China’s New Vassal
How the War in Ukraine Turned Moscow Into Beijing’s Junior Partner
THE CONSEQUENCES OF DEFEAT
SINCE the end of the third Arab-Israeli war the vocabulary of Middle Eastern politics has been enriched with a new formula-"the removal of the consequences of aggression." The phrase presents some obvious difficulties of definition concerning the origin of the aggression, the nature of its consequences and the manner of their removal. All these are subject to a wide diversity of interpretations. However, the meaning of the Arab states in putting forward this formula as a demand is quite clear; it is that Israel is the aggressor, that the occupation of Arab lands and the departure of their Arab inhabitants are the consequences of aggression, and that these consequences should be reversed.
It is possible that in certain circumstances the conquerors might be willing to give up their conquests; it is even conceivable that the refugees might return-though this would make them unique among the countless millions in Europe, Asia and Africa who have fled or been driven from their homes in our brutal century. But far more has happened than the occupation of lands and the movement of peoples, important as these may be. In the world of reality, events cannot be unmade, and their effects persist, even when their results vanish. Sometimes these events are of such dimensions as to involve radical reassessments: governments reassess policies at the periphery of their interests and people at the center of crisis reassess their governments. It seems likely that the war and crisis in the Middle East in the summer of 1967 formed such a turning point. The four chief parties concerned-the Arabs, Israel, the Soviet Union and the West-must have been pondering the significance of these events and the lessons to be learnt from them.
The Russians were involved in the crisis from the start-indeed, without descending to the conspiratorial conception of history or returning to the polemics of the cold war, we can say with reasonable assurance that they had no small part in creating it. One contribution, which they shared with other powers, was the dispatch of large quantities of modern, sophisticated weapons to the area; another, more distinctively their own, was their unswerving support for the Arab states in any and every encounter, irrespective of circumstances. A good example of this is the recurrent problem of clashes on the Syrian-Israeli border. Most observers-and governments-were content to treat each incident on its merits and to blame one side or the other as seemed appropriate. But the Soviet Government invariably supported the Syrians, even when they were palpably in the wrong, and on several occasions even used its veto in the Security Council to save the Syrians from a mildly critical resolution. On November 3, 1966, the veto was applied against an inoffensive resolution sponsored, among others, by two African states-a remarkable indication of how far the Soviet Government was prepared to go in support of its Arab protégés.
This kind of action would in itself have led Arab governments to form a high-and, as it turned out, exaggerated-assessment of Soviet willingness to stand by them in a crisis. There is, in addition, some evidence of Soviet help at a more intimate level than the politics of the United Nations. Syrian gunnery on the border, it is said, showed a degree of professional efficiency out of accord with the previous and subsequent performances of the Syrian army; Syrian diplomacy, on both border issues and questions of oil transit payments, was conducted with a professional finesse that suggested greater reserves of skill and experience than are normally available to short-lived governments in Damascus.
In his television address on Friday, June 9, President Nasser explained how the crisis had begun. On May 15, he said, it had become clear from Israeli statements that they intended to attack Syria. This was confirmed by information from Syrian sources and also by reports from the Egyptian intelligence services. Moreover, "our friends in the Soviet Union informed the parliamentary delegation which visited Moscow early last month that there was a premeditated intention to attack Syria. It was our duty not to stay with our arms crossed. It was a duty of Arab solidarity, and also a guarantee for our national security." It was for this reason, said the President, that he had sent his forces to the frontier. This had led successively to the withdrawal of UNEF, the Egyptian occupation of Sharm el- Sheikh, and the declaration of a blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba, since "the passage of the enemy flag in front of our troops was intolerable, and inflicted the deepest wound on the feelings of the Arab nation."
