Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Washington may be pushing for the deployment of an observer force in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to shore up an Arab-Western coalition against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, a Middle East expert said on Monday.
He was speaking amid signs that the U.S. may be preparing for renewed action against Iraq. However, the coalition former President Bush pulled together ahead of the Gulf War has been seriously weakened over the past 10 years.
A leading Iraqi newspaper boasted Monday that Iraq would be able to defeat any American-British advance, after National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice said Washington was ready to use military might in a "more resolute manner" against Saddam.
An Iraqi missile narrowly missed a U.S. U-2 spy plane last week, prompting warnings of retaliation and increasing tensions in the region. But Iraq's ruling Baath party newspaper, al-Thawra, said Iraq was able to force from its airspace the allied planes enforcing no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq.
"Iraqis' resistance against the American and British aggression is growing, which will secure a final defeat to the aggressors and force them to leave our national air space," the paper said.
"The Iraqis ... now have the capability, power and will to contain any new aggression and foil its aims," it added.
In a U.S. television interview, Rice declined to speculate on the timing of any possible strike, but said "Saddam Hussein is on the radar screen for the administration."
Washington was working with its friends and allies to develop a wide-ranging policy toward Iraq that will include the use of "military force in a more resolute manner and not just a manner of tit-for-tat with them every day," she added.
During the 1991 Gulf War, Israel reluctantly agreed to help maintain the anti-Saddam coalition by not responding to at least 39 Iraqi Scud missile attacks. Had Israel retaliated, the U.S. and Britain would likely have lost the support of Arab states in the coalition.
Reports here have suggested that the U.S. is now pushing Israel to accept the CIA as observers in the conflict with the Palestinians, in order to appease Arab states whose support it wants for a revitalized coalition against Saddam.
After resisting international calls for observers in Israel and the disputed territories, Washington surprised Jerusalem 12 days ago when it backed other G-8 states in a resolution favoring the deployment of international monitors.
After the G-8 declaration, Israel reiterated its refusal to accept international forces, but then said it would agree to the stationing of additional CIA representatives. Some operatives of the U.S. intelligence agency are already involved here as moderators in Israeli-Palestinian security talks.
A leading Middle East expert, professor Amatzia Baram of the University of Haifa said Monday it made sense that the U.S. would pressure Israel into accepting CIA observers, for Washington to improve its stand with neighboring Arab nations.
"Arab governments cannot present to their people an anti-Iraqi policy when Israel is [misbehaving]," he said. If they did so, their people would demand to know why their governments are gunning for Iraq when they should be gunning for Israel.
If there were quiet between Israel and the Palestinian, it would be easier for the Americans to take a harder line on Iraq, Baram said. For Saddam, on the other hand, the more bloodshed there was, the better his position.
From Saddam's viewpoint the Palestinian uprising launched last September should "last forever."
An all-out Arab-Israeli war would be even better, because the Arabs would then be compelled to stand together with Iraq against the Israeli-American side. The U.N. embargo imposed on Saddam after the Gulf War would collapse completely, he added.
Saddam is widely admired by the Palestinians, and has been sending financial aid to the families of those killed in the violent campaign against Israel. He has also begun to raise a "Jerusalem army" which he claims will fight alongside the Palestinians.