- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

TEL AVIV Israeli officials, looking ahead to a U.S. war with Iraq, say a victory for Washington would provide a side benefit by breaking a 2-year-old deadlock over Israeli-Palestinian violence.
The Israelis also look forward to the installation of a Western-oriented successor to Saddam Hussein as an achievement that would strengthen the position of moderates in other Arab countries while discouraging regimes such as Syria from protecting Islamic militants.
And in Israel's back yard, a U.S. victory would weaken the financial and military lifeline for groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which continue to attack Israel.
"I truly believe this will be a turning point. The changing of regime in Iraq will send a clear message throughout the Middle East," one Israeli government official said.
The official said an American victory would weaken Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat by taking away the political and financial patronage of Iraq.
"Arafat will go the same way as Saddam Hussein. His ability to wield power will be much reduced, and it will strengthen forces of moderation," said the official, who asked not to be named.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said in private discussions that a successful U.S. offensive against Iraq would generate new momentum in the peace process, according to a recent report in the Israeli daily newspaper, Ha'aretz.
He believes that the defeat of Baghdad would make Israel's foes less likely to opt for a military confrontation and more open to peace talks, the newspaper reported.
The war does carry huge risks for Israel, which was hit by 39 Iraqi Scud missiles with conventional explosives during the first Persian Gulf war. Israel knows there is a chance it would be the target of more missile attacks this time with chemical or biological weapons.
And if the war leaves Iraq in chaos, radical forces in the region will find it even easier to rally their followers.
"If it leaves the Arab and Islamic world united against U.S. intervention, and leaving the U.S. looking weak and vulnerable, it will encourage radical groups, including the Palestinians in particular," said Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University. "Terrorism against Israel will only accelerate."
There's a tendency in Israel to draw comparisons with the Gulf war more than a decade ago. The U.S. victory over Iraq in 1991 led to Arab-Israeli peace talks in Madrid later that year. Two years later, Israelis and Palestinians achieved the breakthrough that led to the Oslo peace accords.
"The first intifada subsided into the first Gulf war, and from the war emerged the peace process," said Ehud Ya'ari, a veteran Israeli political commentator. "This time it's the same thing."
A successful war against Iraq could also increase Washington's leverage over Israel.
"After the war in Iraq, Israel will be presented with an American president who will say: 'My friends, we have showed you we are serious about fighting terror. Now you must show us you're serious about making peace with the Palestinians,'" an Israeli diplomatic official said.
"We will be exposed to more American pressure on providing a political horizon and on settlement activity than we were before," the official said, referring to Israel's continued backing of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Still, the Palestinians and Israelis are mired so deeply in conflict that many analysts fear nothing will change.
The expectation that a war in the Gulf will change the power balance in the region stems from a reluctance among Israeli officials to confront the current impasse with solutions, said Shlomo Brom, a research fellow at Tel Aviv's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.
"I think on the Israeli side, because people don't see an exit from the current situation, there's a tendency to look for salvation from an external factor. God will suddenly appear and save us," Mr. Brom said.

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