Mideast nations begin to echo Reagan's 'Soviet threat'
Nicosia, Cyprus — It now appears that the Reagan administration's view of the Mideast situation -- in terms of a Soviet threat -- is wining out -- at least with Middle Eastern leaders who are closest to the United States.
Increasingly, these leaders are painting the situation in Soviet-American terms -- often legitimately, sometimes in a sort of latter-day "red scare" -- instead of the view held by many Arabs that the Israelis and Palestinians are primarily responsible for instability in the region. This is occurring most visibly in Egypt, Israel, and the Arabian peninsula.
The most recent example presented itself Sept. 14 when the Egyptian newspaper Mayo announced that president Anwar Sadat had uncovered a Soviet plot to overthrow his regime. For the past 10 days, Mr. Sadat has been cracking down on Egyptian political parties, the press (even expelling several prominent foreign journalists), and Muslim and Christian groups. Mayo, which is owned by Mr. Sadat's National Democratic Party, said the Svoiet conspiracy involved two Soviet diplomats, several Soviet and Hungarian intelligence agents, and members of the Egyptian government.
That last point, Egypt analysts here fell, portends a reshuffling of Mr. Sadat's own government.
Putting the political crackdown in terms of a Soviet plot -- whether the charge is justified or not -- should neutralize Mr. Sadat's remaining opponents. It should also insure that Mr. Sadat has Reagan administration support for the move.
The Soviet threat has long been a favorite theme in Israel. Israeli Knesset member Moshe Arens last week described the turmoil in Lebanon as an example of Soviet penetration of the Middle East.Israeli information specialists often argue that Syrian and Palestine Liberation Organization reliance on Soviet weapons translates into Soviet influence. The weakness of the Lebanese government, Israel argues, means that the Soviets are in control of Lebanon via Damascus.
Israeli warnings of Soviet involvement are likely to increase due to the recent declarations of President Reagan and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin that the US and Israel are moving toward strategic cooperation. This could include possible US-Israeli military maneuvers, US Navy port calls in Israel, and the stockpiling of American weapons in the country for use during Middle East emergencies.
American diplomats are concerned that America's Arab allies will see this as a reaffirmation of the warnings of Arab radicals that the US and Israel are hopelessly interlocked. This, in turn, could accelerate polarization in the Arab world toward Soviet and American camps.
A pro-Western alliance, the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman), has emerged and expressed concern about a new pro-Soviet group, the Aden alliance of Libya, Ethiopia, and south Yemen.
Oman's ambassador to Saudi Arabia has called the Aden pact "a military pact directed against the Gulf states and pushed by the USSR." The Saudis were more circumspect but had Moscow in mind in a statement that warned of attempts " by certain powers to maintain footholds in the Gulf region and threaten its security and sovereignty." The Kuwaitis represent the more neutral end of the council and argue that by aligning with the US or USSR, Arabs will split, inviting superpower conflict by proxy.