Syria: key Arab factor in Mideast equation
When Israel debates a response to terrorist attacks against its airline in Europe, it takes account of Syria. When Lebanese factions sign a peace pact, they hail its broker -- Syria. When Jordan floats a peace plan, it seeks Syria's view. All highlight Syrian President Assad's key regional role. The first summit in 10 years between Jordan's King Hussein and Syrian President Hafez Assad could have a dramatic impact on the chances for an Arab-Israeli peace conference taking place next year.Skip to next paragraph
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The shaky Mideast peace process could collapse if King Hussein either cannot persuade President Assad to join in a conference or cannot secure his acquiescence to such a conference taking place, diplomatic sources here say. The prospects look bleak for Hussein winning Assad over to his point of view in pursuing a settlement, Jordanian sources acknowledge.
Hussein is scheduled to arrive in Damascus today, at a time when:
Assad has just reinforced his image as the chief powerbroker in Lebanon, presiding over a pact designed to end the Lebanese civil war.
Syria is the focal point of increasing tension with Israel over Syrian deployment of antiaircraft missiles within and along the Lebanese border.
Assad continues to oppose efforts by King Hussein and Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat to jointly negotiate peace with Israel.
In addition, last Friday's Palestinian terrorist attacks on airports in Rome and Vienna, in which 18 people were killed and 121 people were injured, could provoke conflict if Israel retaliates by attacking Palestinian strongholds in Lebanon.
The Syrians have recently redeployed mobile missile batteries in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley. The Israelis say the missiles threaten their ability to fly reconnaissance flights over Lebanon. The weapons, clearly, are a Syrian challenge to that claimed right.
Syria first deployed the missiles in the Bekaa after Israel shot down two Soviet-supplied Syrian jets over Syrian territory Nov. 19. Largely through United States diplomatic efforts, the missiles were removed. But Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres announced last week that the Syrians had again deployed the missiles.
The situation has been made more volatile by the terrorist attacks Friday on Israeli airline counters in airports in Vienna and Rome. The Israelis have vowed revenge for the attacks. The attackers were identified as Palestinians, and one likely target for Israeli retaliation could be the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley, where several Palestinian guerrilla groups have bases. Should Israel attack the Bekaa, the Syrians could decide to use their missiles, in turn provoking further Israeli retaliation. Lebanese accord enhances Syria's prestige
Syria has demonstrated its influence in Lebanon by engineering a pact which was signed in Damascus Saturday by the leaders of Lebanon's three most powerful militias. Details of the agreement were not released, but a new government is to be formed, and it is believed that the power of the traditionally dominant Christian minority will be reduced, and more power will go to the Muslim community. If the accord -- which is backed by the presence of an estimated 25,000 Syrian troops -- succeeds, it will greatly enhance Syria's prestige.