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Russia projects Middle East war within six months

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM Monday, August 13, 2001

MOSCOW Russian defense officials and strategists project that an Arab-Israeli war could erupt in the Middle East over the next three to six months.

The widely-held scenario described a war that would engulf Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, according to Middle East Newsline. The officials and strategists said Egypt could be swept into such a conflict.

"We are moving inexorably toward a war," a senior Russian diplomat said. "Russia has tried and the United States has tried to stop this, but to no avail."

Russian strategist Yevgeney Stanovsky agreed. Stanovsky, head of the Moscow-based Middle East Institute said a regional war is inevitable in wake of the failure of international efforts to implement a ceasefire.

The trigger for the war could take place in September. The Russian analysts expect an Israeli offensive against the Palestinian Authority triggered by Palestinian bombings of Israeli cities. Such an offensive, they said, could prompt Egypt to direct its Third Army to enter the Sinai.

The Third Army is scheduled to conduct an exercise near the Suez Canal next month.

In London, the London-based Sunday Times said Egypt is considering sending its Third Army into the demilitarized Sinai peninsula. The newspaper, quoting a senior Egyptian security source, said on Sunday that Cairo would send in the army if Israel moves into Palestinian territories.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the newspaper said, has come under increasing pressure to help the Palestinians. The Times said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Egypt has committed itself to helping the Palestinians against any Israeli attack.

In Cairo, Arab League chief Amr Mussa warned of an impending catastrophe in the Middle East. Mussa said all efforts to prevent a regional breakdown appear to have resulted in failure.

On Wednesday, the Arab League convenes in emergency session to plan a public relations strategy. The meeting will be attended by the league's new spokeswoman, Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi.

Egypt plans to launch a campaign to recruit international pressure against Israel. This will include Israel's closure of Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem.

For their part, Israeli officials said the threat of a regional war that would involve Egypt has been discussed in numerous forums. They said Mubarak has been giving orders to bolster Egypt's military readiness while he continues to be wary of Israel's strength.

"Egypt is the most hostile country to Israel within the international community and it should be treated as an enemy state," National Infrastructure Minister Avigdor Lieberman said. "This man passionately wants the destruction of Israel, but he knows he would lose in the event of an all-out war. This is why he is trying to destroy us piecemeal."

On Sunday, Syria held high-level military talks with China. Syrian Chief of Staff Gen. Ali Aslan met a Chinese military delegation on a visit to Damascus.

Syrian sources said the two sides discussed ways to promote military relations. U.S. officials said China has renewed missile component and technology exports to Syria and other Arab and Middle Eastern states.

-- Martin Thompson (, August 14, 2001

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