them this intelligence, they will have to go on taking frequent hits from Iraqi missiles without doing anything in return.

Being human, the Israelis are happy to reap whatever benefits they can from this situation, not the least of which is their return to popularity after years of being hectored and sniped at by enemies and self-professed friends alike.

Yet after 10 days in Jerusalem I can report that many Israelis suspect they are getting such a good press only because the world is more comfortable with Jews as passive victims to be wept over than as feisty warriors to be reckoned with.

They also worry about the damage their vaunted restraint may do to the deterrent effect of their heretofore invariable policy of making it clear to their enemies that Israel cannot be attacked with impunity.

Most of all, there has been a steady erosion of the confidence the Israelis originally felt in our ability to eliminate all the Scud launchers firing at their civilian population from western Iraq. No wonder, then, that they are now itching for a shot at this job.

Clearly, it would be good for Israel if the United States gave them that shot. But would it be good for the United States? Official Washington says no, arguing that Israeli entry into the war would drive some, if not all, of our Arab partners out of the coalition.

Now as it happens, the contribution of our Arab partners to the war effort has either been minimal (Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) or invisible (Egypt and Syria). Nor is it easy to understand why we seem to think that these states have done us such a great favor in allowing us to defend them.

And it is even harder to fathom why we should act as though we owe the most tender consideration to the political concerns and sensibilities of a terrorist tyranny such as Syria while treating a democratic ally such as Israel as an embarrassment to be kept in the closet.

Yet, even leaving aside the interesting question of what exactly we would lose if we lost Syria, the argument that Israeli entry into the war would shatter the coalition was never really plausible and has become less convincing with each passing day.

Indeed, in the very act of joining with us, whom they all regard both as Israel's great protector and its docile instrument, our Arab partners from the first minute implicitly declared that their fear of Saddam Hussein was greater than their hatred of the Jewish state.

The other objection to giving the Israelis a shot at Iraq is that they would be unable to add anything significant to our own efforts. Yet the Israelis themselves are confident that they could do a better job than we have thus far done of destroying the Scud launchers.

Israelis also think they could be more effective against the bunkers in which so many key targets in Iraq (planes, command and control facilities, stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons) continue to find refuge.

The reason the Israelis are confident of this is that their air force gets far more specialized training than ours. For example, bomber pilots literally spend years preparing for a single mission - this airfield, that installation. They even have munitions tailored for particular targets and the know-how to use them.

As the world learned from the rescue mission at Entebbe, the Israelis also excel at commando operations, and such operations could be another way of locating and taking out mobile Scud launchers.

Surely, then, it is time to stop praising the Israelis for their restraint and to start unleashing them to do what comes more naturally against Hussein.

(Norman Podhoretz is editor in chief of Commentary magazine.)