President Nasser of course acted, as always, by his own choice, but we may believe him when he says that the original impetus came from Syrian and Russian warnings. Both Syrian and, what is more important, Russian spokesmen have throughout taken the same line. But were these warnings based on a genuine danger-or even on a genuine belief that such a danger existed? The evidence adduced, apart from vague references to information received, consisted of two points: an alleged concentration of large Israeli forces on the Syrian frontier, and menacing speeches by Mr. Eshkol. Neither piece of evidence amounts to much. The speeches were no more than routine warnings of reprisals in what had become a standardized pattern, intended to discourage Syrian and soothe Israeli hotheads-an exercise which should have been familiar to Arab leaders. The troop concentration, as is clear from the reports of the U.N. truce observers, never took place. The Syrians may have misread the situation and panicked; the Russians will not have done so, and the conclusion is inescapable that the Soviet Government, for reasons of its own, either planned or connived at the launching of what became a new and dangerous crisis in Israel-Arab relations.
The suggestion has been made that the Soviet purpose was to provide a distraction in the Middle East and thus relieve the pressure on Viet Nam. This would assume, first, that they intended, from the start, to create a major international crisis, involving the powers and especially the United States, and, second, that they counted on the willingness of the United States to become involved. Both assumptions seem unlikely. A more probable explanation is that they aimed at something much more limited and local, a scare rather than a crisis, and that its purpose was to save the tottering Syrian régime from collapse. The Soviets had invested a good deal of time, effort and money in the left-wing Baathist government and had achieved a closer relationship with it than with any other government not under communist control. In May 1967, that government, and with it the Soviet position in Syria, was in grave danger. It was already more than a year old- a dangerous age in Damascus. Based on an uneasy alliance between members of Muslim religious minority groups, it was unpopular with the Sunnis,[i] and further weakened by the split between Alawis and Druzes. Worst of all, some of its supporters had gratuitously antagonized the powerful Islamic establishment. Like other "revolutionary" and "progressive" régimes in the Arab world, the Baathists had confined their radicalism to politics and economics and had usually refrained from attacking Islamic beliefs, traditions or institutions. They had therefore encountered nothing more than the grumbles of a population accustomed to acquiesce in the vagaries of authoritarian government. There are, however, limits to acquiescence, and at the beginning of May the publication in an army-sponsored magazine of an article denouncing religion and belief in God evoked a menacing wave of popular resentment against a régime which now seemed to be threatening the most cherished values of a Muslim people. The government beat a hasty retreat, attributing the article to the C.I.A., but the damage was already done. The Baathists and their Russian backers may well have decided that a little diversion, based on the unfailing theme of Palestine, might be useful. As the crisis developed, and seemed to be tending toward a diplomatic victory for the revolutionary Arab states, and therefore for Russia, wider and more tempting prospects appeared-the collapse of Western influence, the consolidation of Russian influence in the revolutionary Arab states, and its extension to the remaining Arab states in the Middle East and North Africa.
In backing them so far, the Russians were clearly assuming that the Arabs would win-if necessary in a war, but probably without one. The West would be hypnotized into accepting Arab demands; Israel, abandoned by her Western friends, perhaps even under their pressure, would be forced to give way. The dispatch of a Russian fleet to the eastern Mediterranean, of a strength obviously insufficient to confront the U.S. Sixth Fleet, can only have been intended to overawe Israel, with American acquiescence. The world would learn that the friends of the Soviets prosper, while the friends of the West do not.
For a while the world seemed to be learning just that. The West faltered and fumbled; Israel, unsure of Western attitudes, hesitated; President Nasser, triumphant, threw caution to the winds. After nationalizing the Suez Canal in 1956, he had astutely sat back, declared himself satisfied and left the next move to his opponents. After closing the Straits of Tiran, he declared explicitly that this was a preliminary to the final confrontation with Israel, for which he was now ready. The other revolutionary Arab states were with him; even his Arab enemies felt obliged to make the necessary accommodations. That the Russians encouraged him to go so far is unlikely; they certainly did not prevent him.
The six-day war and its sequel showed that the Russians had failed badly in their military and political intelligence and assessments-not perhaps of the West, but of Israel and the Arabs. No doubt they were misled about the one by their own anti-Semitic stereotypes, about the other by the wishful thinking of their Arab informants. The correction of error is difficult in a dictatorship. By Monday evening, June 6, informed opinion-by Tuesday almost everyone in the free world-knew how the battle was going. It was not until Tuesday night (Wednesday morning in the Middle East) that the Soviet delegate to the U.N. agreed to an unconditional cease-fire. The extra time he had striven to gain for the Arabs served only to consolidate their defeat.
