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Iran, Afghan crises weigh heavily on Arab neighbors

The combined impact of the Afghanistan and Iranian crises on the Arab countries, particularly those of the Middle East, has been devastating, according to experts here.

Most of all it has:

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* Further destabilized the already highly volatile Mideast area.

* Added urgency to the solution of the Palestinian problem.

This assessment is the consensus among high-ranking Arab diplomats here, including conservatives and moderates as well as radicals.

"The Iranian revolution, followed by the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR, has sent the Arab countries spinning in a wirlpool. They now are obliged to shift constantly in relation to each other while engaging in balancing acts on the domestic front," one ambassador says.

With the exception of Egypt, the Arab countries can no longer take up fixed positions, form solid groups, or remain firmly anchored with either the United States or the Soviet Union, according to this diplomat, as well as to analysts familiar with the area.

To Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, the main and most immediate danger is the one represented by Iran's religious fundamentalism. They are highly vulnerable to its spilling over and seeking to purge Islam from "materialism and curroption." They are left without arguments against those in Tehran who tell them that:

* By using muscle, Iran is one year has tamed the West, whereas they, with their subservience to the West over the years, have achieved nothing.

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* They sould use the oil weapon to force the United States to heed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

"The only way to take the sting out of the Iranian revolutionary slogans and to protect us from upheavals they are likely to generate in our countries is to quickly settle the Palestinian question," another moderate Arab diplomat believes. He adds:

"Before, this matter was central to the Middle East crisis. Now it has become vital to the survival of the moderate regimes in the region. These countries do not fear Soviet aggression nearly as much as they are afraid of being swept away by Iran-inspired subversion."

As a result of the Iranian revolution and the occupation of Afghanistan, the Arab countries in the Middle East now are divided into several loose groups:

1. At one end of the spectrum, Egypt, supported by Sudan, somalia, and Oman, is firmly siding with the US and offering its geopolitical infrastructure as a reliable military platform to contain Soviet expansionism.

But for Egypt to regain its moral credibility among its fellow Arabs and to break out of isolation, it is imperative to find a solution to the Palestinian problem that all can live with.

2. The moderates -- Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates -- have hardened their opposition to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. Far from reassuring them, the Carter Mideast doctrine has added to their worries, according to several Arab diplomats.

They understand it to mean that the US intends to use force not so much against Soviet aggression (which at this time is regarded as unrealistic anyway) , but to intervence in their own countries in order to secure the oil fields that were implicitly equated by the Carter administration to American "vital interests."

Saudi Arabia, for example, would like the US to be a strong but silent partner. It is most reluctant to enter into a military alliance with the US in any shape or form. Jordan and Kuwait are even less eager to be seen in America's company.

3. The "rejectionists" -- Syria, the PLO, and South Yemen -- are united on the Palestinian issue and side with Iran, but are otherwise divided. Syria, which needs Soviet military support, wants to play a broker's role between the USSR and Iran and seeks to minimize the Afghan crisis. Iran wants to exploit it to boost its own Muslim leadership. The PLO needs Soviet friendship, but at the same time strives for Arab unity and Saudi financial aid.

4. Iraq is out on a limb. It deeply distrusts the US, suspects Soviet intentions, and fears the export of the Iranian revolution. It rejects the military presence of both superpowers in the area, and now seeks to strengthen its economic ties with Western Europe.

The Soviet threat, as a result of the pincer movement around the Mideast (in Ethiopia and Afghanistan) is keenly felt by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.


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