The war is over. The gas masks are put away. Now, Israel hopes it can resurrect its $1.8 billion tourism industry and help repair its Scud-ravaged economy.
"War and tourism do not usually go very well together," Yosef Shoval, spokesman for the Israeli Tourism Ministry said. "But we know from previous crises that people are not canceling trips to Israel, they are just postponing them."Meanwhile, 17 of the 23 international carriers that suspended regular flights to Israel during the Gulf War are revving up their engines again to ferry their accustomed crowd of tourists, businessmen and pilgrims.
Shoval said history has shown tourism rebounds dramatically after Middle East wars and he believes two words will help Israel recoup some of the estimated $500 million lost because of the drop in tourism during the gulf conflict.
"Easter and Passover," Shoval said prayerfully, pointing to the calendar for next month upon which his recovery strategy rests.
"This is a kind of target. It's four weeks away. We have enough time."
Shoval is mindful that Christian and Jewish holidays are the backbone of Israel's tourism industry. The $1.8 billion engine fueled by foreign visitors is crucial to Israel's economy and has been crippled since the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
About 1.34 million tourists visited Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1990 - among them 287,110 Americans. But that was considerably below the 2 million the tourism industry had expected.
Still, it takes time for people to plan trips and hotel operators are afraid there won't be enough time for pilgrims to make arrangements for Easter. March 31 is the holiday for Western Christians while April 7 is the date celebrated in Eastern churches. Passover begins March 30.
"Usually by this time Passover should be fully booked," said Omri Krongold, assistant manager of the Sheraton Jerusalem Plaza.
Shoval said he was confident the tourists would return, and a $6 million worldwide advertising campaign would boost the effort.
"Happy days are here again," is one of the themes that will be pushed, Shoval said, because "the message is that it is okay now without saying how many tanks were just destroyed in the Middle East."
Another hopeful sign is that the international airlines are beginning to restore service to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.
"Now that the war is over there is an enormous interest, an enormous number of bookings," said Aviva Lavi, a spokesman for El Al, Israel's national airline. "People want to be here, to show their solidarity."
Still, two major American air carriers, TWA and Pan Am, have not resumed flights. "Our aircraft are still busy in the gulf area flying troops," Pan Am spokesman Dan Danzinger said.
TWA said it was hedging on whether to resume its flights immediately. "We are still waiting for the public reaction in the U.S. to the end of the hostilities in the region," said TWA spokesman Ted Silverman in Tel Aviv.
By Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, in September, Israelis are hopeful the tourism industry will be back in full swing, barring another unforeseen war or crisis.
"We will have to encourage people to come, but Israel sells itself," Shoval said. "For religious pilgrims, you just cannot find a substitute for the Holy Land. This has been a place to come for the last 2,000 years."