Document created: 24 August 04
Air University Review, May-June 1970
Ambassador G. Frederick Reinhardt
The Middle East, when I went out there almost ten years ago, presented a picture in many respects quite different from that of today. Then Gamal Abdel Nasser enjoyed a position of almost unchallenged prominence and leadership in the Arab world. He was pursuing his policy of the so-called “Three Circles,” which he had publicly described some years before in a small booklet. It was a policy which attributed to Egypt a threefold predestined responsibility of leadership: leadership in the Arab world, leadership in the Muslim world, and leadership in Africa. His success in these three different realms had, however, been quite uneven. The non-Arabic Islamic countries of Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan had not succumbed to his blandishments and had kept their distance. In middle Africa Nasser had developed somewhat more influence. He was backing Lumumba in the Congo, had close relations with Guinea and Ghana, and was causing trouble in Somalia. Cairo was full of African students, many living on Egypt’s bounty.
Yet it was in the “Arab Circle” that the effects of his efforts were most apparent—and this despite the ironic fact that Egypt is the least Arab of the Arab lands, its population being 90 percent of Hamitic race. Be that as it may, there was truly a Nasserite mystique abroad in the Arab world, and Nasser’s photograph was to be found in shops and homes from Morocco on the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf.
Additionally, the picture ten years ago was one of a Middle East in the midst of a shift of great-power influence which involved the phasing out of the traditional positions of Britain and France, the new preponderant presence of the United States, and the beginning of Soviet participation. The Arab-Israeli conflict was in a period of relative quiescence. The Arabs were principally preoccupied with their own interrelationships and conflicts. Of these the most general was the defense of their respective regimes from the spreading influence of Nasser, who, having established in Egypt the first of the Arab nationalist socialist revolutionary governments, having nationalized the Suez Canal and successfully defended against the efforts of the former colonial powers to retake it, was unquestionably the leading and most popular personality of the Arab world. Indeed, at his command, on occasion, all the conflicting elements could be merged into Arab solidarity.
The intervening years have seen much violence and change. In June of 1967 Israel won a six-day blitzkrieg against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Israel ended up occupying all of the Sinai peninsula, all Jordanian territory on the west bank of the Jordan River, including the heights and city of Jerusalem and a piece of Syria around the strategic Golan Heights—all in all an area larger than Israel itself The Soviet Union hastened to make up the staggering losses of military materiel on the Arab side, provided large numbers of teachers and advisers, and did its utmost to rehabilitate its clients and exploit its support of the Arab cause to the disadvantage of the West and of the United States in particular. There can be little doubt that the decade has seen an important accretion to Soviet influence in the area. The Soviet Mediterranean fleet, steadily augmented the last few years, is no longer an object of curiosity but is a military and political factor to be reckoned with.
The growth of Soviet influence and presence in the Middle East has been accompanied by a decrease of American influence. In fact, so successful has been the Soviet and Arab propaganda in reinforcing the identification of the United States with Israel that many Arab governments broke off diplomatic relations with the United States at the time of the six-day war, and they have yet to be re-established. Happily the Arab sense of self-interest was sufficiently alive in most places to permit, after relatively short interruptions, the continuation of petroleum company operations and the transit of American aircraft, but in the Arab world United States prestige and influence in general are at a new low.
The Thomas D. White Lectures at Air University continued on 30 September 1969 when “The Middle East of the 1970s” was presented by Ambassador G. Frederick Reinhardt, now retired after a distinguished career in the U.S. Foreign Service. We are pleased to include. an adaptation of his lecture in this issue of the Review.
Britain and France came through the period rather better, the former because it is still engaged in cutting back its presence in the area, and the latter because of General de Gaulle’s shift of policy regarding Israel. Yet Britain’s policy promises to provide new problems for the future. Having already abandoned Aden, her announced intention to withdraw from the Persian Gulf by 1971 will remove the last vestige of British protective military presence from the Arabian peninsula and expose Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain as well as the primitive and newly oil-rich sheikdoms of the Trucial Coast to a renewal of their local quarrels and to outside influences.
