The Middle East


August 1951

on the World today

IT WOULD be a mistake to appraise Iran’s nationalization dispute primarily in terms of oil. What is basically at stake is the security of the entire Middle East. The danger now, both for Iran and for the West, is that the militant nationalism which has been aroused by the argument over oil in Iran may go beyond the point where the weak and uncertain leadership of the Iranian government can control it.

Premier Mohammed Mossadegh, in his negotiations with representatives of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, faced a dilemma not unlike those faced by leaders in the Arab countries, particularly in Egypt, when the momentum of a hypernationalistic campaign carries it far beyond rational ends. And throughout the negotiations with company officials he must have been aware that his slightest move to recognize discouraging facts in the situation would be labeled appeasement.

It is not surprising, therefore, that he could not openly acknowledge that his country has neither the means nor the technical competence to operate such a vast and complex industry, whose worldwide distributing and marketing systems (including its indispensable tanker fleet) are not subject to expropriation and therefore not available to Iran. The irony of Dr. Mossadegh’s situation is that he has thus rapidly become the prisoner of the xenophobia which he has preached and fostered.

The possibility that Iran might become the next Soviet satellite caused the United States government to feel, as Mr. Truman put it, “the strongest anxiety.” That anxiety stemmed from the fact that it appeared doubtful that Dr. Mossadegh’s government could survive the dispute. Therefore it was in the hope of arresting a rapidly deteriorating situation that Mr. Truman expressed officially in June his support of Iran’s right to nationalize its oil and urged moderation and negotiation upon both sides.

Iran’s right to independence

This move, like that of Secretary of State Byrnes in 1946 in backing Iran’s right to plead the Azerbaijan case before the United Nations Security Council, is in line with consistent American support of Iran’s neutral independence. To this end American policy has been to bolster Iran’s defenses with military aid and advice, and to encourage post-war reconstruction efforts, in the hope of creating there, as elsewhere, a situation of strength on the perimeter of the U.S.S.R.

In all of these efforts the dilemma for the United States representatives has been how to build on the foundations of an established order which is both weak and corrupt. In the present emergency there has been no choice but to back up such leadership as exists.

If Iran’s oil industry is seriously dislocated, the result will be unemployment, financial difficulties which will mean that the army and civil servants will not be paid, and political chaos. It is this prospect which is alarming. It also suggests that no acceptable or lasting solution can be founded on mere legalistic, economic, or possibly even logical grounds; but that what must come is an imaginative scheme of partnership, firmly backed by the conviction that Iran has a right to run her own affairs.

The essence of such a partnership would be that Iran should be regarded as an equal; that her oil industry should no longer exist as an alien entity within the country. Given such recognition, it is possible to hope that Iran would rise to the challenge, as India has risen to that offered by British statesmanship after the war.

Meantime it would appear that regardless of the outcome of the oil dispute, Iran’s repudiation of the Anglo-Iranian concession cannot fail to deter at least the private business activities abroad envisioned by the Point Four program. For it cannot be expected hereafter that much needed capital for foreign investment will be freely forthcoming to develop resources and to create skills in backward countries if the governments of those countries repudiate the agreements they have made. Thus Iran’s drastic action may at best have jeopardized not only her own chances of attracting further capital, but those of her neighbors as well.

American aid without strings

The continuing uneasiness of relations between the Western powers and the Arab states has been indicated recently by critical Arab comments on the proposed American Mutual Aid Program for the Middle East. The $50 million proposed as a United States contribution toward resettlement of Arab refugees was interpreted immediately by the Arab press as a further effort to relieve Israel of the need to carry out the 1948 United Nations resolution on Arab repatriation and compensation. The $25 million suggested for economic aid to Arab countries was compared with the equal amount proposed for Israel to prove that the United States’ concern for the welfare of one million Israelis equaled its interest in forty million Arabs.

