The US Embassy wants to double the number of Israelis studying in America within a couple of years. A new initiative of the US Commercial Service, which operates out of the Tel Aviv Embassy, along with the Israeli Fulbright program and a daughter company of Smile Internet Zahav, will see the launching later this month of a special on-line portal where young Israelis can easily apply to hundreds of American institutions of higher learning. "We believe there are more opportunities available to Israeli students in America, where there are over 3,000 accredited universities, where they have a greater variety of schools to choose from and where - unlike any other country in the world - they offer sports scholarships to international students," says Alan Wielunski, commercial specialist for the US Commercial Service. Besides seeking to improve America's image around the world, the project aims to strengthen what has become a major American export: higher education. Today, 560,000 international students study in the US - a $13 billion annual service export. Some 60% of Israeli academics have at least one degree from the US, according to figures from the Commercial Service, a branch of the US Department of Commerce. Approximately 3,500 Israeli students are currently studying in America, over 50 percent of them in graduate programs. One of the challenges in increasing that number is connecting Israeli students with the American institutions. "Schools have been going to markets in the Far East to attract students, and largely forgot about untapped markets like Israel," says Wielunski. In doing so, they are missing a "very high-quality student," he believes. "They're more mature, having experienced military service, and they're ready to start their formal education." However, "students get lost in the universities' huge Web sites, and they don't know how to connect to the foreign student departments," says Kobi Sadeh, founder and CEO of Nirshamim.com, the commercial Web site and Internet Zahav daughter company that is joining forces with the American agencies to help Israelis study in the US. The site is currently in "beta," meaning that it is on-line but not yet fully functional. It will be inaugurated at the end of the month at an event at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds headed by US Ambassador Richard Jones. The site is free to the Israeli student, providing contact information and syllabi from some 140 participating institutions. The university pays for each "lead," when a student seeking to apply to the institution sends information through the Web site. Wielunski denies that the US agencies are promoting the "brain drain" to American universities by facilitating American educations for Israeli youth. "One of the criteria for receiving a student visa is that [the applicants] have to show the interviewing officer that their objective is to return to Israel. And we work with American companies based in Israel to take on Israeli students who come on leave, and to have the students work for them after they graduate as well. "On campus, there's a lot of activity to find American-based companies in Israel that will take them on," Wielunski explains. "We understand that there is a concern, but our objectives are clear and simple - our ultimate objective is to make sure students come back to Israel." That objective fits both the business and diplomatic objectives. "The Americans want to bring as many students as possible to America so they can learn about the 'American way of life' and then go back home," says Sadeh. "If you're an Iranian student, you can study in America for free today."