Beirut, Lebanon — "For Iraq, Jordan is the key to Arab support," is how veteran Arab analyst here summed up Jordan King Hussein's support for the current Iraqi war effort. "If even King Hussein -- who has often been accused of betraying Arabism -- supports the Iraqis on the basis of a fight for their common Arabism, then can the other Arab states lag too far behind?" he asked.
This analysis takes little account of the way Iraq's Baath Party leaders have been carefully cultivating the Jordan monarch's favors over the past two years -- nor of that wily ruler's many other reasons for his present stand.
But it does highlight a dilemma faced by many other Arab leaders: Few actually like Iraqi President saddam Hussein and his ruthless pursuit of basic nationalist policies. But few can stand against him in the present conflict.
Only Saddam Hussein's Baathist rival, President Hafez Assad of Syria, has publicly aired opposition to the Iraqi war effort, arguing that the Baghdad regime is "diverting the Struggle away from Israel."
The Arab states of the Gulf may not have the Syrian President's strictly ideological differences with the Iraqi regime. But they could have equally much to fear from the emergence of a strong and victorious army to their north.
Yet the Iraqis appear confident that in any protracted dispute with Iran, their Arab neighbors in the Gulf would come to their aid.
"If we can't use the port at Basra [Iraq], we can use the Jordanian port at Aqaba," one Iraqi official said with full confidence a week before his prediction was proved true.
"And if we can't pump oil from our own oil fields, the the Saudis will give us what we need," was the second, as yet untested, part of his claim.
The appeal to Arabism is a deep one, calculated to strike a heartfelt chord with Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors (except perhaps Oman).
The Shatt al Arab waterway that President Saddam claims as a cause of war may not have the stature of Jerusalem as a basic Arab issue. But most Arabs undoubtedly would concur that the waterway should be Arab -- and Saddam came in for heavy Arab flak when he signed away half of it to the Shah of Iran in 1975.
But Jordan's monarch of 26 years, King Hussein, seems to entertain no such reservations as to how to react to the fighting to his east. A strange confluence of different interests has made his choice a clear one:
* He was one of the first of the Conservative Arab leaders to see that Iraq's Saddam could be a valuable ally against the radicals of the "steadfastness and confrontation front."
* He was happy to find that the financial aid once given his regime by the Shah was soon replaced by a flow of Iraqi aid, after the IRanian monarch fell.
* He has been able to play an important role in the continuing contacts between the Iraqis and Iranian exiles such as former Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar.
* He was probably happy to be able to prove his own Arabism through his concern with issues further east, having always, as regards Jerusalem and the West Bank, been cast by most Arabs as "an American agent."
Whatever else may have promoted the King's present gestures of support for Iraq, their value to the Iraqis is far greater than simply easing few supply problems. they mean, in effect, that Saddam can count on the Gulf Arabs supporting him through any protracted war.
Which means that with even liminated victories on the battlefield, Saddam Hussein is well on his way to achievening his ambition of leadership of the Arab world.