Jerusalem — Instead of enjoying the spectacle of two of their mortal enemies at war with one another, the Israelis are deeply concerned at the change the Iran-Iraq war is likely to make in the Middle East balance of power.
Senior government personnel, including policymakers, suspect that the Soviet Union may emerge as the ultimate beneficiary of the Persian Gulf conflict -- through a covert takeover of militarily inept Iran.
The only short-term gain for Israel, according to former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, is that Israel's once-menacing "eastern front" has been effectively "frozen" by the Iraq-Iran fighting -- Iraq's tactical priority now having shifted to the east.
Iraq's role as the kingpin in the rejectionist (anti-Camp David accords) Arab alignment was demonstrated by the apparent need of its partner, Jordan, to reassure Israel about the reported presence of Iraqi military transport planes in Jordanian air bases.
A top government official here refused to confirm reports that a Jordanian explanation was relayed to Israel by the US Embassy in Tel Aviv.
The Iraqi cargo aircraft presumably are taking refuge in eastern Jordan to keep out of reach of Iran's Air Force. This could mean that Jordan, which has adopted a pro-Iraqi stance of late, may be serving as a logistical staging ground for Iraq's war effort.
At the same time, smiles creased Israeli faces upon hearing the Iraqis announce that their preemptive air strikes against Iranian air bases, including Tehran's Mehrabad International Airport, were modeled on ex-defense minister Moshe Dayan's surprise attack at the start of the 1967 six-day war. Iraqi air bases were among Israel's targets then.
The most serious assessment by qualified Israeli observers is that the current escalation may be only the first stage of a potentially wider crisis.
One noted the Arab states have been lining up behind the two warring Muslim countries, with the rejectionist radicals, like Syria, supporting Iran, and the moderates, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia, backing Iraq.
If the USSR should find it necessary to move into northern Iran because the central government in Tehran was crumbling -- in line with the Russians' historical insistence on stable regimes along their borders -- a major US military reaction would be anticipated.
The development of a practical military relationship between Syria and Iran also is viewed with apprehension. One official noted that the Syrians might expect the Iranians to reciprocate later by actively participating in a Syrian-led onslaught against Israel.
Jordan's sympathy for Iraq, which is the ideological nemesis of the rival Baathis regime in Syria, could cause a deterioration of relations culminating in a new Syrian effort to topple the Hashemite kingdom, possibly with the help of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Generally, the Israelis see a profound disruption of the regional power balance, coupled with a challenge to the peace process still being pursued, however tenuously, with the Egyptians. According to one local analyst, President Anwar Sadat is stallig on full-scale resumption of Palestinian autonomy negotiations pending a clear-cut resolution of the Iraq-Iran conflict.
Commenting on the outbreak of full-scale hostilities in the Shatt al-Arab and Persian Gulf between Iraq and Iran, the Jerusalem Post noted:
"The real motive for Iraq's warmongering provocation [alleged Iranian interference in Iraqi internal affairs], however, is not this standard excuse but the desire to establish a conquering Baath regime as the new leader among the Arabs."