Policy Statement Prepared in the Office of Near Eastern Affairs1
top secret

Regional Policy Statement: Near East

(Third revision)2

1. estimate of the situation

A. Stability and Orientation

NSC memorandum “Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East—Basic US Position”, approved November 24, 1947,3 states:

“The security of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East is vital to the security of the United States.”

The report to the President by the NSC entitled “United States Policy Toward Israel and the Arab States”, dated October 17, 1949 (NSC 47/2)4 states that the political and economic stability of Israel and the Arab States are considered to be of critical importance to the security of the United States.

The Arab States are all oriented towards the West in varying degrees, opposed to communism, and generally successful at present in minimizing or suppressing existing communist activities through restrictive measures. Their governments are conservative and generally stable from the short-term point of view. The Communist Party is non-existent in Yemen and Saudi Arabia; outlawed in Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, and apparently unorganized in Jordan. There are influential groups such as the National Democratic Party of Iraq and the group associated with Akram Hawrani in Syria which are leftist but not sympathetic to communism. Throughout the Arab States, at the present time, extreme rightist* or ultra-nationalist elements may exercise greater influence and form a greater threat to maintenance of a pro-Western orientation than the communists; for example, the presently outlawed Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt; the organization of the same name, active in Syrian political affairs as the Islamic Socialist Party; the Independence Party in Iraq and [Page 272] the Arab Higher Committee and other groups centering around the ex-Mufti of Jerusalem. In addition to the influence of rightist and ultra-nationalist groups, the degree of ease with which military groups have seized and manipulated power in Syria threatens stability since it may encourage similar recourse to military coups elsewhere in the Arab States.

The political foundation in all the Arab States is weak, because of serious deficiencies in their economic and social structures, the incompetence or apathy of leadership, and the weakness or absence of popular support for the governments in power, although elections in Syria, Jordan, and Egypt during 1949–50 indicate some advance towards more representative government. The continuation of the present internal situation in the Arab States, in which mass poverty and a low level of productivity prevail, will render them increasingly susceptible to exploitation and manipulation by extremist forces of the right or left.

Although the communists are endeavoring to penetrate discontented minorities, laborers, peasants, the poor white collar class and the intelligentsia in the Near East, and to exploit the anti-Western orientation of ultra-nationalist elements, at the present time the Soviet Union does not appear to be exercising direct pressure upon the governments of these states, nor to be taking full advantage of the considerable opportunities which exist for effective communist penetration and subversion. The diminution of direct Soviet pressure or propaganda against the Near Eastern states together with the increasingly sharp criticism of the West is undoubtedly a Soviet tactic to wean the Near East away from the West. The Soviet Union may well believe that, without making a maximum effort, conditions in the Near East are such as to favor the ultimate attainment of its objectives, namely, to bring about abandonment of the area’s pro-Western orientation and replacement of the governments now in power by governments amenable to Soviet influence.

Israel, although it continues to maintain an official policy of non-identification with the East or West, is favorably disposed toward the United States. Its moderate socialist government, dominated by the Mapai Party, is stable and energetic, and pursues a progressive program. The Communist Party is numerically small and has little influence. The Mapam left-wing pro-Soviet socialists, constituting the chief opposition to the present government, have also suffered some decline in strength and internal solidarity. The rightist groups, such as the General Zionists, in recent municipal elections gained considerable strength. Rightist extremist groups are no longer of major significance on the immediate political scene. However, the necessity on the part of the government of maintaining an internal [Page 273] policy of compromise in order to reconcile the demands of leftist and rightist extremists with the more moderate tendencies of the government party makes it more difficult for the government to adopt a forthright Western orientation.

Israel’s stability is threatened by the lack of a peace settlement with the Arab States. The almost complete dependence of Israel on external assistance, both public and private, for meeting its import and other payment requirements makes it apparent that Israel has little capacity to service loans from its current foreign exchange receipts. Israel requires greatly increased imports for economic development to sustain its immigration program, but the results in increased production will only ameliorate Israel’s balance of payments difficulties. The large-scale immigration program which Israel continues to pursue increasingly weakens its economic structure, exceeds the country’s absorptive capacity, and aggravates Arab fears of Israeli expansion.