From Wednesday morning the signs multiplied that the Russians were engaged in a reappraisal-probably agonizing. They were surprised, disconcerted and very angry. Their public fury was directed against Israel; in addition, they were probably not unmoved by the swift collapse of Arab arms and by President Nasser's attempt, through the false charge of American and British participation, to drag them into war.
The Russians had reason to be angry. Soviet prestige-the reputation of Soviet arms and guidance, the value of Soviet friendship, the credibility of Soviet warnings-had received a damaging blow, with far-reaching repercussions. The Russians had suffered this blow because, through the extent of their commitment to the Arabs, they had in effect entrusted the safety of Soviet prestige to the keeping of Arab governments over which they had no real control. They had taken great chances, which turned out badly; they had done so for very dubious gains. The Arab leaders were very unwise to assume that the Soviets would accept, for their sake, risks which they had not accepted for Berlin or Viet Nam. This miscalculation was disastrous for the Arabs; it was also most unfortunate for the Soviet Union.
The root of the trouble was that the Arab governments, even that of Syria, were not satellites, and were therefore ultimately uncontrollable. The Soviet Government, in dealing with the Middle East, found itself in a position of responsibility without power-a reversal of its normal experience. It is not surprising that they were disturbed.
In this predicament, the Soviet leadership had, basically, a choice between two policies: either to consolidate its hold on the revolutionary Arab governments and transform them into satellites, or to attempt some measure of disengagement. This in turn is linked with the larger, global choice before them, between détente and coexistence, on the one hand, and active hostility toward the United States on the other. Both choices are affected by changing and conflicting pressures within the collective leadership which succeeded Khrushchev.
One of these pressures is that of the so-called Stalinists-more precisely, the exponents of repression and chauvinism. These circles are strongly affected by old-fashioned anti-Semitism, which can become a powerful factor in determining attitudes both toward a Jewish state and toward its enemies. The point is sometimes made that Jewish or pro-Jewish sentiments can lead to unbalanced and unrealistic policies. This is of course true. It is equally true, though less obvious, that anti-Jewish sentiments can have the same effect. The hysterical violence and traditional anti-Semitic symbolism of Soviet attacks on Israel show that the offenses of the Israelis, in Soviet eyes, were greatly aggravated by the fact that they were Jews. These Soviet reactions also suggest that one of the motives of a pro-Arab policy may have been a desire to hurt the Jews, and that this emotional impulsion may have warped the judgment of policy-makers and led them to a degree of indulgence to Arab wishes which was ultimately harmful to Soviet and even Arab interests. This phenomenon is not unknown in other countries; in the Soviet Union it was not countered or corrected by any pressure, emotional or otherwise, in the opposite direction.
Anti-Jewish prejudice may have pushed the policy of supporting Arab nationalism to ill-judged extremes; it was not of course the sole or even the main motive for this policy, which rested on a fairly realistic assessment of the condition of the Arab world and the importance of the Middle Eastern bridgehead for Soviet activities in Asia and Africa.
This importance was enhanced, rather than reduced, by the Arab defeat, and for the moment there was much to tempt the Russians into a closer involvement. The régimes they had supported were in danger of overthrow, with further damaging effects to Soviet prestige. China seemed ready to usurp Russia's place as the patron of Arab nationalism, and was gaining the support of Arab communists. The blow to Western influence, on the other hand, was far heavier than to Russian influence, and affected even those countries that were under conservative régimes. For a while the Russians seem to have toyed with the idea of establishing communist régimes in the Arab lands-and then to have abandoned it as too dangerous.
It is not difficult to see why. To transform the Arab countries into satellites would be an expensive, difficult and hazardous operation, and would never be safe unless the régimes were sustained, as in Eastern Europe, by the threat or presence of Soviet force. Even in Eastern Europe, this policy has become precarious; it would be still more so in countries that have no land frontier with the Soviet Union. Moreover, such an intervention in the Arab lands would endanger the new, hard-won and greatly valued understanding with Turkey and Iran-both of them, despite their recent rethinking, still members of Western-oriented alliances. In addition, it soon became clear that the Chinese menace was not yet a serious factor, and that the collapse of Western influence was by no means as complete as had at first appeared. The Syrian episode had shown that Islam was still the strongest loyalty of the people, and that outraged Islamic feelings could still shake or destroy a government which really tried to enforce its "progressive" and "revolutionary" principles. An attempt to create "popular democracies" could arouse very powerful forces indeed.
