DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, NOV. 7 -- Despite continuing hopes at the United Nations that an acceptable formula may yet be found for a cease-fire in the seven-year-old Persian Gulf war, all the signs here along the southern rim of the vital waterway point to an intensification of the war, both at sea and on land.

While U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar has succeeded in keeping the cease-fire dialogue with Tehran and Baghdad alive for now, both stepped up the pace of their bombardments of each other's territory last week. The costly tanker war continued and what is being viewed as a countdown for a new Iranian ground offensive against Iraq's hard-pressed defenses began.

That can only be bad news for the United States, which finds its naval forces in the gulf caught in a conflict it seems unable to affect or abandon without seriously damaging its credibility and strategic interest in the Middle East.

"I fear the only thing that is keeping something of a lid on is the {Arab} summit" in Amman, Jordan, this weekend, said one foreign diplomat in the region.

The hope of diplomats, western and Arab, is that the summit will take a strong, united stand against Iran because of riots by Iranian pilgrims in the Saudi holy city of Mecca last summer, Tehran's recent missile attacks against Kuwait and its defiance of a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire.

But Syria, Iran's only Arab ally in its war against Iraq, is expected to oppose any strong condemnation of Iran and at most, diplomats here predict, there will be a watered-down statement.

The announcement by Saudi Arabia's King Fahd early this week that he would not attend the summit is seen here as an indication that he knows that his proposal for a firm Arab stance against Tehran is not likely to emerge from the meeting. Rather than face a defeat for his proposal, it is said, he has chosen to stay away.

A failure by the Arab summit to take a meaningful stand on the war being fought by one of its members would come after a bad week for diplomacy in the gulf. A Soviet mediation bid by Deputy Foreign Minister Yuli Vorontsov failed and both Iran and Iraq refused to back off their conflicting positions on U.N. Resolution 598, which Perez de Cuellar is trying to implement.

In written replies submitted to Perez de Cuellar, Iraq said it wanted an immediate cease-fire before other issues were negotiated. Iran has demanded that before it considers a cease-fire, Iraq be condemned as the aggressor in the war and agree to pay reparations.

Perez de Cuellar could only keep the door open to some sort of negotiations, and managed to persuade Baghdad and Tehran to send representatives to New York for further talks.

But there is little expectation here that new talks in New York will produce anything more than all the talks and Perez de Cuellar missions to the area have since Resolution 598 was passed July 20.

That resolution calls for a cease-fire, creation of an impartial commission to rule on who was the aggressor in the war, which began in 1980 with an Iraqi invasion of Iran's Khuzestan Province, discussions about international aid to help postwar reconstruction in the two countries and negotiations toward an overall peace accord.

Iranian leaders made clear this week that they see no hope that the conflict will be settled by diplomacy and they renewed calls for Iran to mobilize for a fight to victory on the battlefield. "Now that the world is not prepared to punish the aggressor," Iranian President Ali Khamenei said Friday, "we should punish the aggressor ourselves."

Intelligence analysts say there is more than hollow words behind the recent Iranian statements. As before previous annual ground offensives against Iraq, Iran has been mobilizing new divisions of volunteers for months. According to intelligence sources, Iran now has 250,000 men in Khuzestan, just six miles from the beleaguered Iraqi southern city of Basra. Basra was the target of Iran's last major offensive in January. While the offensive was eventually blunted by Iraq at great cost of life on both sides, it was stopped only after it broke three Iraqi defense lines and moved the Iranian front lines into easy artillery range of Basra.

With Iraq continuing its dominance in the air over the gulf, and fleets from the United States, France and Britain, and mine sweepers from Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium making Iraqi naval actions against foreign shipping riskier, intelligence analysts predict Iran will try another big ground push in December or January.

These analysts said satellite photos taken over the battle lines just east of Basra show Iran has built at least six huge drainage canals to try to drain the man-made water defenses Iraq has set up before its lines.

"Our assumption is that just before they launch their assault they will open up the canals and try to divert the water protecting the Iraqi lines," said one analyst who has studied the photos. Iraqi defenses consist of a series of bulldozed dirt walls dotted with bunkers and dug-in tanks, guarded by mines, lines of barbed wire, and water.

There is evidence Iraq is aware of the offensive and has been making preparations to try to hold it. Iraqi Defense Minister Adnan Khairallah and other top commanders are known to have been in Basra recently, coordinating the defenses and keeping up troop morale.

In the meantime, the "tanker war" revived this week, with reported Iraqi raids on six Iranian-operated tankers.

The presence of foreign naval fleets has blunted Iran's use of mines in the gulf, but not its willingness to attack foreign vessels; Friday one of its gunboats put five holes in a U.S.-operated tanker. The message appeared to be that while the U.S. Navy could protect the U.S. flag ships it has agreed to escort to and from Kuwait, Iran could still attack targets among dozens of other ships.

"The U.S. presence may have halted attacks on the ships it chooses to escort," said a western diplomat, "but it has done absolutely nothing to control or affect the war in the gulf."