By Tobias Buck in Jerusalem and Daniel Dombey in Washington
updated 11:41 p.m. PT, Mon., Jan. 7, 2008
George W. Bush arrives in Israel on Wednesday in the twilight of his presidency, with his international clout diminished by the war in Iraq and his popular support eroded both at home and abroad.
In Israel, however, the US president will be greeted with nothing but adulation and gratitude. From the prime minister downwards, Israelis continue to hold Mr Bush in high esteem, thanks to his unwavering support for the country in its struggle with Arab neighbours and militant Palestinian forces.
"Bush is very popular. Israelis really appreciate Bush's approach and his very clear support for Israel," says Gabriel Sheffer, a professor of political sciences at Jerusalem's Hebrew University.
In an interview last week, Ehud Olmert, Israeli prime minister, called Mr Bush "a giant friend of ours. He's not doing a single thing that I don't agree to. He doesn't support anything that I oppose. He doesn't say a thing that he thinks will make life harder for Israel."
Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the US, says: "It is a very good relationship - predicated on a joint vision of the Middle East arena and on a very good personal relationship between the prime minister and the president.
"But it is not a perfect relationship," he says, with the recent US intelligence report on Iran's nuclear programme - which held that Iran abandoned covert efforts to build nuclear weapons in 2003 - creating "confusion and puzzlement in Israel regarding the direction of US policy".
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