- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Thirty-one years after the start of the Yom Kippur, or the October 1973 War, the Middle East remains a zone of precarious turmoil.

Today marks the 31st anniversary of the start of the Yom Kippur War, or, as it was known in the Arab World, the October War. The effects of the war, which ended in neither clear victory nor real defeat for either side, continue to be felt to this day. And while much has changed in the Middle East in 31 years, in reality it presents more of the same.

Here is a quick look at where the belligerents stand three decades after Secretary of State Henry Kissinger negotiated a disengagement agreement on the Golan Heights:

Despite its new, young president, Syria under the leadership of Bashar Assad, continues following much the same policy as his father, Hafez Assad, according to high-level U.S. government officials, who asked not to be named. The Ba’ath Party remains the predominant force, and 31 years after the guns first went into action on the Golan Heights, U.N. troops are still required to maintain a buffer zone between Syria and Israel, who technically, remain at war.

Israel, for its part, faces the longest-running spate of violence since it fought its war of independence in 1947. The Jewish state went to war in 1982 in Lebanon to distance the threat of the Palestine Liberation Organization, but today the enemy it once fought to dispel from its borders is now within its borders.

And though the Palestinians managed to get a small piece of turf they can finally call their own — even if it’s not really a state quite yet — the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Yasser Arafat has managed to mismanage the territories practically to the ground.

The Palestinian territories’ infrastructure is in far worse shape than it ever was under direct Israeli occupation, say U.S. and some Palestinian officials. That is not to say life under the occupation was ever pleasant.

Lebanon, while not directly involved in the October War, is under Syrian tutelage as a result of its civil war. If the Golan guns have been silent 31 years, occasional fighting continues on Lebanese soil as the antagonists struggle by proxy.

Egypt, the other main actor in the 1973 war, overall came out of the conflict in fairly good shape. It managed by negotiations what it failed to accomplish in conflict — to regain all its territory from Israel. The Sinai lost to Israel in previous wars was negotiated back through the Camp David Peace talks and the accords that ensued. Propelled by President Jimmy Carter and signed by President Anwar Sadat and Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the accords took Egypt out of the conflict.

Although initially shunned for sitting at the same negotiating table with Israel, Egypt was gradually accepted back into the Arab world’s fold, but not before Sadat paid with his life.

Since then, not much has changed in Egypt. It too, has a new president, Hosni Mubarak, who replaced Sadat, but again, 31 years later the status quo pervades the country. When elections are held, Mr. Mubarak wins them overwhelmingly.

While Egypt took itself out of the conflict, Syria and Israel remain in a state of war, as unofficially do the Palestinians and Israel. Back-channel talks periodically resume, stop and stumble. Lately they have stumbled.

President Bush has chosen not to engage Yasser Arafat — whom he accuses of being tainted by terrorism — in negotiations. This makes the situation all the more difficult as Mr. Arafat keeps all his cards — including those directing security in the territories — close to his chest.

While there is little risk of Syria and Israel resuming hostilities, the Middle East is a hair trigger away from another war. This time the danger comes from Iraq’s unsettled state and Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

While the Middle East “hot zones” may have somewhat shifted in 31 years, now we face there the prospect of weapons of mass destruction and their possible transport to the West.

Thirty-one years ago, the greatest annoyance to the West was inadequate oil for transportation and home heating. Three decades later, that worry seems marginalized by the threat of a nuclear device or dirty bomb being planted in an American or European city by Islamist fundamentalists.

During last Thursday’s first presidential debate on foreign policy, Sen. John Kerry touched on a key point when he said he would work to marginalize radical Islam and not allow radical Islam to marginalize the United States.

A marginalized United States will lack the clout it needs to mediate Middle East peace. And until a just and stable peace is reached, the region will continue spiraling into greater chaos.

With the luxury of time on our side, if we step back and compare the Middle East today with what it was 31 years ago, we find it is far more volatile. Few countries have really made progress. Yes, Egypt and Jordan are no longer about to wage war against Israel, and Libya backed off of its WMDs.

However, the expanding danger of Islamist terrorism, the continued activity of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the chaotic situation in Iraq and the real threat of nuclear proliferation in the region, leaves plenty of room to believe we are hardly better off than in 1973.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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