Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Iraq's Defeat Leaves Syria Holding Israeli Front

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Iraq's Defeat Leaves Syria Holding Israeli Front

Article excerpt

AS Iraq's military strength crumbled under coalition pounding this week, Syria is likely to become the strongest Arab "front-line" state facing Israel. And it wants to be ready, regardless of the political climate.

To that end, President Hafez al-Assad sent Defense Minister Mustafa Tias to Moscow last month.

"Syria expects Iraq to be destroyed," says a Western analyst. "General Tias is visiting Moscow before there are new regional security arrangements, which are sure to include arms-control deals."

The Soviets - who had reportedly abandoned Syria as part of their recent policy of disengagement from regional conflicts - said the talks dealt with the "means of establishing just and lasting peace in the Middle East."

For the Syrians, that peace will depend on having enough military power to keep at bay an Israel made stronger during the war by sympathetic financial and military aid from the West.

Tias took a shopping list with him to Moscow.

"The Syrians are out there with their begging bowl, while Israel gets all the goodies," says another Western diplomat referring to the Patriot missiles given to Israel by the coalition as defense against Iraqi Scud attacks. "They are very concerned with strategic depth, balance, and being left alone. They feel vulnerable."

Soviet support during the cold war aimed to give Syria "strategic parity" with Israel - at Moscow's expense. Syria has amassed an impressive military machine that includes some of the best warplanes and complex air-defense systems the Soviets offer.

At the head of their formidable range of missiles are the same Scud-Bs that Iraq fired at Israel and Saudi Arabia. Syria can strike with them anywhere inside Israel.

Until the arrival of the Patriot, though, the Israelis had no effective defense against Syrian Scuds. "The Patriots are a slap in the face to Syria," says a Western diplomat with close ties to the defense establishment. "But the Israelis have been working on their own homegrown anti-missile system - the Patriots only brought that capability forward a few years. …

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