Finally, and most important of all, the danger of a direct confrontation with the United States remained. It was this danger that had induced the Soviet Government, at the height of the crisis, to draw back from armed intervention to save the Arabs. An adventurous policy in the Middle East could easily lead to a new danger of confrontation-and to another withdrawal, with even more damaging effects on Soviet prestige. In avoiding an entanglement with the Arabs and a collision with the United States, the Soviet leadership would be faithful to tradition. During the centuries of expansion, by which the principality of Muscovy grew into the great Russian Empire, the greater Soviet Union and the still greater Soviet bloc, two principles were almost always respected: to advance by land into adjoining regions to which troops and settlers could easily be moved, and to avoid a clash with a superior or even an equal power.
The dilemma of the Soviet Government was acute. A closer involvement in the Middle East was too dangerous-yet disengagement seemed politically impossible. The collective leadership could not make the sudden changes of policy that were possible for Stalin or Khrushchev; the internal pressures were too strong, and the status of the Soviet Union as a superpower was heavily committed. The Russian demand to Egypt, at the time of President Podgorny's visit, for a purge of bourgeois elements in the Egyptian Government and army, could be interpreted either way-as a prelude to Bolshevization or to abandonment. As an emergency measure, an airlift of arms was organized, to save the Nasserist and Baathist régimes from collapse. But while Soviet prestige clearly required that these régimes survive the war and its immediate aftermath, it did not necessarily require their indefinite continuance, and there are some indications that the Soviets have begun to regard President Nasser as expendable. It is still too early to assess the future development of Soviet policy in the Middle East, nor indeed is it certain that this policy has yet been decided. Much will obviously depend on the attitudes of the Western powers and, above all, of the United States.
There are, however, some signs of its probable direction. The Soviets will certainly continue to give vociferous support to the Arab case against Israel, especially at the United Nations. They will try to salvage their battered prestige and hope that, as on previous occasions, they will find someone in the West to help them in this task. But in all probability they will take care not to get into a position again where their prestige can be endangered by governments and armies which they do not control. The most likely development is a policy based on relations with individual Arab states rather than on Arabism, and aimed at the kind of relationship that they have sought to establish with Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. The question is how far they will be allowed to extricate themselves if they desire to do so.
Like the Soviet Union, the Western powers have been able to draw certain inferences from what has happened. For a while it seemed that the West, and particularly the United States, had been outman?uvred. The ring was closing around Israel; even pro-Western Arab rulers, whatever their real feelings, were lining up behind President Nasser. Communist Russia could support Arab nationalist demands to the full; the United States and Britain, captives of their own freedom and their own standards, could not, and were thus forced to appear as enemies of the Arabs. Their only choice was of what kind: as enemies to be respected and conciliated, or to be despised and ignored. For the United States, a far more terrible choice was being prepared-whether to abandon Israel to destruction, or to be trapped in a land war in Southwest as well as Southeast Asia.
Fortunately for the United States, no such choice was needed. Through no particular wisdom or merit of their own, the Western powers emerged from a dangerous situation with what turned out to be only minor injuries. Like the Russians, they had learned that their control over their friends was very limited. They were fortunate in that the state which was generally regarded as their protégé did not need to be rescued. The danger remained.
For a while, it seemed that despite their failure against Israel, the Russians had won a considerable political success against the United States and Britain, which found themselves being ignominiously evicted from most Arab countries. But even this was deceptive. The two most powerful Arab weapons against the West-the oil boycott and, for Britain, the sterling balances-both proved ineffective. The stoppage of oil exports did greater and swifter damage to the sellers than to the buyers. Arabian money transferred from London to Switzerland, at low or no interest rates, found its way back to London, to earn high interest for its new custodians. Even the closing of the Suez Canal did less harm than was feared, and for the United States even brought some marginal advantage-some additional exports and the slowing down of Russian supplies to North Viet Nam. The inconvenience to Britain was more serious, but much of this was of a transitional nature, until new arrangements could become fully effective. The heaviest sufferers were India, some other Asian and East African states, and above all the Egyptians themselves.
