17. National Intelligence Estimate0

NIE 36–58


The Problem

To estimate trends and developments in the area following the establishment of the UAR 1 and their effect upon US interests, particularly in the Arab states.


The formation of the UAR has accelerated the movement toward Arab unity and has sharpened the problems confronting all the participants in the Middle East drama. It has brought the struggle between pro- and anti-Nasser forces in the area, and their supporters among the major powers, into a critical and more complex phase. It has given a new impetus to Nasser’s “neutralism” and added to the heavy pressures weighing on the local proponents of association with the West. (Paras. 10, 30)
The essential elements in the Middle East situation now seem to be the following: (a) the UAR, with Soviet support, has seized the initiative in the Arab unity movement, which is the most dynamic political force in the area; (b) the conservative Arab governments of the Middle East do not now appear to have the capability without external support for long resisting the subversive pressures of the UAR or of increasing their own strength; and (c) the expansion of the UAR is being blocked by Israel, by Western influence, and for the time being by certain regimes and groups which are antagonistic to Nasser’s leadership. (Paras. 25–26, 31–38, 54–56, 59)
These elements add up to an explosive situation which could be touched off by: (a) a collapse of Jordan, (b) an Israeli decision to take preventive military action, or (c) a resort to the use of military force by Nasser or by his opponents. We do not rate these developments individually as probable. However, we believe that the development of the [Page 62] overall situation will increase their chances of coming about and that the cumulative possibilities make it likely that at least one will occur and set off an area conflagration within the next year or so. Several other situations, could evolve in such a way as to bring the hostile forces in the area into open conflict. (Paras. 48, 52–56)
Although aware of the dangers involved and apparently desirous of avoiding military involvement with Israel or the West, Nasser will continue to encourage and assist disaffected groups within the other Arab states, particularly within those associated with the West. He will carefully consider the military and political implications of each new application for membership in the UAR or UAS, but he will find it almost impossible to turn down any applicant, even though acceptance might lead to forceful counteraction. (Paras. 25–28)
It is unlikely that the military defeat of UAR forces or the death of Nasser would in the long run greatly change basic trends. The Pan-Arab movement would be set back for a time, but we believe that chances favor its persistence as the most dynamic force in the Arab world. (Paras. 57–58)
We believe that the Soviets will continue to use the radical Pan-Arab movement in an effort to eject the West from the area and that they will not attempt to interfere in the UAR’s internal affairs until this prior aim has been accomplished. However, we believe the Soviets, as a hedge against the unreliability of Nasser, will continue to build relationships in the Middle East which are independent of Nasser and the UAR. (Paras. 45–46, 49)
Frictions are likely to grow between Nasser and the USSR over political and economic arrangements in the Middle East and Africa. However, we believe that over the next few years, their common interest in eliminating the special Western position in the area will prevent any serious impairment of their relationship. (Para. 46)
The nature of the Soviet reaction to US intervention with military force would vary according to circumstances and the Soviet assessment of opportunities to damage the US position. If the US were to intervene in Lebanon or another friendly Arab country, in order to assist the government to cope with a UAR-supported uprising, the Soviet reaction would probably be confined to vigorous diplomatic and propaganda action. If, in the course of this intervention, the US became involved in military action on UAR territory, the Soviet would react more strongly, possibly increasing military assistance and providing “volunteers.” Although the latter course of action would increase the chance of a Soviet-US conflict through miscalculation, we believe it unlikely that the USSR would take action which it estimated would involve serious risk of general war. (Para. 48)
Prospects for establishing a relationship of mutual confidence between Nasser and the West appear remote. At the same time, Nasser wants to remain independent and he will seek to stay neutral and to maintain at least tolerable relations with the West. The main problem of both the West and Nasser will be how to maintain such minimal relations despite the fundamental clashes between their goals. (Paras. 61–62)

[Here follows the “Discussion” portion of the estimate (paragraphs 10–62) with sections headed “Introduction,” “The UAR,” “Other States of the Area,” “The Soviet Position,” “Area Outlook,” and “Reaction to the Western Posture.”]

  1. Source: Department of State, INRNIE Files. Secret. According to a cover sheet, the following intelligence organizations participated in the preparation of this estimate: CIA, INR, and the intelligence organizations of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Joint Staff. All members of the IAC concurred in this estimate on June 5, except the representatives of the AEC and FBI who abstained, the subject being outside their jurisdiction.
  2. UAR: The United Arab Republic, the union of Egypt and Syria; UAS: United Arab States, the loose federation of the UAR and Yemen.” [Footnote in the source text.]