Paper Drafted by the Officer in Charge of Egypt and Anglo–Egyptian Sudan Affairs (Stabler)1
This paper covers the attitudes and reactions which may be expected from the Arab States and Israel in the face of the following eventualities and suggests possible lines of action which might be adopted:
- Soviet invasion and occupation of the Near East.
- Limited Soviet attacks on certain key points in the Near East.
- Soviet supported minority uprisings.
- Soviet-inspired aggression in other parts of the world, similar to Korea.
- USSR–US hostilities not immediately involving the Near East.
The Near Eastern area comprising the Arab States, the independent Arab Sheikhdoms and Israel forms a vast land bridge between the East and the West and is the center of communications, both in terms of land, sea and air, between Europe and Asia. This area borders on Turkey and Iran, which in turn have common frontiers with Russia. On the other side the Near East stands as a shield protecting the African Continent. While it would be possible for Russia to invade Africa through Europe, the operation would presumably be more difficult than an invasion through the Near Eastern countries.
It is assumed that the principal Soviet effort will be in Europe. However, it is also assumed that a secondary effort of importance will be made against Turkey, Iran and the Near East in order to deny to the Western Powers the strategic facilities available in the Near East, such as bases, Suez Canal and oil.
During World War II Egypt, Palestine, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and later Iraq, Syria and Lebanon were of extreme importance to the Allied Powers, not only in denying that area to the Axis Powers but also as a base for European operations. When Rommel moved across Libya and almost half way across Egypt, the Allied Powers would have been in serious difficulties if they had not had room to maneuver in Sinai Peninsula, Palestine and Jordan. The loss of the Near Eastern area to Russia would adversely affect the plans of the Western Allies for the conduct of the war.
With respect to political considerations it must be recognized that at the present time the prestige and position of the US in the Near Eastern area is at a low ebb. Such friendship and esteem as the US held at the end of World War II were quickly dissipated through our Palestine policy which in Arab eyes represented the antithesis of everything which they believed the US represented. Our support of the UK in its relations with Iraq and Egypt and our support of the French in North Africa have done nothing to increase American prestige. The bitterness engendered by these policies is deeply rooted and the attitude of the Arab States towards the US, in fact the Western world, have increasingly reflected their belief that the US support of Israel and the UK in the Near East will govern US policies, even when these are to the detriment of what the Arabs believe to be their legitimate interests. While Communism and Mohammedanism are mutually incompatible and while there is among the Arab States a degree of fear and hatred of Communism, it is necessary to realize that the attitude [Page 223] of the Arab States toward Communism is not based on an understanding of the ideological conflict involved, but on considerations which are more or less those of expediency. Arab public opinion is formed by the Arab leaders and these leaders would be the ones who would have the most to lose in the event that their countries should fall under Communist domination. Certain Arab statesmen have made statements to the effect that an alliance with Russia is possibly a lesser evil than indirect control by Zionist dominated US policies. These statements must be viewed in the light of current Arab bitterness towards the US. However, constant repetition of such statements may result in a form of psychological persuasion that some kind of a deal with Russia is preferable, especially if the belief spreads that there can be no fundamental change in what is considered our inimical policies toward the Arab world. Despite the fact that Arab orientation to the West, in terms of a shift toward Russia has not fundamentally altered, cool area reaction to the Korean situation stands as a warning signal.
It is also important to bear in mind, as of political importance, that the Arabs have a traditional admiration for strength and that consequently they will constantly compare East vs. West strength for the purpose of determining the course of action most advantageous to them.
In the case of Israel the situation is somewhat different. After many years of struggle the Zionist movement succeeded in founding a state in the Near East. Present evidence points to a fairly stable political scene, though unlimited immigration and limited resources present danger signals for the future. Largely because of the existence of large Jewish groups in both Eastern and Western blocs and its economic and military dependence on the sources within both blocs Israel at first followed an official policy of neutrality between the East and West in the cold war. Subsequent to the invasion of Korea this policy has been modified to the extent that Israel can react against aggression and cooperate with the UN in its attempts to block aggression. Israeli relations with the US are close and are based upon the strong political, economic and financial support which was given by the US in the creation and development of that State. It is becoming increasingly evident that Israel’s sentiments are in the final analysis with the West.