As the flames and the dust subsided, there were signs that the damage to Anglo-American diplomacy was less severe than had at first appeared. Some Arab leaders were beginning to wonder whether they were wise to identify themselves entirely with one camp in the global conflict, and whether indeed they had chosen the right one. Before very long, several Arab states began to make overtures to the West, and even President Nasser flew a kite, no doubt expecting, on the basis of past experience, that Western governments would respond with eager gratitude to the opportunity once again to feed his people and sustain his régime. This time, however, he had overestimated the American capacity to absorb calumny, abuse and injury, and the response from Washington was disappointing. In London he fared somewhat better, though the extent of British complaisance, and its value to Egypt, are still not clear.
That President Nasser should have found it necessary to seek London's good offices-for pressure in Jerusalem or intercession in Washington-is a measure of the failure of another kind of Western policy, that of General de Gaulle. Previous French policy toward Israel had been based on the assumptions that nothing could be achieved with the Arab states, and that one small ally in the Middle East was better than none at all. In a calculation unconnected with the Middle East, both assumptions were now abandoned. By supporting the Russian and Arab line against Israel, the General incurred some immediate losses-in the political and commercial good will of Israel, and in the confidence of Europe, at a time when the credibility of his friendship was rather important to him. In compensation, he gained warm words from Moscow and the Arab capitals. Whether he will gain any more from them is dubious. They for their part have already learnt that his support made no real difference to them; they are unlikely to pay for more than they receive.
In the West as in Russia the question that arises is a basic and simple one- how much trouble is the Middle East worth? On both sides there seems to be a growing appreciation of the advantages of disengagement-as far as is feasible-from an area of high risks, great costs, dubious returns and, above all, of diminishing importance, as it is being bypassed by strategic, economic and technological developments and overshadowed by the urgent problems of East Asia. These must, increasingly, dominate political and strategic thinking in Washington and Moscow.
For the powers of the Communist and Western blocs the possibility exists, however remotely, of extricating themselves from the Middle Eastern quicksands. No such possibility is open to the countries of the Middle East, which must make the best they can of conditions in their area- including, for as long as may be necessary, the policies of the great and not-so-great powers. The lessons of the war will thus appear to these countries in a somewhat different form.
What Israel learnt is what victors always learn from victory-that is, that they were right all along. On two points in particular the crisis and war confirmed Israeli beliefs: that their survival depended, ultimately, on their willingness and ability to fight for it, and that they could not trust the United Nations, where their enemies had a built-in position of advantage. The Soviet veto in the Security Council is always available to the Arabs, even on the most trivial matters; the combination of the Communist bloc and the quaintly named "nonaligned" states in the General Assembly is sufficient to prevent any solution acceptable to Israel, if not to enforce one acceptable to the Arabs. "If the Arabs table a resolution tomorrow that the earth is flat," said an Israeli minister, "they can count on at least 40 votes."
Reliance on their own military and political strength in the Middle East and mistrust of "United Nations auspices" are two basic Israeli conclusions from recent events. A third is that, of all the powers of the outside world, the only one that really matters to Israel is the United States. Even in the euphoria of victory, Israelis know that American good will is fundamental to them. Basically, there are three things that Israel wants from Washington: first, to deter the Russians, as in June 1967, from direct military intervention against them; second, to refrain from imposing, alone or with others, a solution which Israel judges contrary to her interests; third, to ensure that Israel's armaments do not fall dangerously below the level of the Arab states. In other words, they wish to be sure that the Americans will neither undermine their position nor allow Russia to do so. Given this assurance, they feel confident that they can cope with their Arab neighbors. The ultimately more serious problem of their Arab subjects, with its implications for the whole future of their state, society and ethos, remains unresolved, and there is little sign of agreement, inside Israel, on how to tackle it.
