Mideast shifts follow US denial of arms to Jordan. Realignments in region favor Syria and Soviet Union
The refusal of the United States Congress to allow US guns to go to King Hussein's Jordan is having the inevitable result of realignment of forces and factions in the Middle East. Jordan is not only realigning itself away from the US and toward Syria, but it has also, according to Jane's Defense Weekly, placed orders for Soviet surface-to-air missiles and armored personnel carriers.
If the Soviets get a new foothold in the Middle East, right up alongside of Israel (where Washington and Israel certainly do not want them), it will be largely due to congressmen overfulfilling their sense of loyalty to Israel.
The Reagan administration desired -- and intended -- to continue to be the main suppliers of weapons to Jordan. In fact, Jordan has been a loyal client of the US since 1956. Administration plans called for selling Jordan a package of weapons this year worth about $1.6 billion. Congress said no. The inevitable result: Jordan is looking elsewhere.
The hope in Washington was that Jordan would turn to Britain and France. But King Hussein has been cutting lose from his association with and reliance on the West in general and on the US in particular. It is logical that he should look to Moscow for the weapons that Congress would not allow him to buy. He can get Soviet weapons on long-term, low-interest loans. He would have to pay cash for British or French weapons.
This was the most interesting new development in a week that also saw more maneuvering between Washington and Moscow over weapons and summits, more violence and bloodshed in South Africa, and more reluctance by Washington and London to do anything new to influence the degenerating situation in South Africa.
There is a change in the Middle East. Syria has been pushing its troops deeper into Lebanon. It has, since a week ago Friday, been moving even into west Beirut and is more or less keeping the peace in most of that city, to the advantage of the Druze and Shiite factions and the disadvantage of the Christian factions.
Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was supposed to have left that city in the control of Christian factions. The fallout is the precise opposite of Israel's intentions. Before Israel's invasion and occupation of Lebanon, which ended in 1985, the Syrians controlled only the east ridges of the Lebanon mountains and the Bekaa valley between the east and west ridges. It did not control the west face of the Lebanon range. Now it does.
And Syria, for obvious reasons, gets its weapons and its military training from Moscow. Syria used to be the odd man out in the Arab world. It was on an almost-war basis with both Iran and Jordan. It shunned Washington and wanted nothing to do with Egypt. It opposed the whole Camp David process, which was aimed at a peace settlement between Israel with both Egypt and Jordan.
It is conceivable that President Reagan could have continued the Camp David process and produced that peace had he been able to keep Jordan in the American camp. He used his personal influence with Congress to get weapons for Saudi Arabia, but declined to make a similiar special effort on the issue of weapons for Jordan. So, in effect, he pushed Jordan toward Syria, and possibly toward Moscow.
Jordan was the indispensible key in the second stage of the Camp David process. King Hussein's assigned role was not only to make his own peace with Israel, but also make it on behalf of the Palestinians. The Camp David process required an arrangement between King Hussein and the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat.
In effect, the hoped for second stage of the Camp David apparatus has now been dismembered. This week, King Hussein closed down most PLO offices in Amman and ordered Mr. Arafat's representatives out of the country. King Hussein can no longer hope to bring the PLO to a peace with Israel. He is no longer trying for any such thing. He is aligning himself with Syria which opposed the whole Camp David process.
So long as there was hope that the Camp David process would move forward, there was a possibility of a brokered peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors without Soviet involvement.
In this new situation, which has been evolving since Congress blackballed US weapons for Jordan, the Soviet Union is again a factor in the Middle East. It is supplier and protector of Syria. If the Soviet Union becomes supplier and protector of Jordan, there will be little chance of a Middle East peace process without the Soviets in the middle. Moscow will be a broker if and when the process is revived.
All of which explains why every once in a while the idea surfaces of a resumption of diplomatic relations between Israel and Moscow. The idea seems to be dormant at the moment. Its revival would be as logical in the new context of the Mideast as Jordan turning to Moscow for its antiaircraft weapons.