Syria is very weak, and the Arabs are essentially castrated at this point in their history. But even so with Sharon and his Israeli warrior Generals determined to either force Arab and Palestinian capitulation, or regime change through war if need be, things could escalate and get out of hand quickly now:
Syria Says Ready to Fight if Israel Attacks Again
Wed October 08, 2003 08:14 AM ET
By Dan Williams and Dan Trotta
JERUSALEM/MADRID (Reuters) - Syria's ambassador to Spain said on Wednesday Damascus would respond militarily against Israel if the Jewish state carried out new attacks on Syrian territory.
A senior Israeli security source swiftly dismissed the threat, saying Israel did not want to escalate tensions and believed Syria did not want to start a war. The source said the envoy's statement was mainly intended to impress the Arab world.
But the comments increased tensions simmering since Israel carried out an air strike on Sunday on what it said was a training camp for Palestinian militants near Damascus, one day after a Palestinian suicide bombing killed 19 people in Israel.
Syria says the target was a civilian site and has said it has the right to defend itself.
"If Israel attacks Syria one, two and three times, of course the people of Syria and the government of Syria and the army will react to defend ourselves," Syrian Ambassador Mohsen Bilal told Reuters in Madrid.
Asked if that meant responding militarily, he said: "By all means. If Israel continues to attack us and continues its aggression of course we shall react to the attacks in spite of the fact that we are fighting for peace and wish to reopen the (1991) Madrid (peace) conference."
Israel did not immediately respond formally to the envoy's remarks.
But the senior Israeli security source said: "This sort of statement is intended mainly for the Arab world, to give the impression Syria is steadfast in the fight against Israel.
"Israel does not seek an escalation with Syria, and indeed has taken precautions to prevent that. We will act in self-defense if necessary, but not if Damascus receives our message that it must stop supporting terror," the source said.
He said it was unlikely Syria would launch a conventional war on Israel.
The new tensions have sparked discussion of whether three years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict could ignite violence in other parts of the Middle East, but most political and military analysts say this is unlikely.
Israel's air raid was its deepest strike into Syria since the 1973 Middle East war. It followed a suicide bombing by a female suicide bomber from the Islamic Jihad group who killed 19 people in a restaurant in the northern city of Haifa.
Israeli jets roared over Lebanon on Wednesday, without launching any strike and only breaking the sound barrier, two days after an Israeli soldier and a Lebanese boy were killed in border flare-ups, a Reuters correspondent said.
Responding to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's threats on Tuesday that Israel would hit its enemies anywhere, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said it was unlikely Israel would launch an attack on the Islamic Republic.
Israel repeatedly accuses Iran of arming, training and funding Palestinian militant groups but Iran insists its support is purely moral.
"They (the Israelis) are so involved with problems inside their country that I do not think they want to create another problem outside it. We are also fully prepared to defend our country," Khatami told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting.
Sharon has been buoyed by support from President Bush. Washington has accused Syria of being a state sponsor of terrorism.
"The decisions that he (Sharon) makes to defend her people are valid decisions. We would be doing the same thing," Bush said on Tuesday. He added that it was "important for the prime minister to avoid escalation."
Faced with what the army called numerous alerts of pending suicide attacks, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz gave the military the go-ahead on Tuesday to order a special call-up of reservists, should it deem one necessary, security sources said.
QURIE RENEWS TRUCE CALL
Some ministers want Israel to carry out a threat to "remove" Palestinian President Yasser Arafat but Sharon has until now opposed this, saying it could be counter-productive.
The latest violence has dealt further blows to peace hopes, although Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie, who was sworn in with a small emergency cabinet on Tuesday, renewed calls for progress on the U.S.-backed peace "road map."
Qurie made a fresh appeal for a cease-fire with Israel in an interview published by an Israeli newspaper on Wednesday, saying he was ready to start talks immediately. Israeli Labour Minister Zevulun Orlev quickly ruled out a truce.
Israel says it will not press on with the road map until the Palestinians rein in Islamic militants. Qurie says he will try to persuade the militants to end violence but rules out using force which could risk a civil war.