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Israel's five-up squad of women bowlers set off earlier this week for the shores of Ireland, and are standing by at Belfast's Bangor Club to start off tomorrow in the Atlantic Rim Competition, together with 15 other nations.

The tournament, inaugurated in 1993 in the USA, and considered as a mini world championship, provides world level competition to countries bordering on the Atlantic Ocean, and follows the pattern of the corresponding Pacific games.

Israel, although remote from the Atlantic arena, was honored with a special invitation to the 1995 games, to round off a 12-nation contest\ - Israel gained the slot after having finished 8th out of 26 nations in the preceding 1992 World Bowls Championships.

While the original concept of the games was for a biannual event, the last contest was back in 1999, since when the cost of funding has lead to the absence of the event from the international bowls calendar.

The Israelis this year face an unprecedented critical challenge, as their final overall standing in the combined tally of points in the four disciplines of singles, pairs, triples and fours will determine whether or not they will be included among the 24 nations in the next quadrennial world championships in 2008 in New Zealand.

Again limited funds confine the latter tournament to 24 nations from among 48 world affiliated countries. The top 12 countries from last year's world championships gain automatic entry, while entry for the next 12 will depend on respective overall log slots, at this decisive Atlantic Tournament. The remaining 12 log slots are divided between Asia, Africa and Europe.

Israel, playing in the European zone, will have to finish in one of two qualifying places above Guernsey, Spain, Holland, Portugal and the Canary Islands.

Israel just missed out for automatic qualifying by finishing one log slot too low, in the 13th overall position in the last world championships, but were well ahead of their now grouped challenging countries, the nearest rival being Holland who were in the 18th log slot and the others yet further below.

On paper, Israel should be able to meet the challenge. Kiryat-Ono's international star Ruthie Gilor will be playing the singles, and has shown herself capable of beating the best , as she did in last year's world championships where she finished 6th out of 29.

In each 8-up round robin sections, the top four qualify for the quarter final upwards knock-out rounds, and Gilor's main opposition could be from England and Jersey, with Cananda, USA. Guernsey, Holland and Canary Island also in her section.

The other singles section will see challenging contests between South Africa, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland's world champion, and present Atlantic singles title holder, Margaret Johnson.

Gilor skips in the pairs for Ramat Gan's Edna Zomberg, who earns her first international cap. The pairing here have a challenging section, up against South Africa, Wales, Jersey and England, while the other pair section will see Scotland's title holders Margaret Letham and Joyce Lindores - former World and Commonwealth pairs champions - in action against Ireland.

In the triples and fours much will be dependent on the respective teams to settle down and find a consistent level of playing. Ramat Gan's experienced international Tami Kamzel skips the triples with her club colleague Naomi Fix and with Haifa's Irit Grenchel. The trio has a challenging section with Ireland, South Africa, Wales and Jersey.

Kamzel also skips the fours team with Zomberg added. The main opposition here comes from South Africa, England and Jersey.

The competition starts off with the pairs and triples against Portugal and Ireland respectively and continues till the 18th August, followed then by the singles and fours through to the 23rd.

While the Israelis, together with their team manager Ramat Hasharon's Yaffa Lavin are well aware of the issues at stake they would also like to improve on their last 1999 appearance when they finished 11th out of 16, and in 1997, 9th out of 14. South Africa were the overall winners in the last tournament in 1999, Wales the winners in 1997, and South Africa also in 1995.