Once again the Middle East seems fated to become the main danger zone of world politics. During the last decade the East-West détente has prevented a head-on collision between the superpowers there, but many signs point to impending changes. As the Soviet Union reaches strategic parity with the United States, there is growing temptation for it to assert its strength in an area so much nearer Moscow than Washington. The Western withdrawal from the area will be complete with the British departure from the Persian Gulf. From the Soviet point of view the Middle East is a vacuum and seems the least risky area in the world in which to expand the Soviet sphere of influence. The Russian drive to the south which began in the eighteenth century seems at last likely to achieve fulfillment.
The Russians' strengthened position in the Middle East has come about not by coercion or infiltration but by invitation. The Soviet Union was officially asked to become a Middle Eastern power and was willingly offered the facilities it wanted by the governments of Egypt, Syria, Algeria and Yemen. No country has been taken over and communist ideology has not spread widely. Success has been due not to the activities of the local communist parties nor to loans and credits, nor to a very cunning diplomacy, but fundamentally to the internal ferment in the Arab world. In many respects the Soviet Union was an ideal ally for the radical Arab leaders, but ultimately it became a leading Middle Eastern power because it was geographically near, militarily strong and relatively rich. For these reasons it is idle to speculate whether the Soviet advance could have been prevented. Arab enmity toward Israel played an important role, but it was an aggravating circumstance, not the decisive factor. Soviet inroads made in Southern Arabia and Algeria, in Sudan and Somalia, have shown that the Arab-Israeli conflict was not a precondition for Soviet successes.
The communist parties played a relatively
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