While the Communist party in Israel is of insignificant proportions, its affiliation with Left-Wing groups of some strength actively sympathizing with Russia provides the Eastern bloc with the support of 18% of the population. However, notwithstanding certain Communist-inspired disorders the present Government appears to hold the confidence of the country and appears capable of controlling the situation.[Page 224]
The Armed Forces of the Near East, although totalling over 200,000 men, are generally weak and are not in a position to do more than police duty for internal security and offer token resistance to invasion by modern army. Some of them could serve as effective auxiliaries to Western armed forces in the defense of their territories, in particular the forces of the small but well trained and equipped army of Israel, the Jordan Arab Legion and the reorganized Egyptian army. However, the armed forces of the Arab States and Israel could not operate under local combined command, nor could the Israeli Army operate in the Arab States.
At the present time the US maintains an air base at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, which is equipped to handle long-range bombers. US naval units are present in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.
The UK maintains in Egypt’s Canal Zone the following forces: 20,700 UK troops, 8,700 Colonial troops, 5 fighter squadrons, 1 photo-reconnaissance squadron, and 5 transport squadrons. Airfields are capable of handling long-range bombers. The UK also maintains small forces at Akaba, Jordan as well as insignificant units of the RAF in Amman and Mafrak, Jordan. In Iraq air bases at Habbianiyah and Shaibah are maintained with small forces. Other British bases exist in the Mediterranean area and British naval units are also present.
1. Soviet invasion and occupation, of the Near East.
- Attitudes and Reactions—Assuming that Western Forces would not be able to move in force and hold positions in the Near East for any length of time, it is believed that the Arab States and Israel would be unable or unwilling to resist and would be obliged to submit to the USSR. Most of the Government leaders and some members of the upper classes would attempt to flee their countries and form governments in exile. Some may take to the desert and throughout the area, and especially on its fringes some more or less temporary islands of resistance may be established. The people could be expected to adopt a passive attitude toward occupation. With ruthless measures the occupation authorities, are likely to wipe out the power of present vested interests of sectarian and clan loyalties which might threaten to remain or become elements of resistance. In as much as these are regarded by many people in the area as selfish interests and divisive forces, such measures could be described as progress by the new regime which could ultimately secure wide cooperation, especially if it initiates land reform, other basic improvements, and makes an effort to appease religious antipathies. Even if the levelling off of the present [Page 225] economic inequality meant Russian exploitation and generally poorer standards of living, the appeal it would hold for the masses might constitute an obstacle to Western liberation of the area after a prolonged Soviet occupation. This would be particularly true if the West had to offer little more than the return of the present regimes. This might apply to Israel too if the Russians destroyed active pro-Western and recalcitrant elements.
- Courses of action—There are a considerable number of individuals and organized groups in the Arab States and Israel, including military personnel who would remain adamantly opposed to Communism and sympathetic to the Western cause. We should inquire what plans the British have made for the formation of groups for desert-raiding, sabotage and general harassment purposes. Covert canvassing of key personnel, terrain, and other studies should be made while we have free access to the area. It is believed that in the event of war such groups could be contacted even under Soviet occupation and formed in all countries.
Consideration could be given at a later stage to the organization of an area uprising, depending upon the success of the smaller groups and on the general reaction of local populations to continued Soviet occupation.
Consideration should also be given to the formation of governments in exile, but great care should be taken to support only those groups which might still have the confidence of the people.
Even if most of the Near East were invaded special efforts should be made to retain strongholds on the fringes especially in areas which occupation forces could not effectively control such as the vast Arabian peninsula.
2. Limited Soviet attacks on certain key points in the Near East.
- Attitudes and Reactions—In the event the USSR should attack limited objectives, (e.g. air and/or sea operations against the Dhahran Airbase, Aden, Suez Canal, the oilfields, etc.) the final attitude of the Arab States and Israel would depend on the success which Allied Forces had in repelling these attacks. In the early stages the assistance of local armed forces could be expected. To the extent Allied action was not successful, considerable instability throughout the area could be expected and there would be agitation for pro-Russian alignment. Left-Wing groups, Communists, and some Kurds could be expected to increase their activities and call on the people to abandon the Allies.
- Pro-Western leaders would be discredited. To stave off Russian aggression the governments would try to assert their neutrality or, if the Soviet attacks looked like a prelude of invasion, to make deals with the USSR.
