Missile attacks in the south and center have upset plans by several companies and institutions that were counting on foreign experts and commercial representatives who are here on long-term contracts.

Einat Gez, manager of Relocation Jobs, a company that brings in highly qualified foreign workers, estimates that out of 5,000 experts and employees of foreign companies in the country, 200 had left by the end of last week. If the cease-fire anticipated last night does not take hold, her assessment is that several hundred more foreign employees will leave by this weekend.

The first to leave were those stationed in the south.

"There are many workers from Europe here, such as those from Ireland and Spain, who came to provide their expertise due to the economic hardships back home", says Gez. "Many of them are assisting in the development of the natural gas and energy industries, areas in which Israelis require foreign expertise. In the last few days I've received many e-mails from overseas clients who are praying for us, testifying to the fact that things look much worse from where they are. Foreigners who are here are frightened - this has hit them like a bolt from the blue."

As soon as the fighting started, Gez relocated some of her clients from the south to alternative housing in the center, as well as sending a few of them back home. "Over the last few months we have sent out information on security issues to our workers," she says. "We tried to assure them that things would remain calm. They now feel that we were mocking them, and their confidence and sense of security are shattered."

Long-term implications

Missiles fired at the center completely upset the cart for many foreign workers, and this has long-term implications. Many will not return, and it will be difficult to recruit others to replace them. It could take a whole year to rebuild confidence among foreign workers remaining here, as was the case after Operation Cast Lead nearly four years ago.

"The following year was very difficult, with few foreign experts arriving here," said Gez. "If economic conditions in the West remain worse than they are here, we may see a more rapid return."

However, she warns, if there is a recovery in Europe, it will be very difficult to convince anyone to return to Israel.

"At times such as these, even Israelis are looking at job opportunities abroad, which doesn't attest to optimism regarding the economic and security situation. Local industry may be badly affected, especially in areas in which foreign expertise is essential," says Gez.

If people here on work contracts are leaving for fear of their lives, it is even more likely that short-term visitors will forgo the pleasure.

This happened at a conference organized by the human resources company Synerion on Monday, at which a speaker from Germany canceled his presentation on skills management due to pressure from his family. Instead, he delivered it by video conference.

Yitzhak Koren, deputy manager for marketing at Synerion, said that 20 minutes after the first siren went off in Tel Aviv, he prayed that no cancelations would come in. As it turned out, aside from the German speaker, all the other speakers (from Israel ) showed up.

However, other cancelations were made. One was by a Citibank representative scheduled to deliver a series of lectures to students at Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University and the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya on international training programs with the bank.

Other cancelations were sent in to SAP laboratories, where training sessions with five guests from overseas were canceled.

Mickey Steiner, CEO of SAP, Israel says the company has a securities department that assesses the situation, and its assessment isn't so gloomy.

"Alongside the cancelations we've received heartwarming supportive e-mails as well", he says. "Things always look worse from far away. Our workers who came through Relocation Jobs have stayed. They live here and are familiar with things."

How are immigrants coping? Newly-arrived immigrants have not expressed regrets over their decision to move to Israel, according to Michael Sa'adon, who heads a group helping immigrant academics find work. He said he was at meetings with new immigrants in Tel Aviv on two occasions in which sirens went off - and the newcomers seemed calm.

"Many immigrants want to help with public relations abroad, in order to inform and change public opinion. Our attempt to recruit some of them turned up 20 immigrants overnight. They tell us that some of their non-Jewish friends abroad have broken off contact with them because of events here, and their families are stressed," he says.

"They have never experienced such things, and neither have I in my 10 years here. We need time to accommodate, but everyone seems calm. They are surprised by how tough Israelis seem. Some immigrants are joining the IDF while others want to help the Foreign Ministry", says Sa'adon.