Moscow reaping strategic windfall from Gulf war?
Jerusalem — The Iraq-Iran war is turning into a strategic windfall for the Soviet Union, according to authoritative Israeli analysts here. If their assessments are correct, Moscow stands to gain a commanding position all along the Middle East's northern tier -- from the Afghanistan frontier to Syria's Mediterranean Sea coast.
These seasoned observers believe the Gulf conflict already has bogged down into a prolonged war of attrition, largely due to the Soviets' covert policy of arming both sides.
This puts the USSR in the unique position of being able to step in as mediator as soon as the belligerents are at the point of exhaustion and thereby foster an unprecedented "Pax Sovietica" in this oil- rich part of the world.
Israeli officials concede that the Soviet Union was not directly responsible for the actual outbreak of the Gulf fighting last month. But, they add, Moscow's Mideast policymakers acted promptly to get the most out of the regional struggle, especially in terms of the Kremlin's long-range objectives.
Israel's intense concern over the Gulf war was indicated Oct. 12 when the Cabinet devoted almost an entire weekly session to the course of the fighting. The chief of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Yehoshua Saguy, was on hand to provide his expertise. Authoritative sources subsequently were willing to share some of their assessments.
They stressed the fact that Soviet military equipment has been moving through a dual pipeline, one end of which is in Iraq and the other in Iran. Jordan has been serving as the main route for the material bound for Iraq, while East European and Soviet air space has been used as the channel to Iran.
In this way, the sources said, the Soviets have maintained a continuing relationship with both parties -- as well as a close tactical appreciation of their respective shortcomings and requirements.
The military material moving through Jordan is reliably believed to have been drawn from stockpiles of Soviet arms and ammunition kept in Ethiopia and South Yemen. It is simply shipped northward up the Red Sea and into the Gulf of Aqaba to the Jordanian port at its head.
Iran's Soviet arsenal reportedly has been coming by air aboard Iranian cargo planes taking off from Libya, another regional repository of Soviet hardware. According to an Israeli who monitors international communications, the planes have been flying over Greece, Bulgaria, the Black Sea, and the Soviet Caucasus. Additional Soviet weaponry is said to be reaching Iran from North Korea.
These reports prompted Iraq to sever relations with the alleged purveyors of supplies to Iran.
In the midst of this seemingly chaotic process, the Israelis see the Kremlin attaching particular importance to its new treaty of friendship and cooperation with Syria.
"That compact nails down the Soviets' western flank," one authoritative source said, contending that the eventual "Pax Sovietica" may not only bring an end to the Iraq-Iran dispute, but also mend relations between Iraq and Syria.
The official stressed that the practical value of the new treaty is still being defined. He referred to the fact that a high-powered Syrian military delegation headed by Defense Minister Mustafa Talas is still in Moscow and that it presumably is negotiating delivery of advanced weapons systems.
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin has been stressing what he feels is a strong probability: the presence of secret clauses in the treaty under which Moscow may have obtained the right to station Soviet land, sea, and air forces in Syria. Israeli officials mention Latakia and Tarsus on Syria's Mediterranean coast as prospective Soviet bases.
These considerations evidently are what Mr. Begin has in mind when he talks of raising the Syrian-Soviet treaty issue during a scheduled meeting in Washington with President Carter Nov. 12.