Important developments in the Arab countries themselves have changed the picture markedly. The decade has seen Libya join the oil-rich club; stimulated by the closure of the Suez Canal, her oil production by 1968 was equal to if not already greater than that of Kuwait. Algeria is increasing its oil production, and Egypt too is making progress in developing important sources of petroleum. It is the Libyan production, however, which has the most interesting implications-both because of its ever increasing quantity and because of its location well west of the Suez Canal and far from the troubled surroundings of Israel. How the new military regime in Libya will affect the picture remains to be seen.
Egypt has seriously damaged its own economy by blocking the Canal and keeping it closed, but she and Jordan succeeded in prevailing on their oil-rich Arab brethren of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Libya to compensate them for their losses arising out of the six-day war. The sum promised was between three and four hundred million dollars, but whether this subsidy will be followed by others is unknown. In any event, although strengthening their relative political position, it brings some impairment to the development plans of the donor countries and is the kind of contribution to Arab solidarity that requires repeated stimulation to be kept alive. This has been provided by the unfortunate burning of the Al-Aksa mosque in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem in August 1969 and the rising level of military activity in the Arab-Israeli confrontation.
Egypt had seemed to be making modest economic progress in the early sixties, but the increasing application of “Arab socialism” and decreasing foreign aid slowed this trend. The economic consequences of the latest war with Israel have been serious, as has been the nature of Israeli attacks and reprisals in the period following the official end of hostilities. Nasser still looms large in the Arab world, but less than previously. For the moment, at least, he is working closely with Hussein of Jordan rather than seeking his removal—an object he pursued periodically in the past.
Jordan, despite the loss of the west bank, made a good economic recovery following the war, with the help of Arab and other aid, but has recently encountered a setback. The guerrilla operations mounted from its territory against Israel have stimulated sharp reprisals. They have not only made the pursuit of agriculture along the frontier most difficult and dangerous but eventually led to the cutting of a vital irrigation canal.
Syria continues to entertain its unending series of coups and military regimes, which grow increasingly radical and unproductive. Iraq too has difficulty in achieving stability and continuity of administration, and the economy of the country has not benefitted. The new oil-rich sheikdoms of the Trucial Coast stand on the threshold of possible new prosperity, but it will depend on the decision of their rulers to spend the new income for public purposes and their ability to work out some interrelationship to fill the gap that will be caused by the withdrawal of British protection. King Faisal has brought better government to Saudi Arabia than his older brother was able to provide, and his administration is in the process of formulating a new five-year development program to be financed by oil revenues. Libya and Kuwait too are spending a considerable portion of their oil income on development programs, as is Iran.
At the moment, the political picture in the Middle East is almost the reverse of ten years ago and is characterized by the absence of serious inter-Arab conflicts and by a high degree of tension in the present phase of the Arab-Israeli conflict, revived since the end of the six-day war by fighting along the Suez Canal and guerrilla operations and reprisals elsewhere. The trend toward a measure of reasonableness, which seemed to be reflected by Nasser and Hussein some months ago, has given way to the most belligerent utterances on the part of these two gentlemen, who are calling for renewed hostilities and destruction of the state of Israel. Libya has moved from the conservative to the radical Arab camp.
This sketchy comparison of the Middle East as it appeared ten years ago and as it appears today illustrates the three different sources of instability and spheres of confrontation, crisis, and conflict: (1) the rivalry of the great powers, now essentially limited to the super powers United States and Soviet Union; (2) the nature of the states of the area and their relationship with each other; and (3) the Arab-Israeli conflict. The interaction of these three factors increases the intensity and danger of the situation.
If one looks at the totality of countries that make up the Middle East, he finds that they fall into three broad categories: Arab Muslim, non-Arab Muslim, and the few that are neither Arab nor Muslim. The majority, some fourteen countries, belong to the first category; the two largest, Turkey and Iran, are in the second; Israel and Cyprus make up the third.
