U.S. House of Representatives ** Washington, D.C. 20515 ** December 10, 1996


By Yossef Bodansky and Vaughn S. Forrest

Approaching the end of 1996, the Middle East may well be on the verge of a major regional war. Numerous sources in the region report that the supreme leaders -- both civilians and military -- in most Arab states, as well as in Iran and Pakistan are convinced that the present vulnerability of Israel is so great that there is a unique opportunity to, at the very least, begin the process leading to the destruction of Israel. These circumstances are considered to be a historic window of opportunity the Muslim World should not miss. Therefore, these Muslim leaders have finalized numerous strategies and tactical alliances heretofore non-existent in the region. Toward this end, several Arab states, as well as Iran and Pakistan, have been engaged in a frantic military build-up and active preparations in the last few months. Indeed, this crisis is escalating even as all key players continue to reassert their commitment to the US-inspired "Peace Process".

However, the slide to war is the real and dominant dynamics in the Near East because it represents the reaction of the Muslim World to the challenges of modernization -- petrification exacerbated and aggravated by the post-Gulf Crisis regional dynamics, and particularly the intrusion policy of the Clinton Administration toward the Hub of Islam.

In late November 1996, Na'il Mukhaybar, one of the most authoritative Arab commentators on Middle East affairs observed: "The question is no longer: Will the expected and planned war between Israel and Syria ever break out? It is rather: When will the war break out?" This is not a minority opinion. It is also shared by senior officials in the Arab Middle East. For example, in late October, a senior Jordanian diplomat warned that "Syria is preparing for a surprise military attack on Israel in the coming weeks." This assessment was based on high-level contacts between Damascus and Amman, especially between senior officers of both armies, in which the military situation in the region was discussed. In these meetings the Syrians asked for passive and indirect support from the Jordanian military -- for Jordan to hold maneuvers near Israeli border in order to compel IDF to divert forces and hold them there.

Many other Arab and Iranian officials share the same view. There is a commonly shared firm belief among the senior experts serving Middle Eastern governments that the political-strategic dynamics in the Middle East have already reached a deadlock that makes a dramatic breakout inevitable. The strong commitment to such a dramatic breakout among most senior leaders is the key to understanding the present dangers. These leaders see no alternative to a dramatic breakout possible only through cataclysmic violence. The mere revival of the ongoing processes -- be it the peace process on the Arabs' terms or even the return to a region-wide state of war -- will no longer suffice to meet the strategic challenges from Islamic revivalism. Hence, the slide toward the resumption of violence -- ranging from spectacular terrorism to an all-out war -- between the Arabs and Israel. This is a very prudent and reasonable assessment given the overall regionaldynamics over the last few months, particularly if examined in the context of the strategic regional dynamics of the last couple of years. Essentially, in their entirety, the tactical and military developments of recent months reinforce and confirm the earlier strategic posturing. Therefore, these military activities can, and should, be perceived as implementation of earlier grand designs. And this complementary relationship between the strategic and tactical dynamics is the key to the alarmist approach to interpreting the unfolding events.

When analyzing these unfolding developments, it is highly significant to recall the emerging mega-trends in the region: The rise of militant Islam as the primary motivating factor of the Arab public has already reached unprecedented levels. The popular mistrust in existing nation-states, the hostility toward the US/West over intervention and presence in the Muslim World (in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.), and the pressure on those in power to pursue "Islamic policies" continue to markedly increase. It will be difficult for rulers to resist the growing popular outcry and stay out of a major crisis with Israel, let alone support the US under such circumstances. The present leaders of Iran, Syria and Iraq are determined to transfer power to their sons-and-heirs. They are convinced that only the emergence of a close alliance leading to a perpetual crisis against the rest of the world will rally the potential contenders in their own respective coteries to accept their chosen sons as leaders. The mere existence of a functioning militant block will enable the other "sons-of" to assist and save a "son-of" in distress. Given its popular Islamist connotations -- liberating al-Quds - the current policy of brinkmanship and crisis is the best possible starting point for the establishment of this block.

