Chat: Middle East Expert Anthony Cordesman

I think so far the reactions have been one of political support for the Palestinians. But with the possible exception of the movement of one Iraqi division, there has been no threat of war, there has been no movement of troops. No military forces have been put on alert. So I think that the other Arab states are pushing toward an end of the violence, not toward any kind of escalation. And there are certainly no signs we are moving to a wider form of conflict.

Moderator at 1:19pm ET

Do you expect any declaration of war will be forthcoming?

Anthony Cordesman at 1:20pm ET

This is in many ways communal violence — the peoples are too intermingled — and there is no formal requirement for declarations of war. We will see war when we see violence throughout the area, and war will consist of continuing battles between the Israeli defense forces, Palestinians, and the security forces of the Palestinian Authority. And it's important to note, we have not seen that level of conflict as yet.

Moderator at 1:20pm ET

President Clinton has reportedly been unable to contact Prime Minister Barak. Can you comment on this?

Anthony Cordesman at 1:21pm ET

I think again this report originally came from a Palestinian source about Prime Minister Barak. Both Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak have been involved in ongoing operations throughout virtually the entire day. It's nighttime now. There may be more time to pause, but I think it is very dangerous to give the impression that neither side is talking. We just don't have that information yet.

Moderator at 1:21pm ET

Do you have any thoughts about the future of the process, how long this will go on, and what you see as the next step?

Anthony Cordesman at 1:22pm ET

There's no way to know exactly what will happen. The most likely events unfortunately will be probably days or weeks of violence. It could be a series of real battles between the Israeli defense forces and Palestinians. And we could even see a second Intifada, which lasted months.

The one thing we're virtually certain of is at the end of all of this there will be a lot of dead young men on both sides, the political realities will be very much the same as when we began and both sides will still have to find some way to learn how to live with each other.

Moderator at 1:23pm ET

How does the current presidential race reflect on this situation?

Anthony Cordesman at 1:23pm ET

Hopefully, it doesn't. If there was ever a need for bipartisanship, and to not try to play to ethnic votes in the US, this is the time. In fact, I'd go further: It would be a betrayal of the American national interest for either presidential candidate to try to exploit this situation to his own advantage.

Moderator at 1:23pm ET

Do you see anything of the sort happening now?

Anthony Cordesman at 1:23pm ET

No. I thought the debates made it very clear that both candidates were pursuing exactly the right course.

Moderator at 1:24pm ET

Is there anything else in the current world situation that isn't immediately obvious that could possibly affect the situation in the Middle East?

Anthony Cordesman at 1:27pm ET

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