CIA HISTORICAL REVIEW PROGRAM RELEASEAS9
THE GROWTH OF THE SOVIET COMMITMENT IN THE MIDDLE EAST
(Reference Title: ESAU XLIX)
THE GROWTH OF THE SOVIET COMMITMENT IN THE MIDDLE EAST
MEMORANDUM TO RECIPIENTS:
This study deserves careful attention because of the soberness of its message.
True, this examination of the sources of Soviet. Middle East conduct finds no master plan, no inexorable advance, no olol to extinguish Israel. The Soviets avoid high-risk courses and seek no Middle East war with the US. There is some uncertainty and hesitance within Soviet leadership concerning an assertive course. umber of forces act to complicate and restrain Soviet ambitions. Enhanced Soviet presence does not translate into Soviet dominance of any Arab state.
Nonetheless, this study illustrates the immense advantages the USSR enjoys in the Middle East, and the success Soviet leadership has had in exploiting thera.
Perhaps most importantly, this study points up the many forces which serve to restrict the USSR from reducing its Middle East bid. Each added commitment creates new defense concerns and heightens the prestige stakes. Hawkish pressures from within the Soviet militar and security services sharpen Brezhnev's caution not to be found soft on capitalism. The Soviet piecemeal railita commitments become steps which, once taken, cannot easily be reversed. Then, too, the USSR is to some degree the prey, and not the master, of its clients.
The study reminds us that the USSR is not fully in control of events in the Middle East: there are not only Soviet and US moves in play, but Arab, Israeli, fedayeen, and even Chinese. This doesertain common Soviet interest with the US in preventing irresponsible
local initiatives from embroiling the two great powers, but the Soviets haveairly keen sense of what the traffic will safely bear in the way of gaining unilateral advantage. There is no apparent Soviet interest at present in an Arab-Israeli settlement not largely on Soviet terms. There is no evidence that the USSR intends any Middle East halt or major retreat.
The resulting problems for the US are of course enormous. Not least, as the study emphasizes, any major improvement in the Middle East scene and any undercutting of Soviet political capital with the Arabs probably require sufficient Israeli territorial concessions to bringettlement.
This study lias received constructive commentwide number of other offices. Although there is abody of agreement with the judirments of theviews remain those of its author,
and of this Staff. We would appreciate receiving any comments on the study's data, argument, or conclusions. The study includes information received
THE GROWTH OF THE SOVIET COMMITMENT IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Russia enjoys enormous advantages in its abiding desire to expand southward. The Middle East istrategic vacuum. Turkish, British, and French power no longer frustrate Russian advance. The USistant power beset on many fronts. The rise of radical Arab nationalism restricts US efforts to generatecapital in the Arab world.
The Soviet advance has been uncertain and has brought many new problems. Soviet policy has frequently been bedeviled by the consequences of advance into the radical Arab world: the fragmentation and mutual of many of those regimes, the complexities of their intrigues against one another, and the irrationality of many of their acts. Nonetheless, the USSR has been without economic investments in the area to defend, without ties to creaky feudal governments, and largely free of the colonial taint which has accrued to the US. And, post-Stalin leadership has shown considerablein exploiting opportunityand creating Soviet political strength in the area.
But, superimposed on these forces, it is primarily the Israel issue which has aggravated difficulties for the US and caused the Arabs to gravitate toward Soviet support. To the Arab radicals, the key role played by the US in the creation and support of Israel has served as the basic, irrefutable evidence of the essentially "malevolent and imperialist" intentions of the US. This alienation has been worsened over the years by the severe defeats Israel.has inflicted on the Arabseachgreater than the one before, and each creating new
The Arab-Israeli issue is also one which radical Aral) leaders have repeatedly usedoint of attack upon conservative Arab leaders and governments friendly to the US. Even the most moderate Arab leaders have, in self-defense, frequently succumbed to the temptation to accuse the radicals of hypocritical unwillingnessto challenge Israel. Rival Arab radicalssuch as Nasir and the Syrian and Iraqi Baathistshave similarly taunted each other. Over the years,demagogy of this sort has been one of the factors that has helped toettlement with Israel. What is more, it has sometimes led to competitiveof militancy against Israel against the better judgment of most of those involved. the Syrian regime which precipitated the chain of events that led to the six-day Arab-Israeli warand which was by far the most fanatical in its motivation of the threestates" bordering Israelwas the one which suffered the least.