The succession struggle in Saudi Arabia is peaking. The Abdallah faction is determined to seize power through the eviction of the US from the region, the solution of Saudi Arabia's shortage of cash by accepting more lucrative contracts with East Asia at the expense of the West, and by establishing close relations with the radical states as a guarantee against Islamist subversion. The very close Abdallah-Assad relations constitute the key to Prince Abdallah's rise to power. These relations have already initiated the bombing in Dahran. Prince Abdallah has already promised Damascus to deliver a comprehensive oil embargo against the West in case of a major crisis with Israel. Thus, the mega-trends in the Middle East are pushing toward a crisis environment. A dramatic breakout from the deadlock is virtually inevitable. The latest developments in the military threat to Israel fit perfectly into this overall trend.


Specific military moves at the national-strategic level suggesting active preparations for a possible war in the near future began in the spring of 1996. These activities range from highly irregular and highly significant military exercises to political and international agreements.

In the Spring of 1996, Hafiz al-Assad and Saddam Hussein met secretly for a summit to ensure joint pursuit of regional objectives. The meeting took place in the area where the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Syria meet. This summit was aimed to get the endorsement and approval of both top leaders to the completion of strategic agreements reached in the course of recent high-level bilateral and tripartite high-level negotiations (Tehran is the third party). This summit created the conditions for the revival of the Eastern Front and set the specific and workable arrangements for the dispatch of Iranian expeditionary forces and weapons to the Syrian front.

In late May 1996, Tehran demonstrated how seriously Iran takes the possibility of dispatching forces to the Israeli front. Iran conducted its largest military exercise ever -- Velayat. The essence of Velayat was a multiple corps deep offensive in the aftermath of a long range advance identical to the distance between Iran and Israel. The objective of Velayat was to confirm Iran's ability to send a strategically effective expeditionary force -- the Velayat Force -- to contribute to a regional war against high-quality armies. The primary intended objective of the exercise is Israel. The entire Iranian top leadership and high command were present at the exercise. Subsequent Iranian analysis pointed out deficiencies in the planning of the operations of a key special forces unit. These were quickly corrected and these improvements were demonstrated to the Tehran leadership in a follow-up exercise in late October.

With Iran's ability to significantly contribute to the military effort against Israel proven, Damascus and Tehran conducted high-level discussions aimed at the formulation of a joint war strategy. In mid June, Iran and Syria signed a major agreement specifically for the codification of their military cooperation against Israel. This agreement also provides for joint exercises in northern and northeastern Iran of the command elements of Syrian units and the Iranian units that will arrive to support them on the Golan front. By mid August, Iraq was brought into this framework with the establishment of a tripartite "joint command" specifically aimed to expedite the preparations for, and conduct of, "a major war against Israel". A key component of this joint command has been the coordination of the activities of Iran, Iraq, and Syria in mobilizing their SSM forces for a possible missile barrage against Israel.

In late September, the Palestinian factor was added to the joint preparations when the Palestinian Authorities (PA) entered into a major military agreement with Syria. Significantly, this agreement is between the PA, and not the PLO, and Syria, thus explicitly committing the Palestinian forces in the territories. The essence of the agreement is for the Palestinian "police" forces and other armed elements (terrorist organizations) to flare-up the Israeli interior in case of an escalation in the north. Syrian and PLO intelligence established a liaison section made up of senior Syrian and Palestinian intelligence officers with HQs in Beirut, Damascus and Gaza. In return, Syria will provide weapons and advanced training to PLO units in the refugees camps in southern Lebanon - - units disarmed as part of the Israeli-Lebanese agreements. Meanwhile, the PLO's preparations for an imminent war are evident. In Gaza, Arafat ordered the marked acceleration of the building of a personal command bunker, four stories deep. Moreover, the PLO is rapidly building all over Gaza a chain of command centers, ammunition and weapons-storage areas -- all of them underground and well fortified to even withstand Israeli bombing and shelling. The PA's security services are also accumulating large stockpiles of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, including missiles, even though they are forbidden by the Oslo Accords.

In mid September, the Egyptian Armed Forces conducted their largest military exercise since the late 1970s. The 10-days Badr-96 exercise simulated a strategic deep offensive against Israel and included a large scale call-up of reserves, a major amphibious landing on the Sinai coast, a nightly assault crossing of the Suez Canal, and major breakthroughs of defensive dispositions manned by high quality forces. In mid October, senior officers of the Egyptian Army conducted a tour of the Sinai, including areas near the Israeli border, in violation of the provisions of the peace agreement with Israel. It was a commanders' tour aimed to acquaint them with the peculiarities of a theater they might have to operate in. Meanwhile, Cairo encourages the resumption of calls for war at the political level. Brig.Gen. (Ret.) Mohammed Muawad Gad al-Moula, was permitted to establish a new political party committed "to revive the 'victorious spirit' of the October 1973 War" and whose leadership is made of retired senior officers. "We have no choice but to adopt a platform for rebuilding a strong Egypt and preparing a new generation capable of fighting any attackers," al-Moula told the semi-official al-Ahram. "We have to prepare for a fresh confrontation with Israel."

