The Soviets began a thrust in midyear 1970 that deepened their military involvement in Egypt. According to Rodman, they did this by “flying combat air patrols over the Suez Canal and manning the missile batteries against Israeli planes” in the Egyptian-Israeli War of Attrition.
The United States, in turn, argumented its arms sales to Israel, convincing Egypt’s new president, Anwar Sadat, that America held all the cards and was the only force that could possibly influence prospects for peace in the Middle East.
Gartoff says that the ensuing disillusionment with his Soviet backers over the provision of advanced weapons, as well as the perceived inadequacy of Moscow’s diplomatic and military support, led Sadat to expel “the approximately 20,000 Soviet military advisers and technicians in Egypt, as well as the Soviet reconnaissance aircraft based there, and sharply curtailed any Soviet use of military facilities in his country.
Sadat had decided that he could not rely on the Soviets to help him recover occupied Egyptian territory. Meanwhile, he prepared for a limited war with Israel as a means of reopening the occupation issue.
Like Cuba in 1959, Egypt transferred loyalty from one superpower to another in the midst of the Cold War conflict, and, gradually, the US replaced the Soviets as Egypt’s main military supplier.
As the US gained influence in Egypt and the Middle East, the superpower sought to exclude the Soviet Union from regional affairs, particularly from the evolving peace process.
Although Egypt’s shifting allegiances did not prevent — and may, in fact, have spurred — the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Sadat’s actions ultimately contributed to the successful negotiation of a peace agreement for the Middle East.
The USSR switched sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict. After it tried to maintain a policy of friendship with Israel at first, abstaining from and allowing the passage of Security Council Resolution in September 1951, which chastised Egypt for preventing ships bound for Israeli ports from travelling through the Suez Canal, asking them to cease interference on shipping for political purposes, in the latter part of 1953 it began to side with the Arabs in armistice violation discussions in the Security Council. As late as December, 1953, the Soviets were the first state to instruct their envoy to present his credentials to the President of Israel in Jerusalem, the Israeli annexation of and usage as the capital being controversial. This move was followed by other nations and strongly protested by the Arabs as “flouting” UN resolutions.
On January 22, 1954 the Soviets vetoed a Security Council resolution because of Arab objections for the first time, and soon after vetoed even a mild resolution expressing that Egypt was not living up to Security Council Resolution. This elicited Israeli complaints that resolutions recognizing its rights could not pass because of the Soviet vote policy. At the same time, however, the Soviets did support the Israeli demand for direct negotiations with the Arab states, which the Arab states opposed. Like the earlier deal with Israel, a major episode in the Soviet relation to the conflict was the Czech arms deal with Egypt for arms from the Soviet bloc in August 1955. After the mid-50’s and throughout the remainder of the Cold War the Soviets unequivocally supported various Arab regimes over Israel.
With Israel emerging as a close Western ally, Zionism raised Communist leadership fears of internal dissent and opposition arising from the substantial segment of party members who were Jewish, leading to the declaration of Zionism as an ideological enemy. During the later parts of the Cold War Soviet Jews were persecuted as possible traitors, or a security liability. Jewish organizations were closed down, with the exception of a few token synagogues. These synagogues were then placed under police surveillance, both openly and through the use of informers.
As a result of the persecution, both state-sponsored and unofficial anti-Semitism became deeply ingrained in the society and remained a fact for years.
The official position of the Soviet Union and its satellite states and agencies was that Zionism was a tool used by the Jews and Americans for “racist imperialism.”
“In late July 1967, Moscow launched an unprecedented propaganda campaign against Zionism as a “world threat.” Defeat was attributed not to tiny Israel alone, but to an “all-powerful international force
The Israeli government was also referred to as a “terrorist regime” which “has raised terror to the level of state politics.” Even regarding the Entebbe hostage crisis, Soviet media reported: “Israel committed an act of aggression against Uganda, assaulting the Entebbe airport.”
In March 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev became the Secretary General of the CPSU and in April he declared perestroika. It took more than six years before Moscow consented to restore diplomatic relations with Israel on October 19, 1991, just 2 months prior to the collapse of the USSR.
Iran and irak
During the first years of the Iran-Iraq War both superpowers attempted to keep some distance from the conflict. Both the United States and the Soviet Union abandoned neutrality, however, when they deduced that the war was uniting Iranians behind the Khomeini government and that a victory for Iran was possible.
The Soviets resumed arms shipments in 1982, and after Iran declared the Tudeh Party illegal, arresting a thousand of its leaders and members and expelling eighteen Soviet diplomats, the flow of Soviet arms to Iraq became a flood.
The US also changed its position, restoring diplomatic missions with Iraq, extending almost $2 billion in commodity credits, and allowing the country the use of American intelligence sources. American interests became even more explicit when Iran threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz.
Subsequently, the Iran-Iraq War “floated” on the price of a barrel of oil.
A “tanker war” began in 1984 with both nations attacking oil installations and commercial tankers, including a missile attack on the USS Stark which killed thirty-seven Americans.
At the same time, Iraq began a “War of the Cities,” launching missile attacks against Iranian towns and cities, eventually focusing on industrial targets in important urban areas. Civilian casualties were steep.
In a two week period in February 1988, a total of more than one hundred missiles were fired at Tehran, Qom, and Isfahan, along with bombing raids on another thirty-seven cities, Iran retaliated with bombings and missile attacks on Iraqi cities.
Meanwhile, Israel entered the fray. That government justified its resolution to sell arms to Iran, arguing that such activity would increase Iraqi casualties and extend a war that ultimately served the interests of the US, primarily by preventing Sadam Hussein from establishing hegemony over the Arab side of the Persian Gulf.
Israel’s decision had enormous impact when, in conjunction with a small group of American National Security Council (NSC) officials, the Israelis became key players in a plan to sell Iran arms and spare parts in the hope that it would expedite the release of American hostages held in Lebanon.
The plan soon broadened with the suggestion that the funds raised from the sale of arms to Iran be channeled to assist the Contras in Nicaragua.
President Reagan’s humanitarian interest in the hostage situation was strengthened by several other factors: a growing fear that the Iranians were “exporting revolution” to oil rich Arabia; concern over the impact of the falling price of oil on America’s domestic oil industry; and continued obsession with the Soviet threat.
The associated scandal undermined the credibility of the Reagan administration and eventually evolved into a constitutional crisis.
The Iranian initiative succeeded only in replacing three American hostages with another three, arming Iran missile batteries, improperly generating funds for the Contras and other covert activities
While the President clearly supported the arms for hostage strategy with great enthusiasm, controversy continues over his knowledge of the Contra funding. The President had, however, authorized the CIA to spend millions to equip and train the contras in clear violation of US neutrality laws. The CIA trained the Contras in the southern United States, then shipped them to Nicaragua through Honduras.
On August 2, 1990, as the Cold War in the Third World was winding down, Saddam Hussein, the Cold War client of both superpowers, invaded the oil rich kingdom of Kuwait, arousing worldwide condemnation for his disregard for “democracy” and for his scorched earth policy. The action incurred a swift response from the Americans who believed that the price of oil and, therefore, control of the world’s economy was at stake.