The Great Powers, the Arabs and the Israelis

Courtesy Reuters

During the months that followed the Arab-Israeli war of June 1967, the view gradually gained ground in the West that the Arab defeat represented a considerable Russian victory. Some more imaginative observers argued that the Russians had deliberately engineered both the war and the defeat in order to achieve this result; others, without going as far as to ascribe conscious purpose, nevertheless agreed that, by increasing the hostility of the Arabs to the West and their dependence on the Soviet Union, the crisis, the war and their aftermath had greatly strengthened the Soviet political and strategic position in the Middle East and correspondingly weakened that of the United States. Observers and commentators spoke with mounting anxiety about the growth of Soviet influence in the area and the threat which it offered to the interests of the free world.

More recent developments have suggested that this mood of dejection, like the vicarious euphoria which followed immediately after the Israeli military victory, is misplaced or at least exaggerated. The situation in the Arab lands and the attitude of their peoples and even governments are more complex and less one-sided than might appear. The Soviet Government has been sufficiently dissatisfied with the position to make repeated attempts-and with growing urgency-to change it. The latest of these is the four-power talks to devise, and possibly apply, a solution to the Arab- Israeli conflict.

The Israeli reaction to this proposal was predictably hostile. Of the four governments concerned, two appear to be firmly committed to the Arab cause, the other two are seen in Israel as practicing a kind of unilateral evenhandedness. This was exemplified in the debate at the Security Council over Israeli-Arab clashes at the very moment when the four-power talks were beginning. The United States and Britain wanted to condemn both sides; the Soviet Union, followed by France, insisted on condemning Israel only. In the Israeli view, a bench consisting of two impartial judges and two hostile advocates is unlikely to arrive at a

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