Tho appearance of thesr forerunners was natched by the introduction of what were initially small Soviet naval forces in the Mediterranean alongside what was then tho overwhelming strength of the US Sixth Fleet. From these beginnings, thereapid expansion of the Soviet military presence following7 war.
7 war indeedurning point for the Soviet Union in the Middle East. Paradoxically, it was from this moment of deepest humiliation for the Soviet clients and embarrassment for Moscow that the USSR began to cash in on its political and economic Investment in the area, and commenced to draw important strategic dividends. The trend toward more direct Sovietin the Arab struggle with Israel in turnretext for the Soviets to use part of their military presence for purposes which have much more to do with Soviet military interests, both nuclear-strategic and regional, than with Egyptian security interests. The Soviet fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean which uses CAR ports may thus be portrayed as deterring US naval forces from attack on the Arab states, but the Soviets in fact soem more concerned withapability to neutralize those forces in the eventoviet war with the US. To some extent the Soviets may thus be said to bave succeeded where the British failed, in the, in harnessing Egypt to theajor protagonist in the cold war.
Regardless of how the political future of theEast unfolds, some Soviet military presence can henceforth be expected to remain in the area, if only because of the USSR's proximity and growing naval strength. And beyond this, the maximum Soviet military desires soon extonsive: it is apparently now tho hope of some Soviet military planners that the USSR can gradually gatherin Its own hands the old British Middle Easternelt of Soviet military domination from the Eastern Mediterranean through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea, the western Indian Ocean, and eventually, tho Persian Gulf.
It is by no Beans inevitable, however, thatgrandiose plans will be fulfilled. As theirbecome more apparent, the Soviets must deal with many of the same nationalist forcesthe British Kiddle East Defense Command schemetwenty years earlier. It is significant,that radical Arab states such as Algeriahave not found the Arab cause against Israelreason to yield tohintsfor base facilities in these countries.
There is, moreover, an inherent conflict between Soviet military and political aims on this question of bases. The Soviet military establishment's desire to expand its use of overseas facilities runs directly counter to the old Soviet claim that only theWest seeks foreign military bases, and never the USSR. It is probable that many in Moscow continue to feel that open acknowledgement of such facilities would be counterproductive. Besides any such ideological embarrassment involved, the Soviets may be influenced in part by past British and US experience with some military-bases which proved not a source of increased influence, but ajor drain on the political credit which allowed then to be established.
In short, before Soviet military forces had ever entered the Middle East, the Western political base in the area decayed first, and the Western military presence inevitably declined. The Soviet Unionolitical base first,oviet military presence has followed. But even now the Soviets do not "control" any of the Arab states they are exploiting against NATO and the US Navy, in the sense that they control, say, For one thing, the Soviet presence isto possible turnovers in the often volatile Arab governments. More important, the Soviets in the Middle East must alwaysuid pro quo. Tbe Soviot military presence is dependent on continued Arabof common political interests, and, as the Western presenco before it, is highly vulnerable to any future fundamental change In the political situation. Because
a final scUk'nipnt of the entire Arah-Israeli bring suchhange,even
the remote prospect ofettlement Is regarded with anxiety by certain Soviet military planners and intelligence officials.
