, BEIRUT, Lebanon, Oct. 6 – Behind a seemingly calm facade, with Damascus toothless to respond militarily to the deepest Israeli air raid in Syria in three decades, the Arab world was reeling Monday from the idea that yet a third major conflict could erupt in the Middle East. Already, the region is traumatized by the open wound that Israeli-Palestinian clashes have become and by an American-occupied Iraq teetering on the brink of bedlam.
We have one major crisis with Iraq, we have a major crisis with the peace process, we don't need a third one,” said Marwan Muasher, the Jordanian foreign minister, in a telephone interview. “It just throws in another complication, widening the conflict.”
On a day when Israel was quietly observing Yom Kippur, senior Arab officials and analysts listed what they saw as three basic reasons behind Israel's decision to strike at what it described as a training center for Islamic Jihad northwest of Damascus, and which Syria said was a long-abandoned camp, hidden in the depth of a dramatic ravine.
First, after three years of tit-for-tat attacks, the Arab analysts said the Sharon government was running out of targets within the occupied territories to hit after each new suicide bombing, the latest killing 19 people in addition to the bomber in Haifa on Saturday.
Second, the United States declared war on terror, and its invasion of Iraq has abruptly made more feasible the idea of reaching across borders to smite any enemy. Third, with the Palestinians clearly unable to stop the suicide attacks carried out by militant groups like Islamic Jihad and Hamas, bombing Syria was seen by these Arab analysts as an effort to exert pressure on the larger Arab world to play that role.
Ultimately, though, there remains a widespread sense that Israel and, by extension, the United States, through all their antiterrorism slogans and other accusations pointed at various Arab capitals, are ignoring the larger, older issue – ending the 36-plus years of Israeli occupation of Arab lands.
“We have to address the core of the problem,” said Buthaina Shaaban, a Syrian cabinet minister, speaking by telephone from Damascus. “Rather than making the world busy by talking about Hamas and Islamic Jihad, we have to start talking about the Israeli occupation of Arab territories.”
Although the air raid raised tension along the Lebanese-Israeli border on Monday, the emphasis in various Arab capitals, conscious of the military might mustered by Israel and the United States in this region, was on the diplomacy.
In Damascus, the deputy foreign minister, Walid al-Moalem, summoned the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to urge their support for a Syrian resolution condemning the attack.
A ministry statement said he asked the ambassadors to help “prevent Israel from launching these acts, which constitute a grave escalation in the region that may threaten regional and international peace and security.”
Any possible Syrian military reaction was ruled out. In its last major war with Israel, when Ariel Sharon, now the Israeli prime minister, led the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Syria lost some 79 MIG fighters, plus tanks and missile batteries. In the ensuing decades, its main military supplier, the Soviet Union, disintegrated.
Analysts believe that if Syria does respond it will be indirectly – the young president, Bashar al-Assad, following the pattern of his late father – either through one of its proxy forces like Hezbollah in Lebanon, or perhaps by making life more difficult for American forces in Iraq.
Syria maintains that it responded earlier this year to American pressure to close what Damascus describes as information offices run by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Still, Israel's supporters in the United States have been trying to push through Congress the Syrian Accountability Act, which would impose further penalties on the country, and an officer at the American military base at Guant