The Middle East


NO further exposition of the Palestine issue is likely to add much illumination to the struggle there. The critical struggle is the test of the strength and influence of the Arab bloc in the United Nations.

It is crucial not only because the Palestine issue, understandably, is the most important in the Arab League program, but primarily because the showdown on it will reveal both the real extent of the great powers’ interest in Arab friendship and the true weight of the Arabs’ bargaining strength based on their oil and on their strategic position.

But we should remember that the future course of Arab nationalism is yet to be decided. In World War I, nationalist sentiment was a source of aid and security for the Allies. In the war just ended, it was a distinct psychological liability which bordered on very real danger. If in the future it turns into a movement of hatred and fanaticism using Western techniques to resist the encroachment and challenge of the West, this will be a dark reaction indeed.

There is a strong disposition in Great Britain to evacuate and leave untenable powers and contradictory mandates to others willing and able to finance and to struggle with the solution of the problem. Oliver Stanley expressed a view on which many conservatives and left-wingers in Britain agree when he remarked in Commons recently that the only alternative to partition was evacuation.

Given this disposition on the part of a greatly weakened Britain, plus plans, now freely discussed, to move GHQ Middle East Land Forces to Kenya, and to base its defenses and the new Commonwealth lifeline on Kenya rather than Suez, it becomes plain that the assumptions on which United States policy in the Mediterranean has rested must be revised once more.

Whatever support it has been possible to muster in this country for taking up positions relinquished by Britain in Greece and Turkey has certainly not yet extended to American protection of Palestine or any of its neighbors.

The alternative prospect of an international force taking over in Palestine — at least for an appreciable period — presents equally great complications. It seems a safe guess therefore that the Western powers will not encourage the complete abandonment of Palestine by Britain — even if she be criticized.

Here the sharp cleavage between East and West must modify any solution based on local issues. Thus the total withdrawal of Britain could be used by her as a threat over the Arabs, who would consequently be exposed to the much feared Jewish defense forces, and to the other Western powers having oil and strategic interests in the Middle East.

Because the matter of oil arises so often in Middle East politics, particularly in relation to Palestine, it is illuminating to note in passing that before the oil problem existed the basic arguments regarding Zionism were the same arguments now before the world. Admittedly, oil politics complicate the situation. Similarly communications and air rights are vital factors in Middle East affairs. But more fundamental, because it bears on the future of Arab nationalism, is the recognition of Arab rights in an era of awakened political consciousness in the Arab countries.

More water for Sudan

It simplifies the Sudan issue, for Americans, to find that it actually revolves to a large extent around questions of water rights. The Egyptians have four ambitious projects for dam building and irrigation to increase their cultivable area for their rapidly expanding and poverty-ridden population. Only one of these, the project for making Lake Tana a reservoir by building a dam at the headwaters of the Blue Nile in Abyssinia, would benefit the Sudanese.

The Egyptians profess to believe that an AngloSudanese or an independent Sudanese government would block this project or its control. They brush aside an existing agreement whereby Egypt already has first claim on any water drawn from the Nile.

Britain, absorbed by more active troubles elsewhere, has not yet clarified this matter publicly. Nor has she seen the value in taking the lead in making such a project a rallying point for Sudanese interest. Her emphasis on setting up more representative government for the Sudanese, while ignoring the possibilities in concrete objectives understandable to them, seems inept. Britain’s only suggestion so far in regard to the UN case is that a committee survey the Sudan — a proposal likely to leave the overinvestigated Arabs cold.

Democracy in the Levant

The current preoccupation of the United States with Middle East oil draws attention to reports of recent discoveries of oil in both Syria and Lebanon. Whether oil is there in commercial quantities has not yet been made known; but it is obvious that any real development of these discoveries will alter the economies of these two struggling new republics so advantageously as to protect them from the twin horrors they profess to dread: dollar diplomacy and Soviet attrition.

Meanwhile, in their first elections held since their liberation from the French mandate they have maintained the facade, at least, of democracy. The Lebanese elections seem to have been strong-armed to keep the Khoury government in power. However, the threat of the return of pro-French elements to power was averted, and whatever its internal divisions, Lebanon maintains constitutional processes and a reasonably democratic pattern.

The pattern in Syria is less imitative of the West; more a matter of Damascus keeping the upper hand over Aleppo and the area to the north. Nevertheless, under skillful guidance from British advisers, Syria is utilizing some of the tools of industrial and agricultural development. A wheat-growing country with an exportable surplus, it is capable of becoming self-sustaining to a degree scarcely imaginable in Lebanon.

