Aerial dogfights between Iraqi and Iranian jetfighters are being watched avidly on radar screens in darkened military command posts and airport control centers throughout this vital, oil-rich area, just a 10-minute flight away from the battle scenes.
"One swerve and they're over our teritory," says an official of one state on the Persian Gulf that is not involved in the fighting but fears that it could spread to other parts of this region; the source of 40 percent of the noncommunist world's oil.
"This is a very sensitive area, otherwise no one would care about Iraq and Iran fighting," added another Gulf state official.
"This war is special because of the bloody oil, otherwise it would only man a few lines in the news of the world." Oil, that's what makes it dangerous."
So far the only evidence of the war here has been the blips on the radar screen. Besides the two warring nations, only the port of Dubai, which has created a vast business shipping goods to Iran to circumvent a Western economic boycott designed to pressure Tehran to free the 52 American hostages, has been affected by the fighting.
Business is going on as usual in the gulf ports of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, from which most of the West's oil flows. Ships were reported as moving freely through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, which provides the only entrance to the oil ports along the gulf.
In the radar rooms, though, the battles appeared vivid. Over the past few days, radar centers here, in Kuwait and in Qatar have been watching the dogfights over the Iraqi port of Basra, where a sizable portion of that country's oil is loaded on tankers; the Iranian oil refinery at Abadan, which has been reported set afire by attacks from Iraqi planes and the Iranian city of Shiraz.
It is understood that all the major states in the Gulf region have military radar with a 250-mile range, more than enough to pick up the battles which are only about 100 miles away.
On radar, according to military experts who have watched the fighting, four or five planes could be seen clearly -- as blips on the screen -- closing in on each other. But, the experts concluded, neither the Iraqi nor the Iranian pilots showed great efficiency in modern aerial warfare.
"It looked like a World War II dogfight, it went on for so long. It took half an hour for one kill," said an observer.
Instead of the quick attack that is expected from modern jets equipped with guns aimed and fired by sophisticated radar devices, these Iraqi and Iranian jets darted and whirled around trying to get a proper aim, the observer said. "Either they don't know how to shoot, or they don't know how to aim," he added.
Oil tankers, meanwhile, continue to move freely through the Striat of Hormujz, according to shipping sources here. One official said even ships carrying Iraqi flags were moving through the 40-mile-wide strait -- the mouth of the gulf -- despite Iranian gun boats patrolling nearby.
Stopping the movement of shipping in the strait, which is considered an international waterway, could escalate the conflict into a major global conflagration.
There are continual reports here that some big tankers are remaining outside the strait, in the Gulf of Oman or in the Indian Ocean, for fear of getting caught in the Persian Gulf if the fighting spreads. Moreover, insurance companies have raised the premiums on ships sailing through the strait, especially since Iran declared its territorial waters in the gulf a war zone, which presumably is keeping some ships from coming into the area.