A host of other ambiguities complicate the Soviet desire to expand its strategic position. One is the oil issue, and the powerful economic position occupied by the Western oil companies, which has inhibited Arab thoughts about nationalization since Mossadeq's day. Soviet lust for Middle Eastern oil isentral factor in tho Soviet policy mix. The oil of the Middle East today has some marginal significance to the Soviet Union in economic terms, particularlyotential future source of some additional hard currency which could be used to import Western technology and equipment. But Middle East oil appears clearly to notital Soviet national interest for which the Soviets would willingly sacrifice long-established political goals. Of far greater significance to the Soviet Union is theof the issue of the oil to weaken the political position of the US and strengthen that of the Soviet Union. Partly because of Soviet unwillingness to be saddled with the responsibility of guaranteolng the Arabs large-scale hard currency markets for nationalized oil, the USSR has sldcsteppod outright encouragement of nationalization. Compelled torontal assault on the oil majors, the Soviets have sought instead to persuade both France and the Arabs of the advantages of gradually replacing US oil interests with those of European statessuch as Franco.
Another subject of perplexity with the Soviet leadership has been the question of expenditures for Middle Eastern aid. Despite the contribution wich Soviet post-Stalin economic and military assistance to the Arab states has made in opening the doors of the Middle Eastoviet presence, nagging doubts have persisted in Moscow over whether the USSR has gotten its money's worth. The conduct of some of the radical Arab states has repeatedly brought to the fore the lssuo of
the degree oi influence that the Soviets actuallytheir money. ertain extent, the Soviotin the radical Arab states is indeed fortifiedvarying degrees of dependence on the USSREurope for economic and military assistance. Union's use or prospective use of bases forstrategic purposes in the UAR and Southern Yementied to Soviet assistance to those states. whila Soviet aid helps to ensure awith soaetimes recalcitrant recipientstie with theairly strong oneeaker one withhe Sovietsunable to translate such ties into more thanleverage over radical Arab policy. AtSoviets have been able to tip the balance onthe Arabs were already inclined to considerSoviets spend much of
their time reacting to Arab initiatives, often requiring frantic Soviet effortssometimes successful, sometimes notto head off unilateral Arab actions carryingor dangerous overtones.
Another complicating factor for the Soviets has been their continuing reluctance to abandon the Communist movements of the Middle East as instruments of policy, even when support of local Communists has conflicted with the post-Stalin policy of cultivating radical bourgeois nationalists. Soviet influence on most radical Arab regimes turns essentiallyonvergence of certain foreign policy interests, and despite some limitedgains, many Arab regimes that accept Soviet help remain acutely suspicious of Soviet efforts to exertin their domestic affairs. The Soviets haveto experience difficulty in Judging how far it is expedient to press the ruling left-wing nationalists for protection of the local Communists or pro-Communists or for an improvement in their political status. In the last few years, there has been some Soviet tendency to increase such pressures, with some limited success. In8 andew individuals believed to be Communists were in fact admitted to tho cabinets of Syria, Iraq, Sudan, and South Yemen,riend of the
Party and the Soviet Union temporarilyabinet member in Lebanon. But Communist Party influence in each such Arab regime remained fragmentary and precarious frequently insufficient to save the Party itself from sporadic repression and arrests or exilings. Ironically enough, despite the Soviet supply of military hardware to the radical Arab armies, opposition within the Arab regimes to cooperation with the local Communists has often been centered in the leadership of the armed, forces Mostotentially serious problem has begun to arise for the Soviet Union concerning the extreme leftist regime in South Yemen, from which the USSR may hope eventually to receive an air facility at Aden or Socotra. The UAR has become increasingly exercised in recent months over what it regards as Communistwithin this regime, all the more so because it came to power at the expense of another South Yemeni faction favored by Egypt.
Two additional factors render it difficult for the Soviet Union to maintain Middle Eastern tensioncontrolled" level. One is the sharp growth in theof Palestinian nationalism since7 war, and the consequent rise of the fedayeen. The Soviets have reluctantly adjusted their policy to the political impact of the fedayeen movementcrios of small, halting steps, moving from private disparagement of the guerrilla struggle against Israel7 to public endorsement of that struggle by Politburo members two years later. The Soviets have for over two yearsEast European states to sell arms to fedayeen groups for cash, and other bloc-made weapons have been donated to the. fedayeen by some radical Arab states with or without Soviet approval. But the Soviets havethus far toublicized donation of arms to the fedayeen because the USSR is unable to control them and does not wish identification either withfedayeen goals (the abolition of the state of Israel) or with extremist fedayeen tactics (such as kidnappings and hijackings). While the Soviets have not endorsed the fedayeen demand for abolition of Israel, Soviet propaganda has become somewhat more ambiguous on this score in the last year, occasionally speaking of
tho struggle to restore unspecified Arab "national" rights in Palestine. If there is no settlement, the groundwork has thus been laidossible further evolution of the Soviet position in the next few years to accommodate the Palesti ni ans.
