6. Paper Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

PS 77–10004

Soviet Role in the Middle East

[Omitted here is a key to dissemination control abbreviations.]

Key Judgments

The Soviets’ economic, military, and political position with the principal Arab states has eroded over the past five years, and shows no sign of early improvement. The low state of relations between the USSR and Egypt stands out as an important failure of Soviet foreign policy under General Secretary Brezhnev.

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Moscow’s relations with the radical Arab states—notably Iraq and Libya—have expanded significantly in recent years. This improvement has been based primarily on increasing sales of Soviet arms, and has not resulted in a commensurate increase in Soviet political influence among the Arab radicals.

The USSR has few official contacts and virtually no political influence with Israel. Occasional Soviet contacts with Israeli officials are intended primarily to intimidate the Palestinians and to show third parties that the Soviets play an essential role in Middle East diplomacy.

Substantial improvement in the Soviet position in the Middle East is not likely, at least until there is a fundamental change in the leadership of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iran, or Saudi Arabia. The Soviets probably will continue to make limited progress in strengthening their relations with Libya.

The Soviets’ military presence in the Middle East has diminished considerably since 1973, but the Soviets retain the capability quickly to project additional military power into the area. This gives Moscow the potential directly to affect the military balance and the level of political tension in the region.

Soviet leaders want to reconvene the Geneva conference to demonstrate that the USSR plays a central role in Arab-Israeli negotiations. Moscow has neither the desire nor the ability, however, to force the Arabs or Israelis to make the political concessions that will be necessary to restart the conference.

The USSR would not be capable—even by withholding or providing additional military equipment—of eliciting fundamental changes in the Arabs’ stand on the basic issues of the Middle East conflict. Soviet policy will remain one of supporting positions already endorsed by the principal Arab states and the Palestinians.

Soviet influence in the Middle East is greatest during periods of tension and “no war-no peace.” In any negotiating forum the Soviets will attempt to avoid appearing obstructionist, but should not be expected to play an effective, positive role.

[Omitted here is the body of the paper.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 50, Middle East: 4–6/77. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]. Prepared with contributions from the Center for Policy Support and the Offices of Economic Research, Regional and Political Analysis, and Strategic Research, Directorate of Intelligence.