The Arabs themselves divide into three types of government: the revolutionary, including Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Algeria, and now Libya; the conservative group, which has been reduced to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and the sheikdoms of the Arabian peninsula; and the neutral group apart, composed of Tunisia and Lebanon.
One of the principal elements of instability in the Arab world is the conflict between these conservative and revolutionary groupings of states. It is a conflict between the old and the new, between traditionalist monarchical states seeking to preserve their local customs and traditional Arab society and to achieve progress toward a more modem economy and society through evolutionary development on the one hand; and on the other, military revolutionary states bent on the quick and radical transformation of their countries along anticapitalist lines.
The two opposing groups are equally nationalistic, but the revolutionary camp is more anti-imperialistic and anti-Western. Anti-imperialism, once synonymous with anti-British, has now come to mean anti-Americanism. Ideologically, the anti-imperialistic group is pursuing a goal of Arab modernization and unity which, as postulated, can only be realized through eradication of all foreign (that is, Western) influence in the Arab lands and their modernization on a socialist pattern. As is the case with most governments elsewhere, its foreign policy tends to reflect its internal aspirations and objectives. This accounts for a certain bias in favor of the Soviet Union and socialist-oriented governments and a neutralist policy in great-power confrontations. For the conservatives the reverse holds true: their natural inclination is towards the West and America, and they reflect a more moderate attitude on international issues, including that of Israel.
In the mid-sixties the most serious conflict in the Arab world arose out of the civil war in the Yemen. There anew Imam, who as heir presumptive had been assiduously wooed by Nasser, was overthrown by a military coup the day after he assumed power. Nasser immediately moved to support his republican enemies. The Imam, who had succeeded in escaping to the mountains, waged active civil war with Saudi Arabian financial support. At one time there were some 60 or 70 thousand Egyptian troops in the little mountainous country, and Egyptian operations extended to bombing Saudi Arabian border points where reinforcements were passed to the Yemeni monarchists. The stationing of a U.S. Air Force training mission in Saudi Arabia at King Faisal’s request was the move that put an end to Egyptian incursions over Saudi territory. Yet the confrontation between Egypt and Saudi Arabia kept those two countries at dagger points for some four years.
Another recent conflict that seriously threatened the stability of the Middle East, albeit not one involving the Arabs, was the Cyprus issue. There the Greek majority of the population wanted union, known as enosis, with Greece. The Turkish minority would have none of it and demanded a fair participation in the government of an independent Cyprus or partition and union of their side with Turkey. The American efforts at maintaining a neutral attitude between Greece and Turkey in the long run probably contributed to the present truce between the opposing elements and the state of relative tranquility now prevailing. Yet this was obtained at the price of a shift in Turkish policy. Unhappy at United States refusal of full support of the Turkish position, the Turks began to question the value of United States guarantees against Communist aggression and modified their previous clear-cut position of anti-Communism to one which led them to respond to the new Soviet initiatives for more normal relationships between the two countries.
There are other intraregional disputes in the Middle East that periodically threaten the stability of the area, but none as persistent, long-lived, and serious as the Arab-Israeli conflict.
For more than twenty-one years the United Nations has been occupied with the issue of Palestine, Israel, and the Arabs. Several times it was involved in securing ceasefire and armistice following full-scale war. Almost continuously it has been involved in patrolling armistice lines and observing armistice violations and terrorist activities.
The passage of the years has revealed the difficulty, if not impossibility, of finding any basis for a settlement of this conflict, which periodically flares up into dangerous proportions and seems to worsen as the years go by. The root difficulty is that the two sides base their positions on diametrically opposite assertions. The Israelis-base their claim to Palesine on its having been the land of their ancestors in ancient times. The Palestinian Arabs counter that they lived there for the last 1300 years until expelled in 1948. They view the presence of Israel with its recent immigration as a last outpost of Western colonialism and consider it an inadmissible and unique anachronism at a time when everywhere else in the world self-determination and freedom from foreign domination are the accepted rule.
