15. Position Paper Prepared in the Department of State1



New York—September-October, 1966

Position Paper


The Soviet Union regards the Near East as a highly significant strategic area, and as a key element in the struggle between the USSR and the Western Powers for world domination. Soviet aims are to disrupt the West’s defensive alliances in the area, deny the West the use of strategic bases, achieve predominance in the supply of military weapons, and establish economic and cultural ties which will in time supplant Western economic and political influence. At the same time, however, the USSR has been careful not to provoke a crisis in the area (as, for example, in the Arab-Israeli dispute) which might involve the Soviets in a confrontation with the Western powers.

In its relations with the Arab States in the Near East, the Soviet Union has readily subordinated the interests of the local Communist parties to the larger purpose of establishing “correct” state to state relations. The Soviets have aimed at creating the image of the USSR as a respectable great power unselfishly assisting those states desiring its aid.

The Soviet Union has had its most dramatic success in Nasir’s United Arab Republic, which today depends upon bloc assistance for its military strength and much of its economic development. Internally, Nasir’s revolution has adopted forms of state socialism and one party control which conform, superficially at least, with the Communist prescription for a “national democracy.” Soviet influence has had some success in limiting Nasir’s formerly severe repression of Egypt’s Communists. At the same time Nasir continues to maintain contacts with some Western Powers. Aid from the United States, especially in the [Page 33] area of food grains, has relieved the Soviet Union from the unwanted burden of total support for the Nasir regime.

Significant Soviet influence is also present in the Yemen, Syria and Iraq, all of which are largely dependent on bloc supplied arms for their military establishments, and have significant economic aid projects furnished from Soviet or other Communist sources. In none of these states, has Soviet influence succeeded in completely eradicating the Western presence. Only in Saudi Arabia and the British supported South Arabian Federation and the Sheikdoms of the Trucial Coast is there no Soviet diplomatic representation.

Of the current problems in the area, from the Soviet policy point of view, the following are considered the most significant:

1. Breakdown of Arab Summitry

The relapse suffered by the concept of Arab unity and the present disarray of the Arab world following the breakdown of Arab summit conferences signifies a return to the patterns of intra-Arab rivalry which the Soviets have exploited before. With the ranging of the self-styled “progressive” states receiving Soviet military and economic aid in contrast to more traditional regimes of Jordan and Saudi Arabia receiving assistance from the US and UK, great power rivalry becomes an integral aspect of the local confrontation. Support by the Western Powers for Israel gives the Soviets further opportunities to extend this influence with the “progressive” Arab regimes.

2. Instability in Syria

Although the Soviets have been cautious in committing themselves to support the present highly unstable regime in Syria, they have already registered some important gains in the local political context. They wish to bolster the left wing Ba’th regime which offers them prospects of increased influence in Syria but apparently do not wish to weaken their influence in the UAR in the process and thus at the same time are working for a detente in Syrian-UAR relations. However, the Soviets, mindful of the potential impermanence of any Arab regime, seek to establish in Syria a possible alternative to their existing power base in the UAR.

3. Arab-Israel Dispute

The current shrillness and bellicosity of Syria’s stand against Israel is in part a function of the regime’s internal weakness, although Syria has historicially taken an extreme position on Israel. The Soviet Union’s support for the Arab position in this dispute does not appear to have changed significantly. Soviet propaganda is still generally directed against Israel’s alleged role as an agent of Western imperialism rather than at its existence as a state. The Soviet Union will probably continue to support the Arabs with anti-Israel propaganda but will continue to [Page 34] attempt to limit Arab military action. At the same time, they will maintain correct, although not friendly, relations with Israel.

4. Arms Aid

There does not appear to be any likelihood that the Soviet Union would agree in the near future to any arms limitation schemes in the Near East. Major shipments of arms continue to arrive in the UAR. A new multi-million dollar contract has just been signed with Iraq covering the period up to 1970 which will include modern supersonic planes and rockets. This deal is expected to stir demands of the neighboring states for increased aid from Western sources. Although the Soviet Union has supported the idea of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East, their interpretation of such a zone would presumably cover all US and other Western forces and bases in the Eastern Mediterranean.

5. Yemen and the Arab South

Soviet arms aid to the UAR has contributed greatly to Nasir’s ability to continue his intervention in the Yemen. The USSR has a sizeable investment in economic aid in the Yemen and can be expected to continue to support Nasirist influence as the best means to protect its own position there. At the same time, Soviet interests will be served by the British withdrawal from Aden and the possible supplanting of British by Egyptian influence in the area of the Red Sea. The Soviets will therefore probably attempt to prevent UAR supported attacks against Saudi Arabia or Aden, which might delay British withdrawal or, worse still, invite US involvement.

  1. Source: Department of State, NEA/RA Files: Lot 71 D 218, Papers re Communist Presence in the Middle East, 1966. Confidential. Drafted by Robert H. Flenner (EUR/SOV); cleared by Country Director for Soviet Union Affairs Malcolm Toon, Igor N. Belousovitch (INR/RSB), George C. Moore (NEA/ARP), Symmes, Country Director for United Arab Republic Affairs Donald C. Bergus, Country Director for Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq Alfred L. Atherton, and NEA Director of Regional Affairs Sidney Sober.