Starting early October, there have been several cycles of bilateral and multilateral political-military discussions and coordination sessions between Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Jordan. According to high-level Iranian sources, the initial phase of these consultations led to the adoption of "pan-Arab cooperation" making it possible "to impose a military blockade on Israel from the north, east, and south." In late October, senior officers from Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon held a series of meetings to coordinate and agree on a number of specific military measures and strategies for the forthcoming confrontation with Israel. In early November, second-tier states were being brought into "the circle of confrontation" -- the group of states of committed to contributing to the Arab-Iranian war effort. Most significant was the Syrian-Pakistani military agreement signed in Islamabad by the Defense Ministers of Syria and Pakistan which arranged for the seconding of Pakistani military experts and senior officers, pilots and technicians, and key equipment to Syria.

In late November, Damascus shared a comprehensive intelligence assessment with its Arab allies and a host of terrorist organizations. The primary objective was to warn of an impending major war between Israel and Syria with the active participation of, and support from, US forces on the side of Israel. Damascus has already concluded that "Israel is now preparing for a comprehensive war with Syria." The Syrian briefing points out to the call-up of reserves in Israel as indicative of an impending war. Special attention is paid to the military training in the Negev with US Marines. Syrian intelligence claims that "the training, objectives, and plans of these maneuvers focus on the occupied Syrian Golan and a number of positions west of Damascus." The Syrian sources are convinced that "one of these positions is a Syrian manufacturing plant for chemical weapons."

Concerning the political-strategic situation in Damascus, the Syrian briefing is consistent in its emphasis on the immediacy of war, but seemingly self-contradictory on the sources of this war. On the one hand, the Syrian briefing states that "the Syrian leadership now believes that the military option to liberate the Golan from the Israeli Army is a legitimate Syrian option. It also believes that Syria has the right to resort to this option any time it deems appropriate." This assertion virtually confirms the Syrian intention to initiate hostilities in order to break the deadlock in the region. However, the section dealing with the military assessment of Syrian Intelligence emphasizes the possibility of an Israeli attack on Syria. Damascus now believes that "the Israeli Army will launch an imminent large-scale military operation against the Syrian Forces stationed adjacent to the Golan, in addition to the Syrian Forces that were relocated in Lebanon near the eastern Syrian border with Lebanon that extends to the Golan Heights." Presumably, this will be an Israeli preemptive strike given the extent of the Syrian preparations. The Syrian briefing leaves no doubt that even under these circumstances, Damascus will pursue its own assertive war aims, not just repel the Israeli aggression. The Syrian briefing states that "the Syrian President instructed the command of the Syrian Forces stationed near the Golan to immediately retaliate against any attack by the Israeli Army." Moreover, Assad ordered his forces to immediately launch a deep strategic strike and, toward this end, "the Syrian Army placed its SCUD missile systems at maximum alert should war break out with Israel." These SSMs, Damascus argues, "can hit any target inside Israel."

The extent of the Iranian commitment to actively supporting the Syrian war effort is of crucial importance for the highest levels of leadership in Damascus. Indeed, in late November, Syrian sources stressed that Iranian President Hashemi-Rafsanjani had just reassured President Assad in a written message that "should war break out with Israel, Iran will support Syria with the necessary military hardware in order to strengthen the Syrian military position." Tehran takes this commitment very seriously, and, in the first week of December, dispatched Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati for urgent high-level consultations. Velayati arrived in Damascus carrying yet another extremely important message from Hashemi-Rafsanjani for Assad. He then conducted extensive discussions with Assad and other senior officials on regional issues. According to the Iranian media, "the latest regional and international developments as well as further promotion of Tehran-Damascus ties were discussed in the meetings." Velayati's discussions with Assad and his immediate aides went far beyond that, addressing Syrian-Iranian cooperation in the imminent and possibly inevitable war. Iranian sources highlighted the discussions with Assad in which Velayati "referred to foreign pressures and the Zionist plots and underlined the need to strengthen cooperation between Iran and Syria. The Syrian President stressed this cooperation will help establishment of peace and tranquility in the whole region." Both Damascus and Tehran agree that there is going to be a lot of violence -- ranging from terrorism to war -- on the road to regional peace.