The dispute is a conflict of two ideologies, political Zionism and Arab nationalism. Zionists believe that a Jewish state is necessary for the preservation of world Jewry and that it must be established in Palestine as it was in ancient times. Opposing this is the aim of the Arab nationalists to secure the independence and unity of all Arab states. They contend that Palestine is an integral part of the Arab world.
Yet as a practical matter the state of Israel is now more than twenty years old, it is a thriving country, the most modem and progressive in the area, and a member of the United Nations. The Arabs for their part impaired their case against the existence of the state of Israel by concluding an armistice agreement with it in 1948 and not withdrawing from the United Nations when Israel was admitted to membership.
There have been times during these past two decades when it appeared that if only a satisfactory solution could be found to the problem of the almost one and a half million Palestinian refugees the biggest obstacle to a settlement would have been dealt with. But this requirement of the original provisional agreement was never accomplished either by return of the refugees to their homes in Israeli-held territory or by reparations and their resettlement elsewhere. And despite this there have been periods of relative tranquility until broken by the aggressive proclamations and actions of more radical groups in Egypt and Syria and among the Palestinian refugees. These have invariably led to Israeli reprisals, and in 1956 and 1967 to war.
American policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict has had the virtue of consistency, but it has not been one to evoke the satisfaction of either side. The United States has sought to be even-handed and impartial, to work with the United Nations, and to spare no effort to maintain the stability and peace of the area.
To this end, and in the hope of avoiding an arms race between the two parties, the United States together with Britain and France issued in 1950 the Tripartite Declaration. But this policy of self-imposed restraint in the sale of arms to the contestants broke down when the Russians made an arms deal with Egypt in 1955. Subsequent efforts to induce them to agree to a limitation of arms deliveries to the area have been unsuccessful.
In the effort to re-establish peace after the outbreak of war in 1967, President Johnson described our policy as based on five points. They are comprehensive, describe what has in fact been the essence of U.S. policy for the past twenty years, and demonstrate the American effort to achieve peace on a basis of impartiality. They are (1) recognition of the right of national existence, (2) justice for the Palestinian refugees, (3) innocent maritime passage, (4) limitation of the arms race, and (5) political independence and integrity for all. The United Nations resolution of November 1967 contains the essence of these principles and serves as the basis of Ambassador Gunnar Jarring’s peacemaking efforts on behalf of the organization, which so far have been without results, as have several recent two-and four-power meetings.
No one can, I think, deny the impartiality and even-handedness of the American position, but events and propaganda tend to identify the United States with Israel. The Soviet Union in the United Nations and elsewhere has sought to exploit this identification so as to further its strategic purpose of undermining our position in the Middle East. The danger in the Soviet concentration of support on one side is that it tends to force the United States to the other side, thus creating out of the Arab-Israeli conflict a polarized Soviet American situation.
Today oil looms large as a factor in Western and American interest in the Middle East. It is the principal source for both Western Europe and Japan. For the United States it is important strategically because it fuels our allies and incidentally the Sixth Fleet, and it is important economically as a source of revenue. Although such estimates are never too accurate, experts put United States income and trade surplus from the Middle East and North Africa at something over two billion dollars. They put the total of net outflow of investment capital and foreign aid to the area at about half a billion dollars. That leaves a net inflow to the United States of more than one and a half billion dollars—not an. insignificant figure in this era of balance-of-payments difficulties. The greatest part of this income from the Middle East is attributable to the oil industry.
The Middle East in the years preceding 1967 had a general economic growth rate that compared favorably with that in other less developed regions of the world. It does not look as though this rate of growth will accelerate in the years immediately ahead. On the contrary, it may decline in areas of instability, as has been the case in Iraq and Syria. Jordan enjoyed a rapid expansion in the sixties, but this was cut off by the war in 1967.
