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Syria Faces Threat from Israel, say Arab Analysts - 2003-10-29

Recent U.S. moves to isolate Syria are leading Arab analysts to believe Damascus is facing a threat from Israel. Recent developments have regional analysts speculating.

U.S. legislation to impose sanctions on Syria, the Bush administration's expression of sympathy for Israel's recent attack on a suspected terrorist camp near Damascus, and the U.S. president's statement that Syria could be the point of entry for terrorists into Iraq are recent developments that have Arab analysts worried.

They rule out a U.S. military attack on Syria, but expect Washington's economic and diplomatic pressure on Damascus to increase.

Mohammed Kamal, a professor at Cairo University, said "I do not think the United States will start a war for regime change in Syria, but it will continue with all kinds of diplomatic and economic pressures, including what the [U.S.] House of Representatives passed recently, the Syrian accountability act."

Mr. Kamal says he expects the United States Senate to pass the bill as well and open the door for new U.S. sanctions.

Mr. Kamal says Washington's displeasure with Syria might encourage Israel to attack.

"Israel might take advantage of the situation and might attack Syria again, either in the Syrian land, or in Lebanon," said Mohammed Kamal. "So if there is a military attack, I think it will come from Israel, not from the United States."

Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayid, who runs a political research center at Cairo University, agrees and adds that Washington's defense of the Israeli attack earlier this month on a suspected terrorist camp and accusation that Syria is the staging ground for attacks in Iraq add to Damascus's worries.

"I think that Syria's leaders are concerned that these statements are only a prelude to a military action undertaken by Israel against Syria, but I think this would not put an end to the problems the United States is having in Iraq, because a foreign military occupation would necessarily, and this has been historically proven, provoke resistance on the part of those who are suffering this military occupation," he said.

Both warn that an act of aggression against Syria now would likely heighten tension in the highly volatile Middle East.