Iranian sources report that "the Syrian President stressed the need to support the Islamic resistance in south Lebanon to confront the Zionist aggressions and to defend the Lebanese territory." Velayati and Assad also expressed support and commitment to ensuring Iraq's territorial integrity -- a precondition for Saddam Hussein's support. Velayati also reiterated the Iranian long-standing support for "the aspiration of the Palestinian nation and the Islamic resistance in their struggle against the Zionist regime." He called for "a united action by the Islamic states to foil conspiracies of enemies." Velayati assured Assad that "the Tehran-Damascus close cooperation will lead to establishment of regional peace and tranquility." Velayati returned to Tehran carrying a most important message from Assad to Hashemi-Rafsanjani.



Starting mid August, the Syrian Armed Forces have conducted a series of redeployments and maneuvers that have direct implications for their ability to launch an attack on Israel. The concurrent activities of both the Iraqi Armed Forces and PLO forces in Lebanon also contribute to the enhancement of the Arab military capabilities against Israel. The initial Syrian force movements in Lebanon and near the Golan, especially near Mt. Hermon, already changed the strategic posture in the region. The changes in the deployment of Syrian forces and units in Lebanon were accomplished in two stages. In the first phase, in late August, mechanized units deployed from Bhamdun and Dahr al-Baydar in central Lebanon to forward positions very close to the Israeli-held security zone. These Syrian forces deployed in such a way that any Israeli retaliation against terrorists in south Lebanon will inevitably kill Syrian soldiers, thus creating the "excuse" for further escalation. In addition, two of the three regiments of 14th Special Forces/Commando Division deployed from the Biqaa to forward positions on the Syrian Hermon overlooking the Israeli key early warning station on Mt.Hermon from the north and east.

In the second phase, completed in mid September, units of the 10th Mechanized Division deployed from the Beirut area along the Beirut-Damascus Highway all the way to the Biqaa, replacing the units that had deployed to the south. The third regiment of the 14th Special Forces/Commando Division deployed from Beirut to forward positions in south-eastern Lebanon, overlooking the Israeli Mt.Hermon from the west. The deployment of the 14th Special Forces/Commando Division enables it to strike Israel's key early warning station on a moment notice, thus harming, if not paralyzing Israel's ability to detect a major surprise attack. Units of the Syrian internal police replaced the Syrian troops in Beirut. Moreover, Syrian Air Defense units -- both mobile SAM batteries and AAA -- deployed to forward positions on the Beirut-Damascus Highway very close to the Lebanese border, but still on Syrian territory. In late September, the Syrian forces were in a position to instigate a provocation of strategic dimensions. Syrian forces deployed behind a thin layer of Lebanese Army units around the SLA-held Jezzine salient. Additional Lebanese Army forces, totaling three brigades, deployed along the Israeli- and SLA-held security zone in front of the Syrian forces. The Syrian operational plan calls for an assault, by the Lebanese Army with "support" from the Syrian Army, on Jezzine, and, should the need arise, also on sectors of the security zone. According to Lebanese sources, the Syrian High Command is convinced that Jezzine will fall within 12 hours, and a few segments in the security zone within 24 hours. Damascus knows that Israel will have to retaliate with massive ground forces, thus providing the "justification" for the Syrian launching of a major escalation and war.

All through the summer and fall of 1996, the Syrian Armed Forces conducted a series of offensive exercises and related troop movements. As a result of these activities, numerous Syrian units ended up much closer to the Golan Heights that their permanent deployment areas. Moreover, these units are now deployed in a high state of readiness and can move on the offensive with a very short forewarning. Of unique importance within these military activities were the exercises involving SCUD SAMs. At the end of the summer exercises, a Syrian unit launched a SCUD-C under conditions of an offensive war. Since then, and particularly in the second half of October, Damascus began conducting "irregular movements" with its SCUD units. According to Lebanese and Syrian sources, these constant maneuvers are aimed to further complicate Israel's ability to neutralize the Syrian deep strike capabilities through a preemptive strike. In late October, Syrian officials briefed their Lebanese counterparts that the Syrian Armed Forces were properly deployed and ready for a preemptive strike against Israel. "The Syrians are capable of preceding/preempting Netanyahu's strike by initiating the attack," reported Lebanese sources.