- Soviet aggression in the Near East or in its immediate vicinity which would look like a prelude to a full-scale invasion and which would not be countered by effective military action by the West would demoralize the local governments and people and would convince them that the West is unable or unwilling to protect the area. Regardless of their feelings toward East and West, Israel and the Arab States would feel helpless and seek means of survival. In any state which could not count on effective Western protection, some leaders would be found to work either for a neutral position or to make a deal with the USSR. In the eventuality of Soviet occupation, internal resistance forces are likely to be insignificant in hampering Soviet operations fronting on the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. The ruthless organization by the Soviet of the resources of the area is likely to make Allied reoccupation an extremely costly undertaking.
- Course of action—Immediate military action by the British would be required. In addition to strategic considerations this would prevent a complete demoralization of pro-Western elements who otherwise would conclude that the West is unwilling or unable to defend the area. The U.S. should of course support UN action taken against Soviet aggression.
3. Soviet supported minority uprisings.
- Attitudes and Reactions—Although the USSR has fostered grievances among most minorities, the Kurds represent the only compact group which are in a position to stage an uprising. But the solidarity of the Kurdish tribes is not great and many of their influential leaders are in and allied to the central governments and their armies. Furthermore, there is little evidence that either the weak Kurdish nationalist movement or tribal leaders capable of rising against the government have a definite pro-Soviet orientation.
- However, Mulla Mustafa, leader of the 1945 Kurdish revolt in Iraq is harbored by the USSR in the Caucasus and is reportedly being groomed to stage a comeback.
- The Iraqi and Syrian armed forces are in a position to deal with a local Kurdish uprising even if this were sponsored and supported by Russia with only limited quantities of small arms. In such a case the role of the Iraqi air force, especially if supported by units loaned by the RAF, would be decisive. Israel could be expected to view such uprisings with alarm but would probably adopt a “watch and wait” policy unless its security was directly affected. Certain of the extremist groups might take advantage of the situation to further their own ends vis-à-vis the Arab States.
- However, the Armed Forces of Iraq and Syria would be incapable of dealing with a major attack by Russian irregulars operating under the guise of a popular Kurdish uprising. In such a, case only effective [Page 227] Western military intervention could stop the Soviet incursion which otherwise under one guise or the other might extend to other areas of the Near East.
- Course of action—Immediate and effective Western military assistance to Iraq and Syria would be required in the form of UE forces and US military equipment.
4. Soviet-inspired aggression in other parts of the world similar to Korea.
- Attitudes and Reactions—It is believed that in the event of remote incidents—Formosa or possibly French Indo-China—the Arab States and Israel would adopt attitudes similar to those that were adopted in connection with the Korea situation. In the event of closer incidents—Iran, Turkey—the reaction would be immediate and would be accompanied by demands for UN–US action and for immediate arms assistance. In the case of an invasion of Iran the governments of Iraq and Syria could easily fall and might be replaced with governments desirous of making the best peace possible with the Soviet force.
- Courses of action—It is essential that the United States continue to build up the UN to deal with aggression and emphasize the stake which all the states of the world have in prompt and effective action to suppress aggression. Prompt UN armed assistance should be given to the area against which the aggression took place.
5. USSR–US hostilities not immediately involving the Near East.
- Attitudes and Reactions—If such conflict was sufficiently far removed from the Near East area in order that the Arab States and Israel could adopt a “watch and wait” attitude, it is doubtful that full public support to the West would be given, although Government leaders would probably express their identification with the West.
- Courses of action—Increased programs for economic and arms assistance would be required. At the same time the information and psychological warfare program should be accelerated.
- Soviet invasion and occupation of the Near East.—Israeli and Arab Armed Forces would be incapable of defending their countries even with the aid of Western Forces presently in the area. The Governments and some members of the upper classes would flee and attempt to form governments in exile. The people would seek survival by a passive attitude, but with the probability that passivity would change to cooperation, especially if the Soviet occupation involved land reform and other basic improvements. Some opposition under occupation might, however, be expected to occur.
- Limited Soviet attacks on certain key points mtheNear East.—If Allied action were immediately effective in countering these limited attacks the support of Israel and the Arab States could be expected. If Allied action was not immediately effective considerable instability could be expected throughout the Near East and agitation for pro-Soviet alignment would increase. Some Governments might fall and there might be a tendency to establish opportunistic governments who would make a deal with the USSR or at least be neutral.