In the more tranquil area of the Northern Tier, both Turkey and Iran are making substantial capital investments, and Iran has the favorable prospect of increasing oil revenues. Both countries are engaged in modernizing their agriculture and expanding their industry. So, too, in principle are the Arab countries, but here the picture is an uneven one. In the countries with large oil production, economic growth seems assured, given the probable continued expansion of oil production and barring other negative factors.
Algeria and Iraq among the oil producers are different. There, although oil is an important source of income, its share in the total overall revenues is less, and in these two countries recent experience in the other economic sectors has not been good. Iraq is patently a victim of political instability. Its fertile land and water resources are more than ample for its population, and together with the capital available from oil revenues they constitute a potential for significant growth and development; yet these have not been the result.
Other Arab states with little or no oil have had an equally unsatisfactory experience. Political strife and war have disrupted their economies, and, lacking the domestic backup of large oil revenues, their economic prospects are the least promising in the area. Egypt continues to deprive itself of the revenues of the Suez Canal, although for the present the loss is being compensated for by subsidies from richer Arab countries.
Oil production and foreign aid are the key elements to development in the Middle East. If continued at roughly the present levels, the growth could proceed at a reasonable rate. Yet in the best of circumstances it will not be sufficient to bring stability to the area. There will presumably be improvements in the various aspects of national life, but for countries starting from such a low base, the growth rate cannot match that of the developed countries of the world. Accordingly, the gap between the two will increase, and the psychological problem of a sense of deprivation and unfulfilled hopes can be expected to continue.
Israel is, of course, a special case. Where as the average gross national product (GNP) per capita in the surrounding Arab lands is about $200, in Israel it is almost $1500. This extraordinary performance is a tribute to the ability, determination, and vigor of its people, but it is also a function of the great amount of financing received from supporters abroad—three billion dollars from the United States and almost two billion from West Germany, to mention only the major sources of this capital.
Although experts predict a possible slackening of the rate of increase of Middle Eastern oil production in the years ahead because of a slower acceleration of European oil consumption, it does not appear that the parameters suggested are such as to modify the basic picture appreciably. The demand for and consumption of Arab and Persian oil is expected to increase each year, and this despite the competition from rival producing areas.
The present outlook for any early opening of the Suez Canal is dim. In consequence the Canal will continue to lose significance as an international waterway. Projects are under way for an oil pipeline paralleling the Canal in Egypt and for one across Israel. The development of supertankers proceeds rapidly, and more and more oil is being produced west of the Canal. Thus the prospect is that, if reopened, the Canal will never regain its former importance as a principal channel for world petroleum. Its reopening will, however, bring significant relief to those European and Mediterranean economies having important trade relations with Asia and Australia. It will also be most useful to the Soviet Union for the access it gives to Southern Arabia, the Gulf of Persia, and beyond.
In brief, then, the economic prospects for the Middle East in the seventies would be reasonably good if the area could look forward to a period of general tranquility and absence of conflict. Yet this seems improbable. As it is, the potential is there, but the chances of performance remain uncertain, subject as they are to the depredations of political instability, strife, and the average 10 percent of GNP that the countries of the area devote to the purchase of arms and armaments.
It seems rather clearly established that the internal problems and conflicts of the Middle East do not lend themselves today to management or control from the outside. They can, of course, be modified marginally by the provision or refusal of arms and other assistance to one side or the other, but the basic quarrels are indigenous and deep-rooted.
They do vary greatly in importance and degree of threat to peace. The border states of the Northern Tier (with the exception of Pakistan) are a relatively tranquil area. Each is a more or less self-contained and integrated national society. Although their treaty relationships with the West and the United States have undergone some dilution and they have developed in recent years more normal and stable relationships with the Soviet Union, their basic orientation remains the same. Turkey and Iran appear to be moving toward a kind of buffer-zone status similar to that occupied by Afghanistan. Each has its own problems which, in extreme manifestation, could upset the regime; but today these potential sources of instability would seem to be much less menacing than elsewhere in the Middle East.