As of mid October, Iraqi military units, including armor, artillery and missile units, began moving from central Iraq toward the Syrian border. Iraq also began a call up of reservists and the activation of units in western Iraq that had been dormant since the Gulf War. The majority of the main roads leading toward the Syrian border were taken over by the Iraqi military and closed for civilian traffic. Jordanian sources stressed that these are movements of Iraqi reinforcements to near the Syrian border in anticipation for the eruption of hostilities.

By mid to late October, the Syrian large-scale maneuvers and related troop movements got too close to the Golan Heights to be ignored as "routine".Taken in the context of the latest Syrian "exercises" with SSMs and major armored forces, these activities amount to "crawling" toward the forward positions enabling Syria to launch a surprise surge into the Golan as well as escalation in southern Lebanon aimed to achieve initial grabs. Meanwhile, throughout the fall of 1996, Iran delivered, via Syria, a whole range of vastly improved weapons to the HizbAllah and other terrorist forces based on the border with Israel. Among these weapon systems are the truck-mounted Fajr-3 240mm rockets (which, with a range of 26-27 miles, can hit major Israeli objectives from beyond the security zone), the highly lethal FAGOT ATGMs (Soviet design), 35mm Oerlikon automatic guns (a Swiss weapon good against both helicopters and surface objectives). The Iranians also delivered large quantities of weapons already in the HizbAllah arsenals including Grad-M 122mm rockets, Isphahan rockets, Stingers SFSAMs, SAGGER ATGMs, night vision equipment, explosives and ammunition. The Iranians and the Syrians also oversaw the flow of weapons to the PLO units in the refugee camps of southwest Lebanon, implementing Syria's part in the PLO-Syria agreement. The Iranian airlift of weapons and equipment for the HizbAllah and terrorist organizations intensified markedly in the first week of December. Tens of flights of both military and civilian transports delivered military equipment and highly specialized systems for terrorists to the Damascus airport, from where the goods were delivered to Syrian and HizbAllah units.



The nuclear factor has become a crucial element in any conflict in the Middle East. Iran has nuclear weapons, and so does Pakistan. The supreme leaders in Tehran are convinced that the numerous warheads purchased from the former Soviet Central Asia are operational. Irrespective of skeptic "expert opinion" in the West, they -- the decision-makers in Tehran -- operate on the basis of their own conviction that Iran has operational nuclear weapons. Moreover, there are indications of a Pakistani agreement, with Chinese consent, to "contribute" to the Muslim nuclear deterrence.

And there is no doubt that Pakistan has operational nuclear weapons. The Arabs have a well defined nuclear doctrine. Already in the late 1970s, the Syrians introduced the doctrinal tenet that since Israel cannot withstand even a few nuclear strikes while the Muslim World can prevail a massive nuclear attack of the magnitude attributed to Israel's capabilities, the nuclear factor is essentially irrelevant for as long as Arab leaders can hold their position in a strategic nuclear brinkmanship. While Tehran and Damascus are willing to gamble on such a brinkmanship, Jerusalem cannot afford to be wrong -- Israel will not survive as a viable country in the aftermath of a strike with the few tactical nuclear warheads Iran has. Therefore, the mere existence of a credible nuclear threat (on top of the known arsenals of chemical and biological weapons) in effect neutralizes Israel's "deterrence factor" at the very least for the strategically crucial initial period of war -- the time frame in which the Arab-Iranian forces manage their strategic grab, while the Israeli government agonizes over the decision how to react to the nuclear ultimatum and the sudden war. Moreover, Washington will be most reluctant to commit American forces and assets under conditions of possible exposure to nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, particularly given the current Gulf Syndrome crisis. Hence, the Arabs and the Iranians can also deter an American cover for Israel.

The nuclear issue is not an theoretical academic or speculative issue. In the last days of November, Tehran "determined" that Israel already put its missiles on "atomic readiness". According to Iranian sources, Tehran did so in part on the basis of intelligence data (such satellite photographs and intercepts) acquired in Russia and Central Asia. On the basis of this "data" Tehran undertook the "appropriate countermeasures". And it is under this umbrella of nuclear uncertainty, that the Arab-Iranian non-nuclear war will be waged.