At the same time, uccession of events in the summer0 has again reminded the Soviets of theto which certain of their primary interests in the Middle East run counter to those of the fedayeen. These events were the outburst of fedayeen opposition to the Israeli-Egyptian ceasefire endorsed by the Soviet Union; the crisis created by the PFLP airplane hijackings engineered to counter the ceasefire; and the greater crisis surrounding the September Jordanian civil war that followed the hijackings and Syrian intervention. The net effect was to dramatize for the USSR both how dangerous the fedayeen were for Soviet efforts torisks in the Middle East and how politically potent the fedayeen remained. In the aftermath, the Soviets have sought to claim credit for having allegedly helped to save the fedayeen from complete destruction, while continuing to court the Palestinians with aloof
Meanwhile, since almost the first moment of Soviet intrusion into the Middle East in, the Soviet leaders have been looking over their shoulders at the Chinese. Peking's indirect influence on Soviet conduct has been far out of proportion to the actual Chinese investment of effort in the area. Much of the Soviet tenacity in demagogic pursuit of unstable andforces such as the Syrians, Iraqis, fedayeen, et al. appears to derive at least in part from extraordinary sensitivity to Chinese competition for influence over these forces.
Over the years, one of the principal functions of the Chinese goad has been to increase the political costs to the Soviets of not accepting high risks in crisis situations. Quick to recognize the vulnerability of the USSR's qualified position on the fedayeen, the Chinese
have consistently attacked Soviet professions of desireeaceful settlement In the area, and Soviet criticism of fedayocn "extremists." Perhaps most importantly, Peking has never had diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv, and the Chinese have implied willingness to see Israel destroyed.
This Chinese attituderactical consequence for the Israeli evaluation of any proposed UN guarantee of a Middle East settlement. If added reason were needed for Israeli scepticism about the value ofuarantee, this would be provided by the prospect that Communist China mightecurity .Council seat within the next few years, championing In tho most demagogic fashion the views of those militant Arab states angry over any relative Soviet restraint toward Israel, possibly inducing the USSR in turn to harden its stand toward Israel to meet this competition, and in any case vetoing any Security Council Middle East resolution not hostile to Israeli Interests which the Soviets might conceivably be disposed to allow to pass.
But the most serious problem created for the Soviet leadership by their involvement in tho Middle East is the risk of military confrontation with the US. In general, the more intimately tho US has been involvedrisis, the more closely US military forces havo been placed to the geographic focus of the crisis, and tho greater the chance that those forces might be used, the more circumspect the Soviets have been. This has boon true under both Khrushchev and his successors.
Secondly, the post-Khrushchev leadership hasas dangerous and provocatory Khrushchev's practice in tho Suez crisis6 (repeated in7 crisis over Syria) of publicly brandishing, as an instrument of pressurerisis, an insincere throat to use military force. But while the present Soviet leadership in general disapproves of open bluffing, it committed another kind of bluff before7 war by encouraging Arab of its intention to stay out ofar, through calculated ambiguity.
Thirdly, the Soviet willingness to take risks in the Middle East obviously also varies with tho nature oi the radical forces on whose behalf or at whosethe risks would be run. One of the reasons for the great Soviet caution exhibited in the crisis over the0 Jordan civil war was clearly the lack of identification of Soviet interests with those of the fedayeen, and uncertainty concerning Chinese influence upon the most radical fedayeen groups. Unwilling toollision with the United Statesesulthain of events begun by uncontrollable Palestinians, the Soviets wereew degrees less reluctant to become involvedesult of adventurist actions by the self-willed Syrian regime. It should be noted in this respect that the Soviets did not sponsor or encourage the Syrian invasion of northern Jordan. And in contrast to allMiddle Eastern crises, in this case Soviet warnings to the United States were not accompanied byeiled or ambiguous threat to take any counteraction in the event of any specific Israeli or US move.
