Despite last month's military operation in Gaza, the economic crisis in Europe and North America, and instability in the Middle East, 2012 marked the third straight year of rising tourism to Israel.

The Tourism Ministry reported Monday that some 3.5 million visitors came to Israel in 2012, including an estimate through the end of December. This is a 4% increase over 2011.

The United States once again provided the single largest number of tourists: 610,000, about 18% of all incoming tourism. Next was Russia with 590,000.The difference between the two groups is that the number of Americans fell 4% from 2011, while the number of Russian tourists grew 20%.

About 70% of tourists arrived by air, and another 235,000 by sea. Fully 18% of tourists, some 625,000 people, visited for only one day.

Despite the seemingly positive figures for the year, Rafi Farber, deputy president of the Israel Hotels Association, said 2012 was a year of stagnation. Many tourists, he said, are merely en route to the Palestinian territories or Jordan - which doesn't help the hotels at all.