Aftershocks of Iran, Afghanistan, Camp David
As the target date approaches for completing the Camp David blueprint on Palestinian autonomy, the whole sweep of the Middle East from Turkey to Afghanistan is once again on the boil.Skip to next paragraph
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The reason is that the ferment started by President Sadat's 1977 peace initiative, further stirred by Ayatollah Khomeini's 1979 revolution, and set vigorously bubbling by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, has put the whole area up for grabs.
Now everybody wants to get into the act -- the superpowers, the governments of the region, and even nonsovereign bodies such as the PLO, the Shia Muslims in Iraq, the Kurds in Iran, and the hard-line Maronite Christians in Lebanon.
So, as President Sadat talks with President Carter in the White House, muscles are flexed and claims are made by virtually every party to every dispute in the whole troubled are from the Bosporus to the Hindu Kush.
* In the superpower struggle, both the United States and the Soviet Union are hastily shoring up their positions.
Faced with impasse on the hostage crisis, President Carter has announced new sanctions against Iran. To head off breakdown of the Camp David process, he has invited Mr. Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to Washington.
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev assails both moves. Confronted with his own problems in Afghanistan, he has put the Soviet position there on a "legal" footing through a new treaty and is prodding his client government in Kabul toward representation at the forthcoming meeting of Islamic powers in Pakistan.
* In the struggle for control of the Gulf, oil rich and potentially an access route to warm water for the USSR, Iraq and Iran are escalating their chronic rivalry. There is violence on their common border, and Iraq -- hoping to exploit the revolutionary turmoil in Iran -- is laying claim to three Arab islets at the entrance to the Gulf that the ousted Shah seized when the British withdrew in 1971.
From beyond the geographical perimeter of the Gulf, the US and the USSR eye from afar the known oil reserves on both sides of the area. The US and its industrial allies in Europe and Asia remain dependent on that oil -- and consequently are concerned about the continued stability of the royal house in Saudi Arabia, the biggest oil producer of all the Gulf states.
The USSR, with its forces in Afghanistan now only 300 miles from the Gulf, recognizes the increased geopolitical value of this shadow to the oil flow westward. Moscow also may be increasingly tempted by Gulf oil as an alternative source of supply for the USSR itself, should the latter cease to be self-sufficient in oil production.
* In the struggle to spearhead the revolutionary forces in the area, both political and religious, Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini has first refused to meet head-on the student Islamic militants holding the 50 American hostages.
Moreover, he now has hailed the latest US countermeasures as the best thing that President Carter has done since the ousting of the Shah -- since he feels the move clearly delineates the implacable line of hostility between the "satanic" US and the "pure" revolutionary forces of the world's oppressed.
* In the struggle to be seen as true spokesman or representative of Islam, now resurgent throughout the world, the fundamentalist Shia Ayatollah Khomeini is challenged by the moderate Sunni President Anwar Sadat of Egypt humanely offering asylum to a fellow Muslim, the ousted Shah.
The Ayatollah also is challenged by the equally Sunni but more cynically political iraq President Saddam Hussein, who is expelling Shia Iranians from the vicinity of the Shia holy places in Iraq.