Chat: Middle East Expert Anthony Cordesman

In the Yemeni port of Aden, a possible terrorist attack on a U.S. Navy destroyer has left four U.S. sailors dead and scores injured. Twelve other sailors are missing. And in Israel, after a Palestinian mob attack on some Israeli soldiers, Israel launched a rocket attack in the West Bank, heightening tensions in that region. Middle East military expert Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic International Studies joined us today in a live chat after his appearance on Sam Donaldson’s daily Webcast. Look below for a transcript of the chat.

Moderator at 1:12pm ET

Mr. Cordesman, can you talk a little bit about what's happening in the Middle East right now?

Anthony Cordesman at 1:13pm ET

Well, I think obviously the events of the last day have brought us potentially to a second Intifada. They have brought us closer to the risk of a real war. But we need to be very careful. The violence is still limited. The Israelis have not attacked in wide areas; the Palestinian Authority's security forces have not been involved in major fire fights. And a lot of the rhetoric we're hearing from the region is a great deal more inflammatory than the reality is.

Moderator at 1:14pm ET

Can you speculate at all about who might be responsible for the attack on the USS Cole?

Anthony Cordesman at 1:14pm ET

I think we need to be extraordinarily careful. There is a very large list of extremist groups that might be involved. Everybody instinctively uses the name of Osama Bin Laden. I think that other people will always blame Iran or Iraq. But there are a great many extremist groups, and Yemen has a long history of civil war and violence. I think we need to be very careful to wait until we have some real evidence before we start blaming any given movement or group.

Moderator at 1:14pm ET

Can you comment on the rocket attacks in Israel?

Anthony Cordesman at 1:15pm ET

We need to be very careful. These were launched by attack helicopters. They used attack helicopters because they can be very precise in hitting targets. It was obviously an escalation. It was a very strong reprisal to the deaths of the two Israeli soldiers. But it's also important to note that they used attack helicopters because they can still be used with some restraint.

Moderator at 1:16pm ET

Is there any indication of what the U. S. reaction might be?

Anthony Cordesman at 1:18pm ET

I think the US reaction is very different between what happened to the Cole and what has happened to the Arab-Israeli crisis. Obviously when we talk about the Cole there will be an immediate intelligence review to see if we can find any indicators of who might have done this. We will put the entire US government presence in this region on alert — embassies, U.S. military, U.S. business — so they can take security measures.

But when we shift back to the Arab-Israeli confrontation, I think the US reaction is clear: It is patience and persistence. It is a constant effort to find some way to deescalate the violence and to get both sides to talk to each other again. We have to understand, however, that we have no magic answers, that ultimately both sides have to decide to stop. The U.S. cannot force an end to this violence.

Moderator at 1:18pm ET

How are other nations in the Middle East reacting to the crisis?

Anthony Cordesman at 1:19pm ET

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