Whatever objectives the Soviet Union may have in the eastern Mediterranean, they must be presumed to be part of wider policies, and inevitably the effects of activities there extend far beyond the states immediately concerned.
The sizable Soviet naval presence in the Mediterranean, coupled with access by the Soviet air force to bases in the United Arab Republic and elsewhere in North Africa, has changed the balance of forces in the region, making it quite quickly an area of confrontation comparable in many ways with that in continental Europe. Perhaps it is more dangerous because less easily delineated, and because it is tied into a passionate gladiatorial contest which neither the Russians nor the Americans can be wholly confident of controlling. The Israelis obviously, but also the Jugoslavs and Turks, must sleep less soundly in their beds.
An examination of Soviet foreign policies since World War II suggests a readiness to take advantage of Western weakness wherever it occurs, both to further specific Soviet interests and to improve the Soviet-Western ratio. Concessions and mutually helpful arrangements are almost invariably accompanied by pressure exerted or tension generated somewhere else. While some observers saw the American intrusion into Cambodia as a "signal" for Moscow's Middle East policy-makers that the United States is prepared to take strong measures if necessary, it is hard to see how this could have been convincing, especially in the light of the subsequent American withdrawal back into Vietnam and the delayed and limited American reaction to Soviet installation of surface-to-air missiles near the Suez Canal and to Soviet pilots flying MIG 21s in the same area. Surely these Soviet actions constituted a much stronger signal in the other direction, advising the United States post hoc of a new level of Soviet involvement in an area which has become-by accident, evolution, circumstances or design-of more significance to Moscow than to Washington, except perhaps in terms of a highly unlikely (because mutually undesirable) ultimate superpower confrontation.
Diplomatic advantage with the Arab
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