The recent coup in Libya is an instructive example of how an Arab country can move overnight from the conservative to the revolutionary camp. With independence in 1951, Libya, a poor country of herders and farmers, was given little chance of survival because of its sparse population and almost total absence of resources. Without drawing undue attention to itself, it quietly and rather suddenly became one of the world’s leading oil producers. King Idris, the head of the Senussi tribe, lived a retired life and followed a modest course, seeking to develop his country without incurring the envy of his neighbors. Rather frequent changes of ministries revealed that his internal political situation was not without strains and stresses, yet he seemed to cope with it well enough and to maintain the political equilibrium of his country despite the social pressures of the youth and the immigrants who were coming to his newly prosperous land. He appeared to have resolved some years ago the problem of succession to the throne by appointing his nephew heir apparent and by neutralizing other aspiring relatives.
His regime was rapidly acquiring economic strength, although it remained internally weak and the standard of living of the majority of Libyans did not reflect as yet the country’s new wealth. The principal threat seemed to be from Egypt, which the king countered by a pro-Western orientation, which was also in the interest of the development of his petroleum resources. He accepted a British Army base at Benghazi in Cyrenaica and a U.S. Air Force base in Tripolitania and successfully resisted Arab pressure to have them removed. After the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, his position seemed to have been strengthened when he joined with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia in providing a large subsidy to save Egypt from economic disaster. A consequence of this was the termination of Egyptian subversive activity in Libya.
As far as is known, Egypt was in fact not responsible for the coup against the king. It appears to have been carried out by an organization of Libyan officers on their own account, as happened in Iraq in 1958. Experts have observed that the initial public statements of the new Libyan revolutionary council contained Baathist slogans. Whether there are important links to the Baathist party in Damascus or to their enemies the Baathists of Baghdad, I have not learned.
Significant is the fact that Libya is the first of the oil-rich Arab countries to be taken over by a revolutionary socialist Arab military junta. This has effected an important shift in the balance of power in the Arab world. It presumably weakens the position of King Faisal and Saudi Arabia. Tunisia, which has sought to follow a moderate and neutral course between the conflicting Arab camps, now finds itself surrounded by radical regimes and must feel itself to be in a precarious position.
Although at first it was somewhat uncertain what the ultimate attitude of the new Libyan regime would be toward the British and U.S. military bases, they soon announced that the base agreements which expire in 1970 and 1971 would not be renewed and shortly thereafter demanded immediate evacuation. The future of the oil concessions is clouded. In the past, new Arab military regimes have more than once started off by making reassuring promises to foreign oil interests that they would remain unmolested, only with time to modify their approach and in some cases to nationalize the concessions. It is interesting to note, however, that at the time of the six-day war Al Ahram, the leading official Cairo newspaper, commented that those who proposed the nationalization of foreign oil concessions were proposing damage to the national economy. Of course this was said at a moment when Egypt had good reason to hope for an interesting increase in its oil production being developed by foreign concessionaires. Yet it may also have reflected a more sober appreciation of national economic interest. The precedents of Iran and Iraq should be instructive, the former as to the importance of access to international markets and the latter regarding the magnitude of loss which experimentation with oil concessions can inflict on a national economy.
The inherent instability of the Arab world is a phenomenon one can count on in the years ahead. As my successor in Cairo, John Badeau, a life-long student and authority on things Arabic has written: “Of only one thing can we be certain—that with or without the UAR and its President, the Arab world will be restless and unsettled, sometimes at strife with itself and with us, while its people strive to find their way through the maze which leads from a medieval to a modem future.”
