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Iraq seen entering war if Israel counters Hizbullah attacks

By Steve Rodan, Middle East Newsline SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM Sunday, December 3, 2000 JERUSALEM For the first time in a decade, Israel has raised the prospect of a regional war with the Arab world with the key participation of Iraq.

Israeli sources said the most likely prospect is a Hizbullah attack on the northern Israeli border. Israel would then react by retaliating against Syrian military installations in Lebanon. This, in turn, would result in Iraqi and Iranian intervention.

Already, Syria has moved troops from the Beirut area to the Bekaa valley near the Syrian border. The area is regarded as the most likely Israeli invasion route to Syria.

"If the deterioration in the north continues, it will be inevitable that Syrian and Lebanese power centers will be struck," Israeli National Security Adviser Maj. Gen. Uzi Dayan said.

Such a prospect could take place imminently or be delayed for months, the sources said. They said this was the strongest threat of a regional war in more than a decade.

The sources said Israel and the United States have relayed messages to Syria to stop Hizbullah attacks along the border. Syria has up to 30,000 troops in Lebanon and controls the Hizbullah.

Syria, however, has so far rejected the warnings. Instead, President Bashar Assad has formed new links with Iraq that include military cooperation. The sources said the cooperation could include Iraqi intervention in case of Israeli attacks on Syria.

The U.S. message, officials said, is that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is under pressure from his military to respond to any Hizbullah attack. Such an attack on Syria, the officials warned, could be ordered as Barak seeks reelection and wants to prove his commitment to Israeli security.

The U.S. warning, officials said, was delivered in two meetings between administration officials and Syrian diplomats and officials both in Damascus and in Washington.

On Friday, the New York Times published a column by its foreign affairs expert, Thomas Friedman that warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that he is being manipulated by the advisers of his late father. "Bashar, your dad was a master at manipulating people around him," the columnist warned. "Be careful that you don't become the puppet of your father's puppets. It will end badly for you, and even worse for Syria."

A senior Israeli military source said Iraq is ready to launch missile attacks on the Jewish state to either help Syria or the Palestinians. These missiles, they said, could be tipped with nonconventional warheads.

"The Iraqis would love to participate in either conflict," the senior source said. "Hafez Assad [Syria's late president] was not interested in cooperating with Iraq. Bashar is interested and wants to cooperate."

An Israeli war with Syria, Lebanon and Iraq could drag such U.S. Arab allies as Egypt and Jordan, the source said.

-- Martin Thompson (, December 03, 2000

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