A victory, said the Duke of Wellington, is the greatest tragedy in the world, except a defeat. The Arabs suffered this greater tragedy, and the problems confronting them-problems of understanding and of action-have a terrible urgency quite different from the milder dilemmas of the Americans, the Russians, even of the Israelis.
The first and obvious question was-what went wrong? Why had they suffered a double defeat-a military defeat in the field, at the hands of a nation inferior in numbers, weapons, territory and resources, and a political defeat at the United Nations, despite every appearance of overwhelming political superiority? At the moment of crisis and war, it was the Arab states which found themselves isolated from world opinion, and even some of those governments which supported them were clearly acting against their own public opinion at home.[ii] Even the full mobilization of the Soviet regular and auxiliary forces in the General Assembly failed to secure the necessary majority for the resolutions that the Arabs wanted. It was a political defeat hardly less striking than the military defeat which had preceded it.
War and defeat are the classical motors of social and political change. Sometimes they lead to major transformations, as in Germany and Russia after the First World War; sometimes to a mood of sullen resentment and withdrawal, as in the South after the American Civil War, and in Spain after 1898. Defeat is especially cogent when inflicted by the carriers of another civilization with a different and challenging religion or ideology. The defeat in Palestine in 1948 was the first such shock suffered directly by the Eastern Arabs. The earlier defeats at the hands of West and East European imperialism had been sustained by the Turks and Persians, who, as the dominant peoples of Islam, had shielded the Arabs from the realities of politics and war. The vague encounters of the Anglo-French period added little of value to their experience; on the contrary, by providing easy victories over embarrassed and halfhearted opponents they fostered a dangerous illusion of strength.
The shock of defeat in 1948, in place of the expected victory parade, was all the greater in that it was inflicted, not by the mighty imperial powers, but by the despised and familiar Jews. The nakba (disaster), as the Arabs called it, gave rise to an extensive literature, much of it concerned with the political and military blunders of Arab leaders, but some of it, as for example the well-known works by Mr. Musa Alami and Professor Constantine Zurayk, attempting to penetrate to the deeper social and cultural causes of the Arab failure.
Politically, the defeat was seen as a failure of the régimes-the parliamentary and constitutional monarchies and republics-which had conducted the war. The lesson learnt was the need for a more radical and more violent approach. The traditional and authoritarian régimes, as in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, managed to survive, but the régimes in Syria, Egypt and Iraq were swept away. They were succeeded by military governments, with programs of revolutionary change, later designated socialism, and of Arab nationalism. In international relations, their anti- Western attitudes gradually became pro-Soviet, when the Soviet Union finally emerged as the most serious and dangerous antagonist of the West and of Western civilization.
The second defeat, in 1956, brought no comparable soul-searching or upheaval. This was because the military defeat was compensated by a great political victory, and because the significance of the struggle was blurred by myths. Three beliefs, in particular, shaped Arab thinking on these events: first, that Egypt was defeated by France and Britain, not just by Israel; second, that a cause of defeat was Arab disunity, which left Egypt alone to face the tripartite attack; third, that Egypt was saved from the consequences of defeat by the intervention of Russia, her new friend since the previous year.
The third of these is an obvious myth-a successful combined effort of delusion and self-delusion. The record of October and November 1965 makes it quite clear that the Soviet Government did not speak out until the American President and other spokesmen had explained, not once but several times, that the United States did not support Britain, France or Israel, and disapproved of their action. Then and only then did the Soviets take up the Egyptian cause and utter dire threats against the aggressors. And even after that, they were powerless to secure the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, which was brought about by the American Government alone. Yet the myth of the Soviet rescue became an article of faith, and was reaffirmed by King Hussein in Moscow as late as October 3, 1967.
The military myths were more excusable, and were, in part at least, solidly based on fact. Egypt had indeed fought alone; Israel had not. The Egyptian interpretation of events was further encouraged by a flow of revelations and confessions.[iii] The study of these revelations may well have contributed to President Nasser's-perhaps also to Moscow's-misjudgment of the relative military and political strengths of Israel and Egypt.