The Soviet Union has for some years now been following an active and aggressive policy in the Middle East. Ever since the Arabs’ and, more important, Nasser’s reaction to the Baghdad Pact opened the door to the Soviets’ involvement in the area, this involvement has been steadily growing. It is roughly estimated that they have invested in the area more than $5 billion in military and economic aid. The economic portion is believed to amount to about 40 percent of all Soviet economic aid to foreign countries. Since the Arab defeat in 1967 the military aid has included increasing numbers of military advisers and instructors. The Soviet Mediterranean fleet, which came into being following the Cuban crisis, has been steadily augmented and now enjoys the equivalent of base rights in Egyptian, Syrian, and possibly other Arab ports. Another consequence of the war which extended Russian influence in the area was the opportunity it offered the Russians to take the place of the Egyptian presence in the Yemen: a strategic point from which to extend Soviet influence in Southern Arabia in the direction of the Trucial Coast and the Persian Gulf.
These activities have been coupled with unambiguous support of the Arabs in their conflict with Israel. It is a policy which has served them well in increasing Arab hostility to the United States on the Israeli issue and in reducing American influence in the area. The Soviets have not gone so far as to employ military intervention on behalf of their clients and are believed to have made some efforts to restrain the Egyptian moves which precipitated the 1967 war, but the speed with which they made up their friends’ losses of arms and equipment was impressive. With the British due to leave the Persian Gulf in 1971, opportunity beckons farther east.
It is a fair surmise that the Israeli-Arab conflict will continue to provide the Soviet Union this convenient access to the Arab world, and new opportunities for further extensions of Soviet influence will present themselves.
The Soviet Union is bound to become more closely involved with Arab and Persian oil. Once a competitor in world markets, it is now, according to accumulating evidence, no longer in a position to export large quantities of oil to Western countries. Even the countries of the Eastern bloc are beginning to turn to the Middle East for oil, a development which runs athwart Moscow’s efforts to tighten the economic interdependence of its satellites. It means that contrary to this policy the Eastern European countries will be able to buy oil more cheaply and have new opportunities to sell equipment and other products in a wider market. The Soviet Union itself has already concluded an agreement for the importation of Iranian natural gas. There are reports of Soviet purchase of Mideastern oil. This trend is liable to grow as the Soviet production of automobiles and trucks increases. The Soviet Union will then become as much a consumer as a competitor with respect to the oil of the region. Its political influence on the governments of some of the oil-producing countries is another factor in this picture.
Recent Soviet policy in the Middle East, though expensive, has generally been successful so far, and in the absence of overriding events elsewhere one must assume it will continue. The critical question seems to be one of degree: whether Moscow may feel tempted to raise the level of its effort in the hope of inflicting greater political defeats on the United States, setting its course toward a goal of becoming the dominant power in the area; or whether, having come as far as it has, it will not push too hard and may even be open to some measure of cooperation with the United States in seeking peace and stability in the area.
There are no doubt many pressures for both these alternatives. Traditional Russian ambitions reaching southward, desire for enlarged security or buffer zones around Soviet territory, the ideological commitment to extend Soviet Communism, and the far-reaching impact such an expansion of Soviet influence would have on the world balance of power—all these would call for greater Soviet effort and pressure in the area.
Against such an extreme policy are equally important considerations. The first is, of course, the risk it would entail of head-on nuclear confrontation with the United States, possibly leading to nuclear war. Certainly the United States would not easily accept a developing situation which, apart from its implications for the Middle East, would threaten to outflank NATO and put in jeopardy the whole defensive system of Europe and the West. Other considerations are the increased burden on the Soviet economy which would accompany an all-out program tending toward complete responsibility for the area. Politically, too, one can see problems. The Soviet Union has been learning that it is increasingly difficult to control so-called fraternal regimes in Eastern Europe. Nationalist Arabs would, if anything, be more intractable. An Arab unity brought about under the umbrella of a Soviet-dominated Middle East could also have unwanted repercussions among the thirty-odd million Muslims of the Soviet Central Asian republics.
On the other hand, a less aggressive policy than the present one, although cheaper and presumably easier to run, would appear to have little attraction, other than that of a reopened Suez Canal, at a time when the present policy is proving to be so successful. Detente in the Middle East will probably become attractive to the Soviet Union, if ever, as a result of events elsewhere. A sharpening of the quarrel with Communist China or internal difficulties within the Soviet Union itself would seem to be the kind of development that could produce such an effect.
