The Superpowers and the Middle East: Regional and International Politics, 1955-1967.

AuthorSullivan, Antony T.

This objective and meticulously researched volume exploits recently declassified sources in the West and newlyavailable Arabic language materials to reassess the turbulent years from Israel's Gaza raid in February of 1995 through the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and its immediate aftermath. Fawaz Gerges focuses on how intensification of the Cold War led to increased superpower intervention in the Middle East, and especially on how superpower competition enabled local powers to manipulate their great-power patrons to advance their own regional ambitions. Indeed, the bargaining position of regional powers increased, Gerges argues, in "direct proportion to the growing hostilities between the United States and the Soviet Union" (p. 245). Both the US and the USSR felt obliged to compete fiercely for local clients, thereby enabling major Arab states and Israel to "manipulate the polarized international system to gain political, economic, and military concessions" (p. 245). In fact, the superpowers were frequently unable decisively to influence developments in the Middle East, Gerges maintains, and consistently failed to convert overwhelming military strength into direct political influence. Nevertheless, importing the Cold War into the Middle East exacerbated local conflicts arid made their resolution more difficult, he observes, and had "devastating repercussions for the security. and stability of the whole area" (p. 246). Those repercussions are clearly very much with us yet, however cloaked they may now be in new political language and novel geo-strategic antitheses.

In Gerges' opinion, both the Untied States and the Soviet Union welcomed the weakening of Egypt's regional influence as a result of the dissolution of the UAR in 1961. After 1961 Egypt could no longer mobilize Arab states against foreign intrusion, he observes, and the Middle East soon relapsed into an internecine conflict which facilitated renewed manipulation by the superpowers. Moscow's deepening involvement with Egypt and Syria in the early 1960, and America's greatly enhanced relationship with Israel, especially under the Johnson administration, served to impose the polarities of the Cold War more firmly than ever on Arabs and Israelis alike. Indeed, 1961 rather than 1967, Gerges suggests, marked the real demise of Arab nationalism and the genesis of the very different Middle East that we know today.

Usefully, the author points out how relatively unimportant the issue of israel was...

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