Iraq's attack on Israel and that nation's subsequent entrance into the Middle East conflict carries severe political and military consequences for that region, scholars in Cambridge said last night.
Although expected, local experts inside and outside Harvard said the Iraqi bombardment of Tel Aviv unusually complicates the alliances among the nations united against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"Frankly, I'm not surprised that Israel was attacked," said Clifford Wright, former executive director of the American Middle East Peace Research Institute and now a writer living in Cambridge. "I thought it would have happened yesterday."
David Landes, Harvard's Coolidge Professor of History and chair of Social Studies, said the Iraqi move reflects a broader sense of aggression against Israel by Arab countries in the area.
"This is one more outrageous example of the persistent hatred [by] Arabs around Israel," said Landes. "It is the result of the unwillingness to make peace and accept the existence of Israel," he added.
At press time, Israel had reportedly begun retaliating against the Iraqi attack--a move Landes and others said was expected given the size and nature of Hussein's bombardment.
Although the U.S. government has said it would act against an Iraqi attack on Israel's behalf, these experts said Israel would want to respond on its own.
"One would hope that Israel would be passified," said Wright. "But given the present government of Israel, it is unlikely that they will acquiesce to American promises of retaliation."
The addition of Israel to the already escalating fray in the Middle East threatens to complicate relations among the coalition opposing Iraq, scholars said. That alliance, led by the United States, includes several Arab nations that have not recognized Israel's sovereignty and might not be willing to become allies with the nation, Wright explained.
Such a complication, Wright said, was part of Hussein's strategy to splinter the united front against him. "It changes the configuration of the war," said the Middle East expert "The attack would be to break up the alliance."
Even as the war's direction and span now shifts, the goal of the alliance against Iraq may too take a new dimension, said Stephan M. Haggard, an associate professor of government. Where the coalition once sought primarily to force Hussein from Kuwait, the nations may now seek to remove the Iraqi leader from power altogether.
"It will be a question for history whether the removal of Hussein was the objective all along," Haggard said.