Triggers and Fault Lines

Political minefields could touch off new conflicts

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

1. TURKEY: Its new alliance with Israel is seen as a threat by Syria, Iran, and Iraq. The Islamist prime minister signed a $20 billion gas deal with Iran, but a worried secular military curtails Islamist power.

2. LIBYA: A secret NATO report leaked to a Spanish newspaper warns that Libya will have ballistic missiles with a 1,250-mile range by 2006.

3. ALGERIA: Islamic guerrillas have waged a violent insurgency since 1992. Turkey, Egypt, and some Gulf states, trying to control their extremists, see a dangerous example.

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4. EGYPT: Though it receives $2.1 billion in US aid a year, a CIA report last year warned that Egypt had acquired missile parts from North Korea. Its largest military exercises since 1973, carried out last October in the Sinai, were aimed at a possible conflict with Israel.

5. SOUTHERN EGYPT: The Islamic fundamentalist violence of the early 1990s has been crushed by Egypt's military, but remains a potent force easily tapped in Cairo's slums and in southern Egypt.

6. SOUTHERN LEBANON: The last "hot" front line in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Occupying Israeli troops here face daily losses from Iran-backed Hizbullah guerrillas. Israel wants to get out, but does not trust Hizbullah to stop rocket attacks on northern Israel.

7. ISRAEL: The Arab-Israeli peace process begun in 1991 has all but collapsed, and was further shaken by a double bombing in Jerusalem July 30. The US has done little so far to stop the slide. The Israeli army has tested plans to invade and reoccupy the West Bank and Gaza if Palestinian rule falters. Israeli Defense Forces last year asked for a $1 billion budget increase to prepare for possible war with Syria. Israel broke off talks with Syria last year.

8. GAZA STRIP: Antipeace Islamist groups are responsible for terrorist attacks against civilian targets in Israel. Once jailed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, most activists have now been released. There is renewed pressure to arrest them.

9. ARAB EAST Jerusalem: Jewish settlement continues on occupied Arab lands, creating flash points. Palestinians born in Jerusalem are also losing their residence rights under Israeli policy.

10. HEBRON: Handfuls of heavily guarded Jewish extremists live among hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Diplomats expect conflict to intensify.

11. TEL AVIV: Internal divisions have polarized Israeli society between left and right, and pro- and anti-peace camps.

12. SOUTHERN ISRAEL: To counter Israel's nuclear arsenal - some of which has just been reported by Jane's Intelligence Review to be vulnerable to "third world missiles" with nuclear warheads - Arab opponents have pursued chemical and biological weapons.

13. JORDAN: King Hussein took a risk by making peace with Israel in 1994. But the crisis in Palestinian-Israeli talks has angered Jordanians, who have seen little peace dividend.

14. IRAQ: UN inspectors have worked to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, but Baghdad continues to thwart efforts. Since northern and southern uprisings against President Saddam Hussein at the end of the Gulf War, Saddam has tightened his grip, despite a broad UN- and US-imposed no-fly zone. He also exposed two covert CIA operations meant to topple him. Neighbors see Iraq as a buffer against Iran's Islamic fundamentalism and fear Iraq will become too weak - or too strong.

15. SAUDI ARABIA: It has nearly one-fourth of the world's known oil reserves. But despite spending billions on arms, it is unable to defend itself against Iran and Iraq. King Fahd is ailing, and the Crown Prince is seen to be less pro-West.

16. DHAHRAN, SAUDI ARABIA: A bomb blast here killed 19 American servicemen last year; friction over the investigation has raised doubts about this US ally. Saudi Arabia blames Iran; others blame internal Islamist opponents who want the US out of the region. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have warned the US against military action against Iran.

17. GULF ISLANDS: Claimed by Iran, these UAE islands, including Tunb, are a source of trouble. Since taking control in the early 1970s, Iran has deployed missiles and can block the Straight of Hormuz.

18. IRAN'S SOUTHERN COAST: US commanders say Iran can easily turn off the Gulf oil supply to the outside world. Iranians counter that keeping shipping lanes open is in their interest, too.

19. PERSIAN GULF: Some 20,000 US troops here since the end of the Gulf War ostensibly ensure the flow of oil and "protect" allies by containing Iran and Iraq. Iran views the presence as imperialist force. Allies fear conflict with Iran.

20. BAHRAIN AND QATAR: The US Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain; Qatar allows storage of US military armor that then-Secretary of Defense William Perry last year called "the linchpin" of Gulf security. Many Iranians claim Bahrain as Iran's 14th province.

21. KUWAIT: Still deemed by Iraq to be Baghdad's 19th province, it is surrounded by potential enemies. US troops here are on constant alert. UN guards a fortified border.

22. IRAN-IRAQ BORDER: War between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s left nearly 1 million dead; Iran still holds 18,000 Iraqi prisoners of war. An alliance between these two would pose major problems for the West, but deep enmity continues.

23. IRAN: "Relentless pursuit," in the words of the CIA, of weapons of mass destruction and support of terrorism abroad put Iran atop US black list. There are now hints of a US-Iran rapprochement. But some Iranian intelligence units work beyond government control. Says a Western diplomat in Tehran: "These groups want trouble; they are sabotaging wherever they can."

24. SOUTHERN CASPIAN SEA: Oil and gas reserves here make Iran a logical transshipment point for Caucasus and Central Asian energy to the Gulf. Iran connects Asia to the Middle East and Europe.

25. NORTHERN IRAQ: Saddam reexerted military authority over the Kurdish north in September 1996. Turkish separatists of the PKK have used the region, and northern Syria, to launch attacks. Tens of thousands of Turkish troops crossed into Iraq in May to hunt them down. But Syria still provides help, using the PKK to pressure Turkey to keep water supplies flowing.

26. SYRIA: It has largest and most advanced chemical-weapons stockpile in the region. Some Israeli analysts say the prospect of Israel developing an antimissile defense could spur a preemptive strike by Syria. But Western sources in Damascus say Syria's aging conventional force makes this unlikely.

27. GOLAN HEIGHTS: Occupied by Israel in 1967. Syria has made clear it will never be at peace with Israel until the Golan is returned. Israel's prime minister has vowed it will never be handed back and has encouraged Jewish settlement.

28. CYPRUS: The island was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded, following a coup by right-wing Greek Cypriots who wanted to unite the island with Greece. Thousands of Turkish troops remain.

29. HEADWATERS OF THE TIGRIS AND EUPHRATES RIVERS: Any manipulation by Turkey of these waters could lead to war with Iraq or Syria. Israel has restricted Palestinian water use in the occupied territories.

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