Courtesy Reuters

Realignments in the Middle East

Nineteen eighty-four was a year of realignment throughout the Middle East, a year not of the soldier, but of the diplomat and the politician. The war in Lebanon abated; the war in the Persian Gulf sputtered along without clear outcome or design. Syrian’s renewed ascendancy in Lebanon and the continuing threat to the whole region from Iran’s militancy contributed to an intense round of diplomatic maneuver among moderate Arab countries, notably Egypt and Jordan. The United States, extricated from its Lebanese misadventure, helped to limit the Gulf war and provided military support to friendly countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Soviet Union, taking stock of a series of substantial setbacks in the region since 1979, and finding Syria and Libya to be less than reliable partners, was striving to extend its diplomatic influence among those same Arab moderates, either directly or through its only faithful protégé, South Yemen.

Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran was unwavering in its revolutionary rhetoric and its determination to eliminate domestic rivals such as the Tudeh (Communist) Party. Eager to break the stalemate with Iraq, it periodically threatened to extend the war southward to other Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Yet, in its continuing acute need for earnings from oil exports and for imports of weapons, Teheran felt some incentive to present a more normal diplomatic image to the world at large.

Israel went from war in Lebanon into the most severe economic crisis since the founding of the state. The Israeli system responded to the challenge with the formation of a remarkable, broad national coalition which, if it could endure, held substantial promise of political as well as economic regeneration. And Turkey, well along in its own recovery from an earlier economic and political crisis, reaffirmed its role as America’s oldest ally in the region even as it reached out for closer economic and political relations with its Middle Eastern neighbors.

President Reagan’s September 1982 plan for a West

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