The Syrians and their allies have well defined contingency plans. The basic Syrian approach to a major war is based on the contingency plans prepared and exercised for the war that almost was in the Fall of 1992, while the plans for a strategic grab in a limited war are based on contingency plans prepared in 1994, and exercised since then. Israeli security sources describe the 1994 contingency plan for a quick territorial grab on the Golan in the context of a limited war. The first step is the deployment of Commando forces to advance positions near the Israeli border. Then, once Damascus determines that hostilities are imminent, the Syrians will begin the moving around of SSMs inside Syria to reduce vulnerability to Israeli preemption or retaliation. The attack by the Commando forces on key objectives in the Israeli tactical depth will be followed immediately by an offensive surge of tank heavy forces. At the same time, other major Syrian units will be rushing toward the Golan in order to deter Israel from escalation and a massive counter-attack. Damascus intends to complete all these moves within 24-48 hours. Then, with Syrian forces still holding a small part of the Golan and a few Israeli POWs, Damascus and the Arab World will call for international pressure on Israel to impose cease fire, and to demonstrate "flexibility" and "realism" in negotiations with Syria.

Numerous Syrian, Iranian and Lebanese sources provided data that enables the reconstruction of the Syrian contingency plans for a major war. The first step will be a provocation launched from Lebanon -- a "Lebanese" attack on the SLA and/or a major HizbAllah operation against an Israeli strategic target and/or a spectacular terrorist strike at the heart of Israel. As planned, such a provocation is bound to instigate a major Israeli "response" in Lebanon. Since, because of the nature of the Syrian deployment in south Lebanon, Syrian troops will be killed in any such an Israeli retaliatory strike, Damascus will thus be in a position to call the Israeli actions an unacceptable aggression and threat to Damascus. The Syrians will then have the "justification" to "retaliate" by launching a barrage of SSMs against Israeli cities and key military facilities. Meanwhile, in solidarity with Palestinian victims in south Lebanon, the PLO's 50,000 "police" and "auxiliaries" will launch a massive "intifadah" and a wave of terrorism from their safe-havens in the territories. Taken together, these activities will prove sufficient to prevent a timely deployment of Israeli reserves to the Golan. By then, however, the Syrian Armed Forces will have already launched a surprise surge largely based on the 1994 contingency plan. Given the Israeli inability to react, the Syrian forces will succeed in securing limited grabs on the Golan. Then, Damascus and its allies are convinced, international pressure -- especially, if there are also oil embargo and Egyptian threat to intervene militarily -- will compel Israel to reach a political compromise on their terms. Meanwhile, in case of an Israeli refusal to compromise, and hence a failure with the diplomatic initiative, the Syrians will be in position to impose a major escalation with the arrival of the main Syrian forces, as well as the sizeable Iraqi and Iranian expeditionary forces. Now surging also through Jordan, these forces will vastly expand and enlarge the Eastern front.

Given Badr-96, the mere war preparations in Egypt, will, at the very least, compel the IDF to keep forces on the southern border, just to be safe. Moreover, building pressure in the Arab/Muslim World for all governments and peoples to join the Jihad or face popular uprisings because of their "un-Islamic" posture will most likely entice such governments as Egypt's and Jordan's to join the war rather than risk overthrow. Meanwhile, led by Saudi Arabia, the Muslim World will declare oil embargo. There are sufficient Islamist terrorists all over the West to launch a wave of terrorism in Europe and the US in order to prevent (or delay) US assistance to Israel. With the militarily debilitating winter weather coming very soon, this scenario is all the more tempting from a strategic point of view. Given the adverse opening conditions and initial period of war, as well as the sudden escalation of the Arab-Iranian offensive, it is safe to assume that it will take the IDF more than a few days to repel all the Arab-Iranian forces from Israeli territory. Damascus, Tehran, Cairo and Baghdad believe that it is not inconceivable that a marked deterioration in the weather will slow down the Israelis before their counter-attacks could evict the Arab-Iranian forces from the Golan Heights. The Arabs and Iranians are convinced that the consequent virtual pause in the mobile war and severe limitations on the use of the Israeli Air Force will create both an opportunity and an incentive for the international community to pressure Israel into capitulation before the spring weather creates proper conditions for the resumption of a major mobile war.



