President Hissein Habre of Chad has little chance of surviving the Libyan-backed rebel offensive against his government without the intervention of foreign forces.
Yet this assessment by senior Egyptian government officials and Western diplomats threatens to draw a number of North African countries into Chad's intricate domestic politics.
Government troops loyal to Mr. Habre have launched a counteroffensive this week against the rebels led by Chad's former President Goukhouni Woddei, whose forces control about a third of the country.
Senior Egyptian officials doubt, however, whether the stepped-up military supplies to Chad by both France and Egypt are sufficient to tip the balance in favor of Mr. Habre.
''The problem is,'' said one Egyptian official, ''that Habre's troops do not have the training necessary to cope with the type of arms they need to defeat the rebels.''
Egypt and Sudan fear that the fall of Mr. Habre would turn Chad into a launching pad for Libyan-backed subversive activity against its neighbors.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak discussed the Chad issue July 7 in Cairo with visiting French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson. Mr. Cheysson refused to answer reporters' questions after his talks with Mr. Mubarak.
The conflict in Chad also figured prominently in last week's talks in the Egyptian capital between Mr. Mubarak and Zaire's foreign minister, Kamanda Wa Kamanda. Shortly after Mr. Kamanda's visit, Zaire sent 250 troops and three fighter planes to Chad to boost Mr. Habre's forces.
In various statements during the past week President Habre expressed surprise at how well the rebels are armed. Mr. Habre repeatedly accused Libya of intervening in the fighting in favor of the rebels - a claim vehemently denied by Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel Ati Obeidi and rebel chief Goukhouni Woddei.
But in a recent interview with the Monitor, Mr. Obeidi warned that Libya ''will not stand by and watch events'' if other countries intervene in Chad.
Algeria appears to support Libya's position against foreign support for Habre's government. An editorial this week in Algeria's semi-official Al Moujahid newspaper, said:
''Zaire's intervention opens the way to internationalization of an internal conflict and intervention of other powers in Chad.''
The editorial was accompanied by an article written by Zairean journalist Muala Kabue, charging that the dispatch of Zairean troops to Chad was coordinated with Israel. Israel, Mr. Kabue argued, is seeking a foothold in the center of black Africa and Zaire's intervention opens the road to the Chadian capital N'Djamena to Israeli military experts stationed in Zaire.
Mr. Kabue's analysis is in line with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's latest thinking. Colonel Qaddafi has been attempting in recent weeks to repair his relations with the conservative states in the Arab world and has stressed that all internecine Arab infighting must be abandoned in favor of confrontation with Israel.