Ships of the American Sixth Fleet have not anchored in Haifa port since shortly after the Intifada began, leading to concern here for the health of the port-based economy and the state of relations with the U.S.
Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau told FBI and State Department officials and congressmen last week in Washington that the United States was giving terrorists a prize and that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat was succeeding in undermining U.S.-Israeli relations by using terror. Landau heard promises from his interlocutors that the "matter would be dealt with."
The official reason given to Israeli officials was concern for the safety of the crews and the general prohibition imposed on Sixth Fleet ships anchoring in Middle East ports since the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen on October 12, last year. The blast killed 17 American sailors and injured 39 others.
Two months ago, the USS Laramie anchored in Haifa, bringing supplies for the American embassy in Tel Aviv, but this was an unusual occurrence.
Until the Cole bombing, Sixth Fleet ships anchored regularly in Haifa. Aircraft carriers and other larger ships anchored outside the port and their crews contributed about a million dollars a day in tourist income to the city. The smaller ships entered the port for repairs at Israel Shipyards or brought Marines for training in Israel. About 10 years ago, the American government paid to refurbish Israel Shipyards in order to enable them to take in the fleet's larger ships for repairs.
A few months ago, the Sixth Fleet undertook a security examination of the Haifa port and Israel Shipyards facilities, and according to Israeli sources the examiners came away with the impression that there was no danger to the American ships or their crews. However, the State Department in Washington ordered the prohibition upheld. Last month, an American ship anchored in the port of Aqaba, in Jordan, and this reawakened hopes in Haifa. But the American ship quickly fled from Jordan, following warnings of a possible terror attack by terrorist Osama Bin Laden's men against American targets in the region.