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Syria, Hizbullah, Iran prepare in case of war

Defensive measures taken amid US-Iran tensions spur concern about accidental conflict.

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The prospect of an attack by the United States against Iran has triggered a flurry of military activity around the Middle East as Tehran mobilizes its allies to prepare a defense. In a region where suspicion dominates and trust is rare, politicians and analysts warn, mounting tensions between the US and Iran could spark a war by accident.

"The situation is such that you can't rule out an unplanned development," says Zvi Shtauber, director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University in Israel. "Since we're living in an era where there is no negotiation, it looks like everything is open.... things are so fragile that you could have an accidental development."

Those concerns were voiced this week by Amos Yadlin, Israel's chief of military intelligence, who told the government that Lebanese Hizbullah, Syria, and Iran are making defensive preparations in expectation of war. "We are closely monitoring these preparations because [Iran, Syria and Hizbullah] could misinterpret various moves in the region," Mr. Yadlin was quoted by the Israeli Haaretz daily as saying. Israeli media reported that Israel asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to relay to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during her visit to Damascus Wednesday a message of reassurance that Israel has no intention of attacking.

Still, the Middle East has a grim history of bellicose rhetoric and military gestures causing unintended consequences. A fatal chain of misinterpreted muscle-flexing moves by Egypt and Israel provoked the Arab-Israeli war of June 1967, a conflict that redrew the geostrategic map of the Middle East, and the repercussions of which continue to be felt today.

More recently, Hizbullah's abduction of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12 last year sparked a 34-day war that cost Lebanon more than 1,000 lives and damage estimated at $3.6 billion. Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah subsequently all but admitted that the party's leadership had misread Israel's response to the abduction of the two soldiers.

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