A Turkey-Syria conflict could have dramatic implications in the Middle East and even the Balkans. Turkey maintains a defense pact with Israel, while Greece, Russia and the Arab world are allied to Syria. "The U.S. wields considerable influence over both countries and may be able to pressure both to back off," says TIME Middle East bureau chief Scott MacLeod. "But Iraq's invasion of Kuwait showed that wars can break out against all rational prediction."
Water looks set to replace oil as the prime cause of Middle Eastern wars. Turkey has moved thousands of troops into position and threatened Monday to attack Syria unless Damascus stops backing Turkey's Kurdish separatists. But Syria's motivation for supporting the Kurds may be a way of sending a message: "Syria fears that Turkey's Ataturk Dam on the Euphrates River will choke its water supply," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "They've sheltered the Kurdish guerrillas as a way of warning the Turks not to push them too far."