Despite relinquishment of her mandates in the Near East, Great Britain continues to exercise considerable influence in some of the Arab States, through close diplomatic relations with these states; the presence of British advisors in key ministries; and the mutual defense treaties with Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, although the latter two treaties are now being subjected to strong criticism, particularly in Egypt. Great Britain also enjoys special political and economic relations with the Persian Gulf states, Muscat and Oman through its system of treaties with these states and through its position in Aden Protectorate and Aden Colony. There are also extensive British commercial, petroleum, and investment interests in the Near East.

With termination of the French mandates in Syria and Lebanon, French influence has been limited to a measure of control of the Syrian and Lebanese currencies and to cultural and economic ties, particularly with Lebanon with the passing of French authority, Syria and Lebanon lack the stabilizing influence of a close attachment to any Western power. Syria, because it has been weakened by a succession of military coups, constitutes a particularly sensitive danger spot in the Near East, although constitutional government has been, reestablished and there is hope that Syria may be entering a more stable period.

The United States enjoys an especially close relationship with Saudi Arabia, and Yemen is seeking closer ties with the United States. However, despite the general pro-Western orientation of the Arab States, a factor which affects achievement of our objectives is the tendency of these states to regard United States policies and actions as motivated by Zionist pressures or as efforts to strengthen Israel. Arab suspicions derive also from a conviction that American interest in the Near East arises only from a desire to contain communist expansion. With the decline of British influence and the extension of [Page 274] United States interests in the area, there is also a growing tendency to blame us, along with or in place of Great Britain, for the difficulties confronting the Arab states, and to accuse us of adopting our policies to conform with those of the United Kingdom and France, who are regarded as imperialistic, or of preoccupation with Europe’s needs while ignoring those of the Near East. The latter attitude will become aggravated in proportion to the increase in US aid to South and Southeast Asia. Among increasing numbers of Arabs, there is also a conviction that we are backing the corrupt governments now in power, without regard to the welfare of the masses.

Through United States governmental and private aid to Israel, the increase of American investment capital therein, and the close ties between Israel and the American Jewry, a closer affinity of interests is developing in practice between the United States and Israel than exists between Israel and the Soviet Union and we should be in position increasingly to strengthen Israel’s ties with the West. The process of strengthening these ties may well be limited, however, by the continuing immigration of peoples, particularly from Eastern Europe.

In Israel there is considerable belief that our major policy interest in that state is to bring about its participation in a power bloc in which it, like other small countries, will be merely a pawn of the United States. Israel’s desire to maintain a position of outward neutrality is also motivated by its efforts to obtain Soviet permission for the emigration to Israel of Jews in the Soviet and satellite countries; by its desire for the support of the Soviet bloc in the United Nations on matters affecting Palestine; by consideration of the position of a considerable segment of the population which is opposed to an anti-Soviet policy; and possibly by a desire to obtain further arms from that source if the necessity should arise. A prevailing impression which has vitiated the effectiveness of our policy in the past is the Israeli view that there is a sharp diversity of attitude or of policy between the White House, which is regarded as friendly to Israel, and the Department, which is considered pro-Arab. In addition, there is a conviction in Israel that the United States supports British policy, which is regarded as strongly pro-Arab.

Although the atmosphere of insecurity which prevails among the Near Eastern states has been heightened by the Korean situation, an indirect source of strength lies in application of the Truman doctrine to Greece and Turkey,5 our material assistance thereto, and the Anglo-French defense guarantees to Turkey. However, it is doutful whether these factors have contributed to the relaxation of tensions in the [Page 275] neighboring Near Eastern states and to an increase in their sense of security. The peoples in the Levant states and Egypt are impressed with the importance of the side which shows strength. The success of our proposed aid program for Iran in enhancing its ability to resist Soviet and communist penetration or subversion would further strengthen the Western orientation of the Near Eastern states. Conversely, failure of our Iranian program or submission of Iran to Soviet pressure would greatly increase the feeling of insecurity and exposure on the part of the Near Eastern states and might cause them to attempt to pursue a neutral course or to effect a rapprochement with the Soviet Union.

