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Moscow and the Middle East

No solution can be envisioned in the Middle East without Soviet participation. Yet Israel's presumed stockpiling of atomic weapons and its refusal to adhere to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty endorsed by virtually every other Mideastern country adds to the growth of Soviet suspicions and hence military support for the Syrian government; at the same time it creates a need among the Arab states for assistance from Moscow in the face of the seemingly unconditional support of Israel by the United States.

The US continues to support an aggressive Israel on terms dictated by the Israeli government. The Israeli government, in turn, continues to claim to act as the spearhead for the US in a hostile Middle East. In this process Israel is permitted to spread its hegemony to nearby states. This translates into a steady and progressive expansion of its territorial boundaries, thus exacerbating the Arab-Israeli problem and bringing the two superpowers closer to confrontation. Paradoxically, Israeli extremists claim to be representing US interests. In the words of the former Israeli ambassador to Washington, Israel, in its invasion of Lebanon, has ''kicked the Soviet Union in the solar plexus.'' It is, apparently, prepared to try again.

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Washington's response has been essentially one of tacit approval, exemplified by continued diplomatic, economic, and military assistance and support. The nature of this ''special relationship'' was underscored when President Reagan declared in his press conference May 17 that the Soviet Union had ''no business in the Middle East'' while, of course, the US did. The implication is unmistakable; the US-Israeli Diktatm over Lebanon, disguised as an ententem, was conceived primarily in the context of what Alexander Haig has called the ''strategic consensus,'' i.e., primarily as an anti-Soviet device and not as a means toward a just settlement of the Arab-Israeli conundrum. And Moscow is expected to accept its own exclusion from the Middle East with such grace as it can muster. The tragic consequences of such a US policy is that it will neither reassure a nervous Russia suffering from feelings of encirclement and desiring to play a power role in the area, nor make friends of the Arabs, who feel victimized by the unconditional US support of Israel. In fact, blundering diplomacy in the Middle East is steadily leading to an Arab acceptance of the return of the Soviets to that strategic world hub.

Our efforts to exclude the Russians from participating in the Mideast peace negotiating process have the effect of turning them into spoilers. The Russians, it should be recalled, have, by virtue of geopolitical factors, legitimate interests in, and concerns about, the Middle East; they have, in fact, been actively involved in the region's affairs since Peter the Great. They are no more likely to tolerate the establishment of overtly hostile military bases near their soil than we are willing to suffer the presence of their missiles in Cuba or Central America.

The removal of the influences of both superpowers from the region is, moreover, indispensable to world peace. Such removal presupposes the neutralization of the Levant (Lebanon, Israel, the new Palestine, Jordan, and Syria). Such neutrality, modeled after the Austrian state treaty following World War II, must be guaranteed by the superpowers. It is clearly in both their interests to do so. Allowance for legitimate means of self-defense for the component states of the region must exclude the nuclear option. A multilateral nonaggression pact will enhance regional harmony and a European-type Common Market assure economic prosperity for all concerned.

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