One of the world’s top intelligence analysts says he expects Russia to invade the Middle East as early as the second half of next year.

Joseph de Courcy, editor of Britain’s highly regarded Intelligence Digest, has long predicted such an invasion — but not for several more years. De Courcy cites a number of recent developments that, he believes, indicate that timetable has been speeded up.

The main reason the Arabs and Iranians have delayed a war, says de Courcy, is because the “peace process” has promised them vital real estate concessions that would make military victory more likely. However, it is becoming increasingly clear to Damascus and Tehran that there is no longer any political mandate in Israel for more territorial concessions.

Another reason for waiting has been the desire by the Tehran-Damascus axis to neutralize Israel’s nuclear deterrent. Even without the acquisition of a deliverable nuclear bomb, Syria may have developed sufficient Scud C missile capability as to rule out an Israeli nuclear option, de Courcy explains.

But what about Russia? This is where de Courcy’s observations get most interesting — and alarming.

Israel’s military pact with Turkey, signed just last year, was believed by many to preclude the possibility of another Syrian attack. But there are two ways this important treaty between Ankara and Jerusalem can be undermined.

Turkey faces a continuing threat from Islamic fundamentalism. De Courcy says, even now, the Turkish army is preparing for an Algerian-style Islamic uprising. Secondly, Turkey can be neutralized by its neighbor Russia.

“There is now the distinct possibility (openly aired by Turkey’s former prime minister Tansu Ciller) that Turkey could find itself at war with Russia, over the supply of Russian S-300 missiles to Cyprus, by the end of 1998,” de Courcy writes.

Turkey says delivery of the missiles would mean war. Russia says it intends to deliver the weapons by the end of 1998. Ciller says, point blank, if there is no change in policy, “Turkey is going to war with Russia.”

Why would Russia risk war with Turkey over a seemingly trivial strategic issue? De Courcy reminds us that this may be Russia’s last chance to do what so many nationalists in that country truly want — to re-establish itself as a superpower by providing the Islamic world with the means to defeat Israel and conquer Jerusalem.

De Courcy suggests recent reports by Gen. Alexander Lebed and others about suitcase-sized nuclear bombs on the loose play a role in this plot. It is this weapons — real or not — that will neutralize America in this giant endgame strategy, he says.

“Whether or not any of these suitcase nuclear bombs have actually gone missing is now almost irrelevant,” he writes. “After Lebed’s statement, what American president is going to call the bluff of a terrorist group that says it has one (or more) of these bombs (described by Lebed as ‘ideal for nuclear terror’) which it is going to explode in an American city (or cities) in the event that the United States moves to protect Israel against an Arab/Iranian assault?”

And here de Courcy is missing one other important element. The United States is not prepared to fight in such a war. Its military infrastructure has been completed gutted by the Clinton administration. Now, at a time when the U.S. is incapable of mobilizing the kind of force it deployed in the Persian Gulf War, Clinton is asking for even more cuts in defense appropriations.

Add this to the mix. Suppose De Courcy’s scenario is even half right and there’s conflict in the Middle East next year or the year after. Wouldn’t that be the ideal time for North Korea to launch its long-anticipated invasion of the south? There’s no way the U.S. would be prepared to fight on two fronts.

De Courcy is by no means stating categorically that a Middle East war next year is inevitable. But he is issuing an unusually strong warning.

“The next 18 months in the Middle East will be fraught with danger, and it will take statecraft of the highest possible order on the part of the United States if a catastrophic war in the Middle East involving chemical, biological and nuclear weapons is to be avoided,” he writes in his bulletin.

Aren’t you glad we’ve got Bill Clinton in the White House?

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