The conclusion, then, is that on balance one can expect Soviet policy for the time being to continue more or less along its present lines; exploiting the opportunities in the area but seeking (as in 1958-67) to avoid direct confrontation with the United States and agreeing (as they did in September 1969 in New York) to participate in efforts to put some restraints on the Arab-Israeli conflict, if only to keep it from escalating into a general catastrophe.
In the face of this Soviet activity, the United States has sought to preserve the basic elements of its policy of even-handedness in the pursuit of peace and stability for the area. Even-handedness is usually difficult in the presence of an adversary bent on pushing one aside. And. so it has proven to be. Yet it was the United States that rearmed Jordan after the 1967 debacle. It has succeeded in maintaining relations with the conservative Arab regimes, although most of the radical regimes have yet to re-establish the broken diplomatic relations. But Egypt and Jordan presumably want to maintain contact with the United States for a variety of reasons. In the past they have depended to a great extent on American assistance and would benefit by its renewal. More immediately, as occupied countries they must value whatever influence the United States can exercise on Israel toward the withdrawal of the occupying forces.
The growth of the Soviet fleet has modified the balance of power in the Mediterranean, which is so far most apparent in the diplomatic arena and in Soviet ability to deny American naval units the use of certain ports. Of course that fleet does have the potential of a counter that could be interposed to shield Soviet clients in a situation where there might be a suggestion of United States military intervention. Or, as seems to be a fact today, it could shield Egypt’s Mediterranean shore from possible Israeli strikes. Yet as a fighting force it is far inferior to the Sixth Fleet. It has none of the striking power and I understand is essentially defensive in its makeup. Its firepower and number of units have been compared to those of the Italian fleet.
What is the United States likely to do in this situation? Alternatives to its present policy have been suggested. It could shift to all-out, unequivocal support of Israel or, alternatively, to support for the Arabs. Yet each of these hypothetical possibilities is without reality for various reasons.
I would suggest that the United States will continue as in the past to work both in and out of the United Nations for the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict if possible and at least for its containment. It will cultivate as best it can both conservative and radical Arabs and seek to reduce their hostility and assist them where possible on the road to development. The absence of diplomatic relations with certain of these governments is not of itself an absolute barrier to progress. Ours is a very diverse society, and our impact abroad is anything but limited to official channels and actions. At the same time I would assume that the deterioration of our position in the Mediterranean would impel the government to give renewed attention to the Northern Tier, Turkey and Iran, and to keep our fences mended in that strategic area. It might also consider augmenting our naval presence in the Persian Gulf.
This picture of the Middle East in the years immediately ahead is not a particularly encouraging prospect. Yet would it not be unrealistic to pin one’s hopes on an improbable miracle? There is no more complex area today than the Middle East, and the elements that make up that complexity are a fair guarantee that instability and strife and the confrontation of the super powers will continue to prevail in that part of the world for some time to come.
Ambassador G. Frederick Reinhardt (M.A., Cornell University) is Senior Director, Stanford Research Institute, Europe. From 1961 until his retirement in 1968 he was U.S. Ambassador to Italy. He began his government service on the International Boundary Commission, 1935, and was commissioned a Foreign Service Officer, 1937. Subsequent positions include Assistant to the U.S. Political Adviser, AFHQ (Mediterranean) and SHAEF (Europe); Consul General; Chief, Division of Eastern European Affairs, Department of State; Director, Office of Eastern European Affairs; Counselor of Embassy, Paris; Deputy for Civil Affairs, NATO Defense College; Special Assistant to SACEUR; Ambassador to Vietnam; Counselor, Department of State; Ambassador to the United Arab Republic; and Minister to the Kingdom of Yemen. He has been awarded the honorary LL.D. degree by the Universities of California and Gonzaga and by Mills College.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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