This particular reason for Soviet caution would apply much less, however, risis directly involving the UAR, the local regime to which the Soviets have most closely tied their interests. Despite the evidence of Soviet concerniddle Eastern crisis cause them to clash with the US, the Soviet relationship with Egypt-has drawn Moscow into acceptance of undesired risks. In particular, the question of tho degree of possible Soviet involvement in any future large-scale Middle Eastng has strain been made daneerouslv ambienoiiR.
When in January0 the critical situation created for Nasir by the Israeli deep penetration raids finally induced the Soviet leadership to yield to his entreaties and send Soviet air defense units tourning point was reached: sixteen years after the Britishreaty with Nasir abandoning their long-dominant military position in Egypt, forces of another great power had begun to take on combat
3 By the summer0 the distinction Between the war and peace had long been finessed by the Egyptian abrogation of the ceasefire and the creation of an state of hostilities just below the level of all-out war. Under these circumstances, with no sharp boundaries between levels of fighting to demarcateunder which the USSR would cease to be involved, it became much more difficult for the Soviet Union to extricate itself from involvement if the fighting should gradually escalate to the point of all-out Arab-Israeli war.
_Jhad said that the Soviet leadership was "very worried" about the event, presumably because of the implication that the USSR might have to increase its military commitment in Egypt even further in order to deal with Israel.
Thus, although the Soviet forces sent toin fact accomplished their primary mission ofIsrael from staging further deep-penetrationSoviet leadership had reason to grasp thea restoration of the ceasefire offered by thein the summer This ceasefirethe timerowing trend toward morecombat with Israeli forces which might soonto an escalation of the Soviet combat presencepossible US
reactions to such escalation in Soviet grappling with Israel, the USSR also has reason to want Egypt totoeasefire indefinitely.
Unfortunately for the Soviet leaders, while they can influence the Egyptian decision in this matter they do not have the decisive say. The Soviet need toolicy price for every Egyptian policy concession was illustrated after the ceasefire began by Sovietto assist the UAR in placing SAM missiles near the Suez Canal in violation ofcrownppi, f
The real risk accepted by the Soviets when they placed air defense forces in Egypt0 was not the moderate one posed by the immediate prospect of conflict with Israeli pilots. Rather, it was the fact that this Soviet involvement would make it more difficult for the USSR to avoid increasing its involvement when and if the
present situation should change for the worse. In short, the Soviets risk havinghirlpool, and if they are drawn in further they will no doubt protest at each stage that It is the US and the Israelis who are forcing then to take untoward risks. This process of greater and greater acceptance of risks through snail, discrete steps could ultimately bring the Soviets willy-nillyituation of serious risk of war with the US which their leaders would not have accepted if it had been offeredingle large choice, all at one time.
A central consideration in the matter ofin tho Middle East is of course theof US intentions and capabilities. If theto become convinced, for example, that for(domestic or external) the US Government isthan formerly fromiven actionrisks formerly considered out of thethe Soviets might now be somewhat downgraded. seem at present to be doubtful of the degreeany political considerations hinder theto use force in response to concretein areas whore the US already has both aand armed forces in being. The Soviets haveto believe that the Middle East is such anthe net effect of the US incursion Intothe spring0 was apparently to shakein tho predictability of US conduct andof domestic restraints on Presidential action, any event, during and since theyrian intervention in the Jordan civil war.have spoken and acted,.
as if theyigh rating to the possibility that" the United States might act forcefully in the Middle East.
