Behind the Headlines: Sadat Boosted by U.s.– by Joseph Polakoff
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Behind the Headlines: Sadat Boosted by U.s.– by Joseph Polakoff

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President Anwar Sadat’s recent intervention to help negotiate the Syrian-Israeli disengagement of troops and the announcement earlier this week that Egypt was willing to act as broker on Syria’s be half toward the disengagement is seen here as another element in a widening pattern of Washington-Cairo ideas on cooperation, apparently designed to establish Egypt as the dominant local power in the Arab Middle East.

Other elements of Egypt’s aid to the American peace initiative, for which Sadat is to be rewarded, were his intercession to influence Saudi Arabia to lift the oil embargo and his apparent reasonableness to drop the demand that Israel publicly declare that it will withdraw totally from the Sinai as a precondition for an interim agreement.

Among the American contributions to his build-up are pledges of credits from the Export-Import Bank and private American banks, along with apparent support for Egyptian requests to the World Bank for loans. This financing would enable Sadat to be financially independent of Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth. In addition, there is now a U.S. Navy team in Egypt conducting a study of the feasibility of clearing hundreds of mines from the Suez Canal.

Moreover, Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy in Jan., which led to the disengagement of the Israeli and Egyptian troops, also provided Sadat with the stature to engage in his own shuttle diplomacy between various Arab capitals on the issue of the Syrian Israeli troop disengagement and to be viewed as a statesman at the Islamic conference in Lahore. But most important, it is believed in Washington, is the hint given to Sadat that with American help–the restoration of formal diplomatic ties is the clincher–he will emerge ultimately as the hero of the Arab world on a level that his predecessor, President Nasser, tried to achieve and failed.


Sadat, apparently taking his cues of playing off Moscow and Washington against each other from Yugoslavia’s President Tito who was the original grand master of that art, is profiting handsomely from the Yom Kippur War from which the superpowers rescued him from catastrophe, and the Arab oil embargo which enables him to be of help to Washington. Whether he will let go of his Moscow ties completely and link himself to Washington as a reliable ally is, at this time, however, far from certain.

What is certain though is that Moscow is extremely irritated with Cairo for having permitted Kissinger to take the ball in the disengagement arrangement and is also upset by the fact that Sadat has apparently not asked the USSR for technical help in clearing the canal. These irritants have been sufficiently provocative, observers here note, for the Soviet Union to have decided to send its Foreign Minister, Andrei Gromyko, to visit Cairo within the next few days.

There is also no question, some observers here note, that Moscow is still chafing from Sadat’s glowing remarks in Lahore when he said that the U.S. has changed its policy toward the Middle East, implying that Washington is now becoming pro-Arab. Undoubtedly, part of Gromyko’s mission to Cairo is to sound out what the Soviet Union’s status might be in Egypt–and in Syria–in the future. The USSR still has a jaundiced view about the expulsion of its technical and military advisors from Egypt in 1972.

Despite all this, it is still uncertain whether Sadat will sever ties entirely from the Soviet Union. This possibility seems unlikely if only because the U.S. may be reluctant to assume the tremendous responsibility of going it alone, at least now, in this corner of the globe because it could create strains in the ongoing efforts by Washington to maintain detente with Moscow. In addition, Moscow, too, appears reluctant to assume the role of sole patron of Egypt and other Arab states because of the drain and strain it creates within its own economy and diplomatic pursuits internationally.

In the summer of 1972 Washington glowed with satisfaction when Sadat “threw out the Russians.” But Moshe Dayan, during a visit to Washington some months later, had a different view. Asked by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about the Soviet ouster, Dayan replied characteristically with his own question: “Have they really left?” The Yom Kippur War proves that they never really did. In fact, there is a good likelihood that the Soviet withdrawal from Egypt in 1972 was part of the grand strategy of surprise sprung on Oct. 6.


The depth of Soviet penetration into the Middle East was presented eight months ago by State Department officials who told Congress that the United States must supply weapons, including Phantom jets, to Saudi Arabia and Iran to help them offset threats from Soviet-supplied neighbors like Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. This week, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Appropriations Committee, that the USSR provided the Arab nations with more than $2.6 billion in military equipment during the Yom Kippur War.

America’s strategy to set up Egypt as the pivot of U.S. influence in northeast Africa and the Near East has numerous ramifications and effects. The State Department must consider the effects of Egyptian hegemony in this area on Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, not to mention Israel. Another consideration is the chance that Egyptian-American friendship, easily at its warmest since Secretary of State John Foster Dulles dismissed the Aswan Dam project years ago, can founder quickly, particularly if Saudi Arabia suddenly decides that it is better to be America’s friend after all.

Despite Sadat’s current effort to carry out his agreement reached with Kissinger on disengagement and the assurances given by Sadat that Egypt’s objective is to regain territory from Israel and not to destroy it, there are some who are still skeptical about Sadat’s real intentions and about the possibility that Kissinger may be gullible enough to accept all this at face value.

Prof. Hans Morgenthau recalls: “When Neville Chamberlain went to Munich he had no intention of destroying Czechoslovakia. He thought in stead that he had assured peace in our time. On his deathbed, the former Prime Minister remarked that everything would have turned out all right if Hitler had not lied to him. Let us hope Henry Kissinger will not have occasion to assert that everything in the Middle East would have turned out all right if Sadat had not lied to him.” Many political scientists disagree with this pessimistic view, but the indispensable ingredient for peace in the area–trust–is still an elusive one in view of the Arab’s record of the past 26 years.

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