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Is Syria next on the hit-list?

The Iraq war may well have been just the first chapter in a project to restart an old pipeline which carried oil from Mosul to Israel — passing through Syria.

india Updated: Apr 15, 2003 11:53 IST

Israel's Infrastructures Minister Joseph Paritzky has ordered an assessment of the condition of an old pipeline to the city of Haifa from Mosul in Iraq, the influential Israeli dailyHa'aretz has reported.

The pipeline, which used to provide Haifa (now in Israel) with oil until 1948, passes through Syria. And given the lashing Syria has received from the US and Britain lately - including President Bush's statement on Sunday that it was holding chemical weapons - the report gains significance.

Syria might well be next on the US hit-list for a "regime change" - the purpose being to restart the defunct Mosul-Haifa pipeline and solve Israel's oil needs. And the Iraq war, after all, might prove to be just the first chapter in this project.

The minister's order of assessing the pipeline's condition shows that Israel is reasonably sure it will be able to use it again, and soon. The pipeline would save Israel millions of dollars it currently spends to buy oil from Russia. It will also help the US diversify its own supplies of oil.

The pipeline was closed to Haifa after the formation of Israel, and was redirected to Syria. There have been several attempts since to restart the flow to Haifa, the daily says. A participant in one such attempt during the mid-1980s was Donald Rumsfeld, then an advisor to US President Reagan, now the Secretary of Defense who instigated and has led the war on Iraq.

But all attempts have failed as the governments in both Iraq and Syria have remained antagonised to Israel owing to anti-Palestinian violence. The only way out was a regime change in both countries. With Saddam Hussein falling, the job is only half done.

Both Washington and London have been repeatedly accusing Syria since the Iraq war began - firstly of supplying arms to Iraqi soldiers, then, as the Saddam regime fell, of harbouring run-away Iraqi leaders and facilitating their passage to other countries.

On Sunday, President Bush accused it of holding chemical weapons, and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said there are "questions the Syrians must answer".

On Monday, a top Israeli official, close to Ariel Shaon, asked Syria not to "play with fire", the AFP reported.

The developments look exceedingly like the build-up to a war.

First Published: Apr 14, 2003 20:05 IST