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South Africa's threats against neighbors show rising military influence in white-ruled state

The South African military is brimming with confidence. * Early talk of a ''total onslaught'' against this white-ruled country is being replaced by South African threats - often translated into action - against black neighboring states, military analysts say.

* While Pretoria used to guard with great secrecy its military production ability, it now trumpets new products and has made a strong bid to export arms.

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* Over the past year or so South Africa has been flexing its military muscle throughout the region - both overtly and covertly - in a campaign many analysts have described as one of -''destabiliza- tion.''

All of this is part of what many observers see as the successful ''militarization'' of white South African society.

The likely explanation for much of this turn of events, analysts say, is that Pretoria now sees political advantage in taking credit for the country's undisputed armed might.

South Africa's successful military development and its apparently successful raids against alleged rebel bases outside the country have bred a greater confidence in the country.

Pretoria appears more and more to look upon all of southern Africa as its legitimate sphere of influence, analysts say.

Its first raid into a neighboring state against the African National Congress (ANC) came in early 1981 against Mozambique. A raid into Lesotho in late 1982 has now been followed by two more into Mozambique this year.

This growing confidence and willingness to use its military superiority is met with mixed feelings by observers of southern Africa.

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One military analyst, Professor John Seiler of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, says the possibility of any outside power - including the United States - restraining Pretoria in its regional military ventures are increasingly ''gloomy.''

But on the other hand, he suggests South Africa's military has become more objective and accurate in assessing the extent of Soviet influence in southern Africa.

Professor Seiler, who recently visited South Africa and interviewed a number of military leaders, says a more ''precise delineation'' of the Soviet ''threat'' has made many top leaders in the South African defense establishment recognize that warnings of a ''total onslaught'' were overblown.

South Africa's raid into Mozambique Monday against an alleged planning headquarters of the ANC illustrates the trend under way.

Despite international condemnation of the raid, Pretoria lashed out at critics saying it was but a small taste of what was to come if neighboring states continued to harbor ''terrorists.''

Defense Minister Magnus Malan said South Africa has not yet wielded its ''iron fist,'' but the country's patience is wearing thin.

''I hope that in the interests of peace and stability, countries such as Mozambique will take note and act accordingly. This is in the interest of the whole subcontinent,'' he said.

Mozambique denies that it permits the ANC to operate militarily from its soil.

In one sense, analysts say, South Africa's military swagger coincides with the real situation, military experts point out. But it could promote instability in the region.

These experts see no real conventional military threat from any neighboring state, or from any other black state in sub-

Saharan Africa. A recent report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London points out that South Africa enjoys a substantial advantage over its only conceivable African opponent - Nigeria.

South Africa's military prowess was on display last weekend when a huge military parade rolled through the streets of Pretoria. When not buzzed by jets overhead, observers could focus their eyes on an impressive display of military hardware, more and more of which comes off local assembly lines.

Two recent in-depth studies by South Africa's State Security Council came to the same conclusion that military considerations, and the views of the generals, have become central in political decisionmaking in this country.

The intertwining of military considerations with civilian society are increasingly evident in South Africa. A new expanded call-up system has been introduced, which many observers say can go no further without harming the civilian economy.

And this week the military unwrapped the latest sign of this intertwining.

In the remote northern reaches of the country, close to the borders of Zimbabwe and Botswana, the chief of the Defense Force opened a new road with a difference. This road can serve as a landing strip for the military to deal with any threat of insurgency.

Similar road-airstrip combinations are planned for other parts of South Africa.

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