British experts engaged by the Syrian government have made a recent survey of Syrian resources. Veterans of the wartime Middle East Supply Center furnish much of the technical assistance needed. Here the British are showing adaptability to realities. Instead of making a purely political approach, they offer to a rising Arab country the kind of help it needs, on its terms. Their influence is correspondingly growing in Syria at present.

Greater Syria

If international power politics overshadow the Palestine issue and the technical questions of Middle East oil development, they play an equally important part in the maneuvers emanating from Amman in Trans-Jordan. There King Abdullah, son of the great Feisal, cherishes the dream of reigning over the whole of historic Syria — namely, Syria, Lebanon, Trans-Jordan, and the Arab sections of Palestine.

Abdullah was the only Arab leader who came out unreservedly for Britain during the war. For this and kindred reasons Britain looks kindly on his aspirations. Whatever divisions there may be among Foreign Office experts on the wisdom of encouraging the Greater Syria plan at this time, that office is not going to abandon Abdullah.

Last summer a White Paper was issued in Amman on “Greater Syria,” giving the historical justifications for Abdullah’s plan. There are frequent suggestions in the British press that the plan not only would help to solve the Palestine problem but would satisfy a longing shared by many Moslems for unification and solidarity. Yet Abdullah has to move gently. Syrian leaders express themselves for “Syrian unity” which envisions union with Trans-Jordan. They would willingly take back the Moslem areas of Lebanon. But they will not be swallowed by Abdullah.

Realization of the Greater Syria scheme may be accelerated if it becomes clear to the Arabs that their faith in the UN is misplaced and that they must make other arrangements for security. Then their only practical course would be to consolidate their defenses and ally themselves with some bloc or power.

The Russians edge back

Reports from Teheran indicate renewed Russian activity as the Majlis, the Iranian Parliament, reconvened. Among the issues to come before it are the country’s application for a loan from the International Bank, of which it is a member, and the ratification of the oil concession signed with Russia last year while Russian troops were still in Azerbaijan.

It will be remembered that among the proposed terms of this concession there are provisions for the exclusion of all non-Russian concerns from northern Iran and for the formation of a joint Russo-Iranian company to explore the mineral resources of the area. In this company the Soviet government would hold at least 51 per cent of the shares and would participate proportionately in the profits for the first twentyfive years of the fifty years the concession is to run. In the view of most Iranians the Russian interpretation of these terms will amount to a reoccupation.

It is true that the Russians withdrew last year and that resistance by the Russian-supported group in Azerbaijan collapsed on the approach of Premier Ghavam’s troops in December. Many saw in these events a major setback for the Russians. Others on the scene were convinced that the Russians had something up their sleeves. All conceded that it was probable that the Russians would be back; and it must be admitted that there is no objection per se in their seeking ratification of a proposed agreement. It all depends on the approach.

Conceivably because of the present antagonism towards the Soviets in Iran and the popular outcry for better terms at least, Ghavam has been attempting to get a much more favorable deal than he entered into under duress last year. But it seems likely that some sort of agreement will be reached favorable to the Soviets.

American interests in the Persian Gulf

With the abrogation of the so-called “Red Line Agreement,” which prevented the participants from further exploration and development in the Persian Gulf without privity of each other, the Middle East situation regarding the exploration and development of oil properties in the Gulf area has been radically altered.

The remaining lands thought to be oil-bearing may now be open to all comers, including those formerly bound by the restrictive covenant. Most of the “comers” will be American, and it seems probable, therefore, that the British policy of exclusiveness in the Persian Gulf area will be further revised.

Lately, we may note that Prince Saif al Islam Abdullah of Yemen and the sons of two leaders in that country have been touring the United States in a plane of the Phillips Petroleum Company, a major stockholder of the newly organized $100,000,000 American Independent Oil Company formed for the purpose of asserting the right of the independents to a place in Middle East oil. According to a company official it is hoped that before long the Imam of Yemen will end the almost absolute isolation of his country and permit exploration for oil.

The Russians are interested, as is the United States. Thus Yemen’s admission to membership in the United Nations in August was not unexpected; nor was it the subject of argument.

In the field of power politics, United States intervention in the Middle East embodied in the implementation of the Truman Doctrine is considered, by the Arabs, of historic importance. And since the Arab countries are fully conscious of their pivotal position, the ever growing cleavage between the Soviet Union and the Western powers fills them with justified apprehension. There is little they can do about it; but there is a lot they might do or refrain from doing if and when a showdown comes. This is doubtless understood at Lake Success.