Subj: Middle East may be dragged into war by mistake: analysts
Date: 7/2/01 8:44:57 PM Pacific Daylight Time

July 2 11:22 PM SGT

Middle East may be dragged into war by mistake: analysts

BEIRUT (AFP) - Weekend clashes involving Israel, Syria and
the Lebanese Hezbollah movement have aroused fears that the
Middle East may be dragged into a general war through
uncontrolled escalation.

"The mechanism which could lead to an outbreak of war is now
in place, even if no one really wants it," a western
diplomat who preferred not to be identified told AFP Monday.

Israeli warplanes Sunday destroyed a Syrian radar station in
eastern Lebanon after the Syrian-backed Hezbollah bombarded
Israeli troops in the disputed Shebaa Farms area.

Following the raid Hezbollah responded with a new and
heavier attack on the Shebaa Farms, which Israel captured
from Syria in 1967 and are now claimed by Lebanon with
Syria's consent.

Analysts were wondering Monday what Israel would do in the
case of another attack by Hezbollah, which killed three
Israeli troops in Shebaa and captured
three others in previous operations.

"One may ask whether war is not inevitable, given that some
who would like to see a major crisis in the region, whether
in Syria, Israel or Lebanon, view it as the only outcome
possible," the diplomat said.

A colleague noted that the mood had totally changed from a
year ago, when Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon
after a 22-year occupation and the death of hardline Syrian
president Hafez al-Assad had generated optimism.

Syrian troops in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa valley Monday were
seen digging in and camouflaging their vehicles as if in
anticipation of further Israeli raids.

The second diplomat said the recent redeployment of Syrian
troops eastward from their bases round Beirut, hailed by
opponents of their overwhelming presence in Lebanon, "now
seems as if they were expecting a confrontation with the

"This is disturbing," he added.

In mid-June some 7,000 of the 27,000 Syrian troops in
Lebanon since 1976 were pulled back, but neither Syria nor
Lebanon gave any reasons, and Damascus refused to link it
with the long overdue withdrawal specified in the 1989 Taef

Lebanese press reports Monday alleged however that Israel
had attempted to calm Lebanese anger by messages delivered
to Beirut through US charge d'affaires David Hill.

Some analysts said the Hezbollah attacks were to demonstrate
Syrian annoyance at the decision of US Secretary of State
Colin Powell not to visit Damascus
during his tour of the Middle East last week.

Powell took in key regional players Egypt and Jordan as well
as Israel and the Palestinians, but Syria's territorial
dispute with Israel, frozen for some 18 months
after the breakdown of talks, remains in limbo.

Syria used Hezbollah to make its opinions known to Israel
for 10 years in the Shiite movement's ultimately successful
campaign against the Jewish state's occupation of southern

Hezbollah's refusal to consider the occupation over in
taking up Lebanon's claim to the Shebaa Farms also served
Syria's purposes.

Sunday's Israeli attack on the Syrian radar was the second
in a few weeks, following a similar strike on April 16,
again in response to Hezbollah bombardments of the Shebaa

This time, though, Hezbollah forces hit back within an hour,
plastering Israeli positions in the Shebaa Farms with the
heaviest mortar and rocket fire yet.

Seemingly they were now acting as allies and not just as
proxies of the Syrians.