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There may be slim hopes that the rally is coming, but Israel's economy first has plenty of issues to tackle.

Can we be sure that the banks are done writing off bad debt? Can anybody promise that no more banks will collapse, after Trade Bank and Industrial Development Bank? Can we trust that tax revenues will meet the government's target when planning the budget?

Can anyone state that if tax falls short, the government will reduce its spending, and refrain from imposing new taxes or increasing its deficit, thus imposing even more strain on interest rate policy?

Can we feel secure that the safety net the Bank of Israel deployed under the shekel will withstand a speculative attack? Could the constant erosion of wages cause the economy to retreat even more?

Would anybody bet the house that Nasdaq won't fall below 1,000 points? Can we rest assured that WorldCom, Elron and Tyco were the only planet-scale frauds in the most developed financial systems in the world?

Will the price of crude drop again, thus preventing a worldwide rise in prices?

Does the current hiatus in hostilities with the Palestinians hint at diplomatic moves to come, or is it just a recess before another outbreak of bloodshed?

Who knows. Nobody knows. Nor do Israelis think much about these questions as they groan under the double burden of security and economy loads.

But there are people thinking about these questions. They don't live in Israel. they aren't even Jewish. They do not have one red cent invested in the Holy Land.

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Yes - they're the analysts of the international rating agencies, led by Standard & Poor's and Moody's. They are cold-eyed professionals who care about exactly one thing: Israel's ability to honor its debts to bond-holders. And the quality of its banks' debts, which are the issue in the current meeting.

To better evaluate the countries whose debt they grade, they usually visit and meet with their economic leaders and bankers. They receive the latest figures and hear presentations from their hosts, who they ask the toughest questions, stripped of any silver linings. Since these meetings are held far from the public eye, they can strip the issues to the bones without mincing words.

They have been to Israel. Every time they came, they were received like visiting royalty, since their rating rulings govern the quality of Israel's debt and the prices its bonds can command abroad. Their rating decisions also matter to each and every household, especially now, as the people of Israel send their money abroad in the billions.

But the next meeting between Israel's top bankers and the rating analysts won't be in Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv. No, no.

They read the papers, you see. They know what's going on here. They know that the situation with the Palestinians is highly explosive. They know that tomorrow, George Bush and Tony Blair may decide to attack Iraq, which could induce Saddam Hussein to send over a few missiles, maybe ones bearing chemical warheads.

No, no. Behind their frosty demeanor, these are people with families. They have plans for the future, hopes, desires, ambitions. They aren't about to visit this hell-hole.

And they have the right not to visit here, if they don't want to. They are entitled to decide to meet with the Israelis in Cyprus. It isn't as though the Israeli government can send them reserves callup notices.

But if they won't come visit Israel for fear of their lives, what does that say about monies invested here? If S&P's and Moody's finest brains refuse to land here, can they continue recommending that their clients keep buying Israeli government bonds, and that putting money in the banks is as safe as, well, money in the bank?

If they'd made the trip, and still not lowered ratings, they could have claimed that the bankers had been particularly persuasive - that Israel's economy is about to swing up because of the government's budgetary discipline and the indications of a rally in world markets, and so forth.

But if they arent even coming at all, they can't say any such thing. The mere fact that they're holding the meeting outside Israel, and the reasons for that, says it all. By definition, it means that Israel's credit rating should be lowered, even if temporarily, to the level of countries where people are afraid to tread.