The myth of 1956-Egypt, alone, embattled and ultimately victorious against three enemies-stood for more than ten years. The events of 1967 should finally have dispelled it. This time the defeat was political as well as military. Three Arab states on Israel's borders, with help from others, were overwhelmed by Israel alone. There have been attempts to refurbish the old myths and create new ones; they have had only limited success.
There is still little willingness to face the facts-far less than in 1948- 49, when discussion was still free and often realistic. The relatively minor defeat of that time was called nakba, disaster. The far greater defeat of 1967 is firmly labelled naksa, setback. This word is used even in press translations or summaries of foreign comments, and serves to render such terms as defeat and disaster, which are tabu. The universal adoption of this word is a striking example of the nationalization of language and its use to control thought and conceal reality.
Discussion so far has been mainly on the tactical level, and has concentrated on such things as military and political errors and unwise propaganda. In some Arab countries, as for example, in North Africa and South Arabia, rulers and leaders have been quick to draw inferences from the new balance of power within the Arab world, and to realign their policies accordingly. There are as yet few outward signs of any desire to examine the deeper causes of the Arab predicament: the basic weaknesses of Arab society in an age of disruption and transition; the inadequacy of Arab political structures and ideas;[iv] the widening sociological and therefore technological gap.
What are the prospects of peace in the Middle East? In the outside world, the realists, like other people, are divided into two groups: the pro-Arab realists, who say that it is unrealistic to expect the Arabs to recognize Israel, and the pro-Israel realists, who say that it is unrealistic to expect Israel to relinquish her gains without substantial guarantees. Stated in this form, the two views are mutually exclusive-and both could well be right. There is, however, a faint hope that the Arabs may in the last resort prove less implacable than the pro-Arabs in their hostility to Israel. One Arab leader, President Bourguiba, was prepared, however reluctantly, to accept the fact of Israel's existence even before the war. Other leaders in the East may be coming to the conclusion that some form of recognition is the least disagreeable of the alternatives that face them. The problem remains whether, in a context of unstable régimes, contested succession and external incitement, they will have the courage and ability to act on such beliefs.
In the past, it has sometimes been argued that the Arab-Israeli conflict prevents great-power agreement, sometimes that the great-power conflict prevents the Arabs and Israelis from coming to terms. Certainly outside intervention has more than once increased tensions, provoked crises and prevented solutions. The effect of the United Nations on problems in the Middle East and elsewhere has often been like that of modern medicine on major diseases-enough to prevent the patient from dying of natural causes, but not enough to make him well. Chronic invalidism is not a happy state.
It may well be that the best hope for the Middle East lies in its diminishing importance, which may in time lead to the great powers losing interest in the area. This would not be the first time. The decline of European interest in the Middle East in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and its effects, are well known. An earlier example may be found in the fourth century A.D., when the last of a long series of wars between Rome and Persia came to an end. While the struggle between the two great powers of the ancient world continued, both were active in Arabia- politically, militarily, commercially. During the long peace from 384 to 502 A.D., both lost interest. During the centuries of neglect, the trade routes were diverted, the caravan cities abandoned and much of Arabia reverted to nomadism.
It would not be easy for the great powers to lose interest and might well be painful for the Middle East, where the final fulfillment of the long- standing demand for the end of imperialism could have disconcerting political and economic effects. Without foreign stimulation, there would be grave danger of deterioration and regression; without foreign irritants, there might also be some hope of peace.
[i] At one time the Baathist government was known as the 'Adas (lentil) régime-an acronym of 'Alawis, Druzes and Isma'ilis.
[ii] The line-up raises difficult problems for those who believe that economics and ideology, not politics, are the determining factors in international as in other affairs.
[iii] Notably by General Dayan's "Diary of the Sinai Campaign" (Hebrew, 1965; English translation 1966) and by the publication in the spring of 1967, in The Times, of London, of Mr. Anthony Nutting's account of the Suez crisis, later brought out in book form, "No End of a Lesson: the Story of Suez."
[iv] It is striking that, of the three Arab armies engaged, the Jordanian, with every disadvantage of numbers, terrain and armament, acquitted itself best. Simple, old-fashioned tribal and monarchical loyalties were more effective in maintaining morale than the revolutionary nationalism of Egypt and Syria.