PARIS, OCT. 13 -- The spasms of violence that struck Israel, Lebanon and Egypt this week have reshaped the political contours of the volatile region to which the United States and its allies have committed nearly a quarter of a million troops in a quest for stability and order.
The killing of Palestinian protesters on the Temple Mount, the crushing of Gen. Michel Aoun's rebellion by Syrian-backed forces in Beirut and a political assassination in Cairo were separate, distinct events. But their juxtaposition served to remind the world that the Middle East's political order remains dangerously unsettled and that its long-festering crises have not subsided while attention has been riveted on Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
The week's events will reverberate across the region and the world. For some, they will underline the need to seek a peaceful resolution of the Persian Gulf crisis at all costs; others will be persuaded anew that the region's endemic instability and vulnerability to terrorism will undermine the U.S. strategy to force Iraq out of Kuwait unless military action is taken quickly.
The events in Jerusalem, Beirut and Cairo are also likely to expand that debate to encompass questions about how much the West can do to influence events in a region where its influence has been shrinking for the past two decades, and how strong the American commitment to Israel will remain in a Middle East convulsed by change and conflict.
"Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was the first step in the ending of the post-Ottoman syndrome in the Middle East," one Arab businessman said in London. "The borders and political structure that took form after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I can no longer contain the tensions and contradictions of the area and are giving way."
The upheaval may also reinforce fears that even if the Persian Gulf crisis is resolved, it will not automatically bring stability to a region little accustomed to it. These voices stress the need for the broadest possible Western objectives.
"We must have a strategic objective in managing this crisis. We must manage it so that the Judeo-Christian culture and the Islamic culture are able to reconcile their differences in the near future," said Andre Giraud, a former French defense minister, in a comment representative of a strain of European thinking. "We don't want to start something that could turn into a religious war, especially when you realize that Moslems will soon account for 30 percent of the world's population."
The political system of compliant Arab rulers and accommodating business interests that the colonial powers helped install after the Ottoman breakup has been under nearly constant siege since 1945. Influences as diverse as Arab nationalism and the bitterness and fragmentation of the Arab world that resulted from the victories of Israel in its war for independence and many of its struggles since have combined to batter the Sunni-dominated, Western-oriented establishment.
The modern Middle East produced by these deep social, economic and political fissures encompasses the world's oldest nation-state -- Egypt -- and some of the newest and most fragile political entities -- the Persian Gulf emirates that began governing themselves only after the withdrawal of Britain from east of Suez in the 1960s. It embraces fabulous wealth and desperate, primitive poverty; religious, tribal and racial groupings that frequently see their differences as reasons to fight; and a central role in global commerce that has always caused outside powers to covet influence there.
The result is a pattern of shifting alliances and ambitions that can catch outside powers off balance. Moslem Syria appears to have taken advantage of the crisis in the Persian Gulf to settle a two-year-old score against Aoun and to entrench Lebanon's Christian president, Elias Hrawi, in power. Aoun's principal foreign backers, Iraq and France, were too preoccupied to offer Aoun decisive help.
It is still not clear that the shooting of the speaker of the Egyptian parliament on Friday was directly related to the gulf crisis, but many in the Arab world will assume that Iraq's Saddam Hussein ordered the killing as part of an effort to destabilize the Egyptian government. Proof that such a campaign exists could push the crisis into all-out war.
The shooting of rock-throwing Palestinians by Israeli police on Monday and the subsequent sharp American criticism of Israel at the United Nations will also have a strong but still unforeseeable impact on the gulf crisis.
Some analysts maintain that the strong American reaction to the Temple Mount killings and President Bush's newly stated willingness to explore a Middle East peace conference after Kuwait's sovereignty is restored offer Saddam an opportunity to declare victory in Kuwait and withdraw.
"He has a chance for a graceful exit now if he wants to claim that he succeeded in placing the Palestinian question at the center of the international agenda," a French official observed. "Perhaps this tragic violence can help us avoid what would be even greater violence in the gulf."
But thus far Iraq has treated the events of the past week as new reasons to step up its threats against both Israel and the United States and to restate its intention to keep Kuwait. This reaction suggests that Baghdad has decided to wait for the next batch of events before it considers changing course.