The weakness in operation of existing regional groupings, the Saadabad pact (to which Iraq adheres), the Saudi-Iraqi-Yemeni Treaty of Arab Brotherhood and Alliance, and the Arab League,6 reflects the weakness of the members, singly or in combination, and no important results for the security of the area against external aggression can be expected to result from them. Moreover, the activities of the Arab League up to the present time have included no political achievements of lasting benefit to the Arab states, and very limited achievements in the economic and cultural fields, according to information presently available. At the same time, Arab League activities, with regard to Palestine, have worked to the detriment of United States and British objectives of stabilizing the area. There is little immediate prospect that a constructive regional association will develop in the Near East, because the area lacks a political and military power center around which it could be built, and because of inter-Arab rivalries and competing nationalisms, and Israeli-Arab animosities engendered by the Palestine situation. While the Arab states may successfully work out the details of a collective security pact, it is difficult to believe that this will be a pact of strength for some time to come. On the other hand, should the United States in concert with the United Kingdom clearly demonstrate to the Near Eastern states that we are interested in their survival and intend to help them strengthen themselves, it is quite possible that within a comparatively short time the situation could be vastly improved to the benefit of US national security.

In the light of the general adherence of the Arab states and Israel to the United Nations armistice agreements, and the anticipated stabilizing effect of the US–UK–French declaration on Near Eastern arms and security,7 the trend, although slow, has been towards peace in the [Page 276] Near East. However, settlement of the Palestine problem as a whole, including the grave refugee problem, and the full restoration of services and commerce interrupted by the hostilities, will take place only gradually and over a relatively long period of time. There is an additional factor in the form of the serious situation in the Far East. That the Arab States will seek to capitalize on the deteriorating international situation is becoming clear.

It is doubtful whether the people of the United States appreciate the extent of latent and open antipathy towards the United Kingdom and France in the Arab and Asian world. The issues of nationalism and communism become muddled when the Arab and Asian leaders believe that European 19th century imperialism is involved in Indo-China.8 They have great difficulty in believing that Nationalist aspirations can be realized when there is any remnant of European domination regaining.

B. Factors in the United States Affecting American Objectives and Policies

Certain factors in the United States influence the implementation of our objectives in the Near East. The first is Zionist pressure and domestic political considerations. Second, articulate public opinion is generally sympathetic towards Israel on most Arab-Israeli matters in dispute, both because of (1) Nazi persecution of the Jews; (2) Israel’s successful stand against the Arabs; and (3) The Israel side on Near Eastern matters is given more publicity. On the other hand, public opinion, ill-informed on the Arabs in general, is normally apathetic towards them, or critical of what it regards as a backward, feudal, undemocratic people who pursue an anti-Jewish or aggressive course with respect to Israel. A third factor, of more restricted effectiveness, is the long history of American cultural, religious and charitable interests in the Arabs. A new element, the outcome of which cannot as yet be predicted, is the fact that groups in the Protestant churches in the United States are studying the Near East this winter.

2. area objectives in terms of united states national interests

The United States national interest requires with respect to the Near East:

Maintenance and strengthening of the orientation of the Arab States and Israel towards the Western democracies; development of an attitude of confidence and respect on the part of the peoples of the Near East, Arabs and Jews alike, towards the United States which would facilitate the maintenance and extension, where necessary, of [Page 277] existing United States and British strategic rights and facilities in the Near East; and prevention of Soviet domination of the area.
Strengthen where possible the ability of the Near Eastern states to maintain internal security and protect themselves against aggression from whatever source it may come;
Encouragement of economic development programs in the area, including the increase in production of Near Eastern oil resources, as a means to raise the standard of living and increase the stability and pro-Western orientation of the area.
Continuation in power of moderate governments having an increasing measure of popular confidence and support.
Prevention of Arab-Israeli hostilities, in accordance with the provisions of the UN Charter and the tripartite declaration on Near Eastern arms and security of May 25, 1950;
Reconciliation of Arab-Israeli differences at least to the extent necessary to facilitate the preparation for and carrying out of military operations in the Near East by the Western democracies in the event that the USSR precipitates general war.
Maintenance of our present economic, cultural, and commercial interests in the area, and continued access by the United States, along with the other Western democracies, to the resources and markets of the region, including the preservation of nondiscriminatory treatment for United States nationals; and the creation of conditions which would lead the Near Eastern governments to cooperate with the Western democracies, if circumstances required, in denying the region’s resources to the Soviet bloc.