- Soviet supported minority uprisings.—The Armed Forces of Iraq arid Syria, where minority uprisings are most likely, are in a position to deal with a Soviet inspired but local uprising by the Kurds who, in any event, are neither organized nor generally pro-Soviet. However, the Armed Forces of Iraq and Syria would be incapable of dealing with a major attack by Kurds, Assyrians and Armenians from the Soviet Union and other Russian irregulars operating under the guise of a popular Kurdish uprising of the Near Eastern minorities and traveling via Iran. If, as in Korea, as in Korea, UN action and effective Western military assistance is brought to bear in such a case, the Arab States would solidly support the West. However, if Western assistance were not forthcoming or were not effective it is believed that Iraq and Syria would have no choice but to accept the resulting state of affairs. Furthermore, with the establishment of such a stronghold in the Near East it is likely that the USSR would make every effort to gain control of the rest of the area. Israel could be expected to view such uprisings with alarm but would probably adopt a “watch and wait” policy unless its security was directly affected.
- Soviet-inspired aggression in other parts of the world, similar to Korea.—It is believed that the Arab States and Israel would in the case of remote events such as in Formosa or French Indo-China adopt the same attitude as they have with respect to Korea, though with increasing concern over the spreading theater of war and their probable involvement therein. In the case of closer events such as in Iran or Turkey the reaction would be immediate and would be accompanied by demands for Western military action and for immediate military assistance. If the Soviet advance were not effectively checked and if reparations for area defense were not immediately forthcoming the leaders would lose faith in the willingness or ability of the West to oppose Soviet invasion and would seek ways to ingratiate themselves with the USSR.
- USSR–US hostilities not immediately involving the Near East.—The Arab States and Israel would probably await developments and not declare themselves for either side in the event of USSR–US hostilities not immediately involving the Near East. While privately Government leaders might be disposed toward the West, they would [Page 229] take no formal action until allied strategy for the area and the role of the Near East were determined.
Courses of action discussed in the above section relate to situations involving hostilities and are, therefore, essentially military in character. It is recognized that at the present time US military commitments in other areas of the world as well as the political situation in the Near East preclude any major effort at this juncture to establish or increase Western military potential in the Near Eastern area. Consequently the principal effort must necessarily be of a diplomatic character, designed to achieve and stabilize pro-Western orientation, and to obtain certain limited objectives of a military character.
The principal concern in the Near Eastern States is whether the US and the Western Allies intend to defend that area against Soviet aggression. These States are conscious that Western strategy is focused on Europe and the Far East, and it appears to them that little attention, from the military point of view, has been paid to the Near East area. Doubts are, therefore, inspired that these States are to be left to their own fate, and since such doubts could generate a serious attitude of despair and defeatism, major efforts must be made to counteract them.
The following suggestions are not all inclusive but are indications of what can and should be done to maintain friendship and support of the area as well as to obtain military requirements:
- At the present time authorization exists only for the extension of cash reimbursable military aid to the Near Eastern area. Since it is conceivable that it might be necessary and desirable at some point to give military aid on a grant basis, consideration should be given to seeking authorization for grant aid. At the same time consideration should be given to providing cash reimbursable aid to the Arab States and Israel.
- The US should provide material assistance on a grant basis 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.
- The US and the UK should collaborate closely in all matters relating to the Near East, particularly the development of area armies. Agreement should be reached on appropriate strengths and on the division of responsibility between the US and the UK for providing necessary assistance. Consideration should be given to sending US military missions and to increasing the rate of training of Near Eastern officers in US service schools.
- The US and the UK should develop plans for establishing bases in such areas of the Near East as might remain available even though portions of the Near East were under occupation.
- We should enquire of the British what their plans are for covert canvassing of key personnel, terrain and other studies while we have [Page 230] free access to the area in order that at the appropriate time groups for desert raiding, sabotage and general harassment could be formed. It is believed that in the event of war such groups could be contacted even under Soviet occupation and formed in all countries.
- The USIE program of psychological warfare should be accelerated so as to stimulate greater understanding in the Near East of the oppressive intention of international communism and to counteract Soviet propaganda.
- With respect to the UN we should keep in close touch with the Near Eastern States on our plans to strengthen UN against aggression. We must make these States feel that we genuinely want their views and that they have a stake in the success of the UN in combating aggression.