The Middle East: A Year of Turmoil

Once again events in the Middle East and adjacent areas dominated the world situation in 1980. To Americans, the inability to obtain the release of the 52 diplomats held hostage in Tehran since November 1979 was particularly dismaying. But of even greater underlying importance was the inability to mount a firm allied or regional response to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, where a grinding and brutal war went on with no sign of ending. In the fall, military conflict broke out between Iraq and Iran, again with no end in sight and with consequences for oil supply that by the end of the year had further tightened market prospects, and caused a new jump in oil prices. Finally, the Camp David process-which the Carter Administration had regarded as its greatest achievement-bogged down over issues of autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza that lay at the core of any hope for settlement of the issues between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

So it was a grim year for the peace of the area and for American policy there. Leaders in friendly Arab states, and in Israel, had already been shaken (rightly or wrongly) by the inability of the United States to do anything to preserve the Shah or forestall the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79-perhaps the most destabilizing event in the Middle East in the past decade. Now they watched as President Carter sought in vain for ways to negotiate the hostage issue or bring effective pressure to bear on the Ayatollah Khomeini and company, and finally resorted to a rescue attempt that aborted through mechanical failure in the transporting helicopters. When the United States sought to strengthen its one-time ally, Pakistan, as a key part of its response to the invasion of next-door Afghanistan, it became clear that General Zia ul-Haq would accept American help only under a new treaty commitment-and perhaps not even then-that he simply had no confidence that America had the power or the will to protect Pakistan in the event of reprisals from the Soviet forces now (as Pakistan put it) at the Khyber Pass itself.

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