3. united states policies

In the light of the foregoing objectives, United States policy towards the Near East should be:

To maintain an attitude of impartiality as between the Arab States and Israel, including where appropriate the equitable extension of assistance and support, rather than the withholding thereof;
To provide advice, guidance, and material assistance to contribute to the development of area stability along economic, social, and political lines, contingent upon the willingness of these countries to apply the maximum of self-help, and to encourage wherever appropriate the liberalization of laws and of political and social institutions;
Within the limitations of our world-wide responsibilities and in cooperation with Western powers to undertake to strengthen the Near Eastern states militarily, and to take whatsoever steps are now possible to make the maximum use of the manpower of the area in the event of general hostilities;
To encourage regional cooperation along constructive political, economic, social, and cultural lines, including restoration of services disrupted by the recent hostilities, such as commercial intercourse, the flow of petroleum products, and operation of and access to internal and international surface and air transport facilities;
To carefully appraise the desirability of entering into or giving impetus to the formation of any regional association with any of the Near Eastern states, to subject that policy to continuing review, taking into account American capabilities to defend our vital interests, the extent of our commitments elsewhere, and the defensive strengths of our allies;
To pursue a course of close United States-United Kingdom cooperation wherever possible to achieve our basic objectives, with particular reference to the planning and conduct of assistance programs and the maintenance or extension of strategic facilities, and to refrain from action which might tend to undermine the position of the United Kingdom in the Near East;
To pursue a course of close cooperation with France, wherever it still retains a measure of influence, to attain our basic objectives, bearing in mind that the principal value of French influence in the Near East lies in the cultural and educational fields;
To take into account, in so far as it is possible, the national aspirations of the peoples of the area and to make known our views to the Western powers as occasion may require;
To encourage Turkey, Pakistan, and possibly other Moslem non-Arab states, through the bonds which they enjoy with the Near Eastern states, to exert a constructive influence upon the latter, with particular reference to the reconciliation of Arab-Israeli differences, the strengthening of the area’s non-communist orientation, and the attainment of constructive area cooperation, while refraining from encouraging any tendencies such as pan-Islamism which might adversely affect the relations of Turkey or Pakistan with the non-Moslem countries;
To stimulate greater understanding in the Near East of the aggressive intentions of international communism and the constructive aims of the United States and the other Western democracies;
To utilize the United Nations and/or the medium of direct negotiations between the parties concerned as the primary means of effecting a Palestine settlement wherever possible, to limit to a minimum direct United States participation in achieving such a settlement; and to support actively the settlement of the problem of the Arab refugees through peaceful reintegration into the life of the Near East.
To discourage where possible continued immigration into Israel.

  1. Drafted by Samuel K. C. Kopper, Deputy Director of the Onice of Near Eastern Affairs.
  2. Early drafts of this Statement have not been found in Department of State files.
  3. See undated memorandum prepared in the Department of State entitled “The American Paper”, Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. v, p. 575, and letter from the Acting Secretary of State to President Truman, November 24, 1947, ibid., p. 623.
  4. Ibid., 1949, vol. vi, p. 1430.
  5. The term “rightist” is used herein primarily to designate a general political orientation, and does not necessarily apply to the economic or social programs of the various groups mentioned. [Footnote in the source text.]
  6. For documentation on the Truman Doctrine and United States economic aid to Greece and Turkey, see Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. v, pp. 1484.
  7. These treaties are discussed in the Report on Regional Security Arrangements in the Eastern Mediterranean and Near Eastern Areas, May 11, p. 152.
  8. Reference is to the Tripartite Declaration of May 25, 1950, documentation on which is in pp. 122 ff.
  9. For documentation on Indochina, see vol. vi, pp. 690 ff.