Soviet actions in the Middle Eastand Soviet response to US actionsare impelled by the world view of most of the Soviet leadership requiring the maximum possible advance consistent with tho safety of the Soviet state. This urge to keep pressing ns far as
seems practicable (but no further) is driven in the first place by an underlying, implacable ideological hostility toward the USajority of the post-Khrushchev leaders feel more strongly than did Khrushchev. It is reinforced by awareness of the degree to which Soviet strength has increased sinceay, bothand in relation to the US. And finally, the Soviets appear particularly reluctant to retreat in the Middle East because of the special importance they assign to the advances over the US which they have made there and are now trying to consolidate.
The degree to which such attitudes are heldvaries within the Soviet leadership, and many of the leaders particularly General Secretary Brezhnev and his long-time adversary Shelepinalso seem to be swayed in advocating particular Middle East policies by judgments about their own personal Dolitical interests at each juncture, as much as by their opinions of Soviet interests. Brezhnev seems to be governed in large pari by his perceptions of the prevailing political wind among his colleagues and the forces immediately below them; Shelepin, by his desire toigorousprogram, tempered by his fluctuating view of the political risks. But while Brezhnev has often vacillated between the poles of Politburo opinion on foreign policy, Shelepin has appeared lo be one of those in the Politburo who are most in favorynamic, "forward" strategy of maximizing pressure abroad, and who therefore seem likely to rate the Soviet interest in the Middle East most highly, to favor the acceptance of greater risks than others would feel justified, andmost importantto lean toward the sanguine side in evaluating the evidence of US determination whenever that evidence is ambiguous.
On the other hand, those Politburo members who seem less strongly motivated by either Soviet great-power chauvinism, ideological hostility,ixture of both, who are less enamoredforward" strategy, and who are generally more sensitive to the economic advantages of detente may feci the acceptance of large Middle Eastern risks to be less natural for overall
Soviet interest's, and also may be somewhat more alarmist in measuring US capabilities and intentions. There is some evidence that Premier Kosygin is the leading figure on this side.
Actual Soviet policy, olitburohas wobbled between these extremes, tryingthe cake and eat it too; that is, attemptingan arrangement which would preserve someof Arab-Israeli tension, sufficient to influence yet somehow not sufficient toa soviet-US
are snepLicai auout cne leasmuity oj this naianciug act. They insistettlement of any typeven, one acceptable to UAR interests would be perilous for the Soviet position in the Middle East because it would reduce Arab dependence on thenion. Such people apparently also consider others in oviet regime as inclined to exaggerate theisfcs if no) is readied
sensitive. Even if an attempt to reshaoe policy such pressures fails utterly for the timeway have some ultimate effect if it modifiesof top opinion within which ihe Brezhnev operates. Heverberations of therisisto have had such an effect on the Sovii tburo. "
n: cummuistivuoi the
Suaa& risks to defend the UAR in7 debacle, of the predic:ubsequent Chinese sneers, of ther oilsowplaif ts, and
appears to have been to make the Brezhnev leadersnlp somewhat moreve to the political consequences of inaction in defense of therimary Uidd le Eastern interests. Brezhnev has become increasingly concerned to demonstrate both to the Party and to the military that his hand did not, and would not. tremble. Part of the groundwork lor the Polinprecedented decision to send some Sovlet forces to Egypt early in0 was thus almost certainly created by the disturbances C
While permi I: ting themselves to be led by the parallel evolution of Nasir's needs and Brezhnev's needs into this unprecedented commitment on the military side, the Soviet leaders have also allowed themselves tomost of the fluctuations in the Egyptian negotiating posture. Despite the oooosition to any agreement from some Soviet quarters, Brezhnev and the leadership majority seem sufficiently worried about the risks toettlement which would reduce tensions to, say, the level but only if it ettlement acceptable to their heterogeneous Arab clients, or at Least to the
UAR, their primary client, Nevertheless, the military risks still do not impress most Soviet leaders enough to justify either the personal political risk or the joint political sacrifice involved in exerting untoward pressure upon the Egyptian leaders to accept any settlement formula the Egyptians find politically intolerable.
It is true that the more moderate elements in the Soviet leadership appear to have been considerably alarmed by the events0 and mayto the extent that their influence and political courage permitsmake stronger attempts in the future to push the leadership consensus away from the acceptance of additional risks and toward.