When dealing with the Third World, and particularly the Middle East, one should leave the Crystal Ball under lock and key. Given the dominant power of the personality of individual leaders as the source of decision-making -- based on these leaders' own reading of the situation on the basis of the information they have and believe in -- and given the penchant of these leaders for the "conspiracy" theories and susceptibility to the "straw factor" (a small and at time relatively insignificant input pushes the leader into a major decision he has been procrastinating on -- the straw that breaks the camel's back), it is virtually impossible to accurately predict what any of the dominant leaders involved in this crisis will ultimately do. However, it is possible to point out to emerging and dominant trends in the crisis management. Starting the current crisis, the principal leaders may not have wanted war. At the least, they were wavering about it. Since the late 1980s, Arab leaders have been reluctant to embark on major undertakings against Israel. However, these Arab leaders are also convinced that a major brinkmanship crisis, the return to a no-war-no-peace tense situation, and even the resumption of limited clashes, are a must to their own survival. These leaders also know that any of these measures can quickly escalate into a major war. Hence, their undertaking these steps means that these Arab leaders are fully ready to meet the possibility of a major war.

One reason for the readiness to face war, as opposed to the reluctance shown previously, is the Muslim World's reading of Israel. Indeed, most senior leaders (especially in Damascus, Tehran, Baghdad and Cairo) are convinced that Israel is falling apart -- collapsing from within in a unique state of self-confusion, of having lost the WILL to fight and survive. Hence, the current crisis is unfolding in the context of a historical window of opportunity to resolve the Zionist menace once and for good. In this context, the extent of the populist power of Islam -- as reflected in the return to Islamic traditions in all aspects of life in the Hub of Islam, in the increasing Islamic profile of the supreme leaders -- over national security decisions is a major yet unquantifyable factor. There should be no doubt that the most important leaders are strongly influenced by their Islamic heritage and their own legacy and historical contribution to the Islamic "cause". Hence, the lure of the possibility to liberate al-Quds and destroy Israel may be a far stronger an input to their decision making process than what cold logic would have. Considering the building Islamist pressure to destroy Israel under any conditions, the Arab and Iranian leaders who are determined to hold to power may find these circumstances too tempting to be passed over. Meanwhile, on a more pragmatic and realistic level, the fear of Israel's military might has shrunk. These leaders, particularly in Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran, are fully aware of the escalatory potential of their move -- the initiation of major brinkmanship and crisis. They know that a crisis of the magnitude and potential strategic impact they are instigating can easily escalate to a major regional war. But now, they have the nuclear umbrella. Arab strategic studies, as well as the unprecedented magnitude of development and acquisition of SSMs and all types of weapons of mass destruction, show that this factor is high on the leaders' mind. This newly found sense of self-confidence and the firm belief in the ability to succeed in the initial phase of a war create a new, and worrisome, framework within which these leaders examine the choices ahead of them. Further more, at the higher political levels of the entire Arab World, and most significantly in Cairo, Amman and other capitals considered relatively supportive of the "peace process", there is a distinct and marked change in the attitude towards Israel. The present attitude is more hostile and confrontational, and the resort to force is no longer ruled out as being anathema in the era of a "peace process". This widespread acceptability of the possibility of war encourages these leaders who are committed to conflict. The Egyptians now talk about a state of "cold war" between Israel and its Arab partners to peace -- a fundamental change from the previous term of "cold peace". Other political-military forces in Egypt call for the pursuit of policies of "armed peace" and even "confrontational peace" toward Israel.

Taken together, the multitude of political, strategic and tactical moves leave no doubt that the key leaders in the Arab World and Iran have already determined to continue the escalatory brinkmanship even as the likelihood of war is growing. Moreover, the overall situation and dynamics in the Arab Middle East contribute to a self-reinforcing escalation. Hence, the three key leaderships in Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran, as well as Cairo and the Abdallah faction in Riyadh, are increasingly convinced that war is essentially inevitable. Consequently, there is already a clear shift in these leaders' deliberations and consultations. They are now preoccuppied mainly with strategic and military decisions -- that is, determining the optimal conditions for initiating the war, achieving surprise despite the protracted escalatory crisis and Israel's edginess, etc. However, there is no hard evidence, yet, of a specific decision to start something on a fixed date. Presently, the prevailing mood among the political, military and security elites in the Arab World is that of an almost passive, though willing, acceptance of fate's course. As the region continues to deteriorate towards an eruption of violence, they are waiting for the inevitable spark to emerge and "compel" them into taking action. Among the supreme leaders that really count, the "straw" seems to be still missing. But for how long?

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