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Behind the Headlines the Rules of the Game

Israel and Syria have attained a modus vivendi in Lebanon that could become a starting point for peace talks between the two countries if Israel takes advantage of the opportunity. This is the opinion of Dr. Zvi Lanir, of Tel Aviv University’s Center for Strategic Studies, who says that Israel has established the rules of the game by which Syria was able to enter Lebanon. Israel, there by, has gained of least a de facto recognition by Syria of its strategic interacts in Lebanon, Lanir said.

According to Lanir, the relationship between Israel and Syria in Lebanon has been based on a series of “red lines” where each side can signal the other what action will be tolerated and what will not.

The three most important “red lines” are that the Syrians were not to enter the area between the Zeharani and Litani Rivers, they were not to destroy the last Christian strongholds in. Beirut and they were to use their forces in Lebanon to patrol, rot to threaten Israel. Specifically, they were not to introduce anti-aircraft weapons into Lebanon.

“The general impression is that Lebanon is a keg of dynamite which can explode into a war where Syria and Israel will lose control,” Lanir said. “My findings are that this isn’t so. Both sides can control their clients — the Christians in our case and the Palestinians and leftist groups under Syria’s wing. Both Syria and Israel have demonstrated a high reaction threshold in Lebanon, ” he observed.

“For example, when the Syrians threatened the last Christian enclaves fin Belrot), there was pressure on Israel to send in the air force. We did not. Instead, we signaled the Syrians that this was a red line and gave them a way to retreat without losing, face, ” Lanir said.

OUTLOOK FOR PEACE TALKS WITH SYRIA

With regard to the possibilities of eventual peace talks between Israel and Syria, Lanir a acknowledged that “There is a great deal to be done before we get a peace treaty. But Lebanon is on arena where possibilities for talks and compromise exist.” He said the recent Syrian-Soviet friendship pact only strengthened his hypothesis. According to Lanir, Syria wanted the treaty because, among other things, it feared that Israel might take advantage of the Iroqilronian war and use Lebanon as a jumping off point for on attack on Syria.

Gen. (res.) Aharon Yariv, who heads the Center for Strategic Studies, said he did not foresee a threat to Israel from the Iraqi-Iranian war for the next two years. However, should Iraq win a decisive victory, it could constitute a danger to Israel because Baghdad might want to bolster its new leadership position in the Arab world by attacking Israel, Yariv said.

Speaking in Ashkelon, Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon contended that the real danger of the Iraqi-Iranian war is that it will strengthen the Soviet position in the region.

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