Syria has rejected any United States Point Four aid —partly on the grounds that it would commit her politically, and partly for internal political reasons. Acceptance of United States Point Four aid in the rest of the Arab states has been hedged by stipulations that it must be given without political strings and that it cannot, above all, be tied to peace with Israel. However, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon have all signed agreements for technical assistance and begun to carry out long-cherished economic and agricultural improvements. Of these the most promising appears to be the development of the Litani River along the lines envisioned by a former Lebanese director of public works, Dr. Abdel-Ali, and endorsed by the Clapp Report of 1950.

Point Four funds will greatly expand the facilities of the American University of Beirut to train students from all Arab states in agriculture, engineering, preventive medicine, and public administration. This expansion of the missionary enterprise at Beirut indicates the practical lines along which the U.S. Point Four directors expect to produce results with relatively small appropriations.

From the American point of view the success of such efforts as these in Lebanon, and that of the Near East Foundation (now receiving a Point Four subsidy) in Iran and Syria, will accomplish the purpose for which the entire program has been established — namely, the improvement of living conditions and economy in these countries.

The hostility of the refugees

The appointment of an American, John B. Blandford, Jr., as the successor to Major General Howard Kennedy of Canada as head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, and the United States government’s projected plan for greatly stepping up a resettlement program for the refugees, signify increased determination in Washington to remove the most immediate hazard to peace and stability in the Arab countries.

Assistant Secretary McGhee’s visit to these countries appears to have convinced him that the inflammable situation among the refugees has not been exaggerated by field reports and that it is made to order for Soviet propaganda.

Thus it cannot have escaped Mr. McGhee’s attention that the Partisans of Peace in Lebanon have taken up the cause of the refugees and are loudly demanding their repatriation to Palestine — a solution now no longer regarded as possible, even among most of the refugees themselves. Nor did it take his escape from the bombing of the Damascus legation to demonstrate that hatred and contempt for the United States prevail throughout much of the Arab world.

The problem is to remove the immediate cause of this hostility by accepting greater responsibility for refugees who, rightly or wrongly, attribute their misery to American support of Israel. This is the background for the pleas which will be made from now on for appropriations for Arab refugee aid.

Syria’s boundary dispute

To understand the intensity of feeling which the Syrian-Israeli border dispute has aroused, it is necessary to go back into Syrian history. Aside from Syria’s discontent over the imposition of the mandates after World War I, there has been chronic dissatisfaction over the arbitrary boundary line established in 1923 between Syria and Palestine, which gave Palestine territory and water rights in the Huleh region east of the Jordan. To Syria the river should have marked the boundary. With this still in mind, Syrian forces were withdrawn from the Huleh area after the fighting in 1948 only on the understanding that it would remain a demilitarized zone. In this incident, as in larger issues, Israeli arguments based on reason and economic advantage for all run counter to the Arab belief that any relaxation of the political and economic boycott against Israel will mean its further expansion.

The incident has only heightened Arab intransigence toward Israel and increased the determination to guard against further invasion. Thus at the Arab League meetings in May differences between the Arab governments were glossed over to reach agreement on continued support for Syria, tightening of the boycott against Israel, and further coördination of defense among member states. The collective security pact initialed some months ago was ratified in every country except Jordan. In Damascus, staff talks among military chiefs of all participating countries resulted in unanimous agreement on improving Arab defenses.

The Arabs turn to Turkey

The heightened Arab obsession with Israel has almost overshadowed any real concern that these countries may feel at the increasing threat of Soviet thrusts via Iran. The recent visits to Turkey of King Abdullah of Jordan and of Azzam Pasha, Secretary General of the Arab League, were significant indications, however, that strategic considerations are not being entirely ignored.

It is symptomatic of the deterioration of relations between the Arabs and the Western powers that the former should turn again to Turkey for support against external threats. In this connection it is of interest to note that Dr. Charles Malik, Lebanese Minister to Washington, has been advocating closer ties between the Arabs and Turkey and suggesting at the same time that unless the Arabs are willing to fight again, if necessary, for their independence, they may lose it.