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International Socialism, February 1977


Notes of the Month

The Middle East: Kissinger’s Legacy


From International Socialism (1st series), No.95, February 1977, p.6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE inauguration of Jimmy Carter as President of the United States last month ended the Kissinger era in American diplomacy. But as he retired from the State Department, Kissinger could comfort himself with the fact that the last six months of his term of office had seen two major victories for US imperialism in the Middle East.


The first of these victories was in the Lebanon, where the forces of the “progressive” Assad regime in Syria defeated the alliance of the Palestinian resistance and the Lebanese left last summer. One main factor in this defeat was the political strategy of the Palestinian movement, and especially the Arafat leadership of Fatah, the biggest of the resistance organisations. This strategy was one of diplomatic manoeuvre between the different Arab regimes, and particularly ‘progressive’ ones like Syria. Arafat failed to mobilise in defence of the Tel Al-Zaatar refugee camp in Beirut when it was besieged by the rightist militias because he hoped that the Arab rulers would intervene to save the camp. When the camp finally fell to the right in August 1976, its population had fallen from 40,000 to 10,000.

The Syrian occupation of Lebanon was legitimised b by the Riyadh agreement sighed in the Saudi capital in October 1976. The Palestinian forces now find themselves squeezed into the southern strip along the Israeli border called Fatahland. The Syrian forces are now trying to strip the Palestinian camps of their tanks and heavy artillery, so that they will be left to the mercy of the rightist militias (armed by Israel, Iran, France, etc.) and of the new Lebanese army being formed under the control of Sarkis, the stooge President imposed on the country by the Syrians.

Opec splits

The Saudi regime played a crucial role in negotiating the Riyadh agreement. But in December 1976 it performed an even greater service to US imperialism by splitting the Opec oil cartel.

When the Opec conference gathered in mid-December there were a number of states demanding a 15 to 30 per cent increase in the oil price. These calls came particularly from countries like Iran and Iraq implementing ambitious programmes of industrialisation. These states have been hit by the marked falls in production levels caused by a major fall in world demand for oil in 1975 as a result of the recession and by the huge rises in the prices of the armaments and industrial plant and equipment they have been importing from the West. Iran had a budget deficit of over 3 billion dollars in 1975 and is so short of cash that the Shah is pushing Western companies to accept oil in exchange for the goods they are exporting to Iran.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia and the Union of Arab Emirates, which between them produce nearly half the world’s oil, have small populations and even smaller industrialisation programmes. Most of their oil revenue is invested in Western banks. They stood out against any price increase because of the harm it would do to the faltering recovery of Western capitalism from the world recession.

The conference broke up when the Saudis announced that they would increase their prices by only five per cent and step up production (previously at only 60 per cent of capacity) in order to force down the others’ prices. Whether they succeed or not, the unity and effectiveness of the oil cartel has been weakened. This has been one of Kissinger’s main aims since 1973.


The effect of the Lebanese war and the Opec conference is to strengthen greatly those forces in the Arab world, most notably the Egyptian and Syrian regimes (previously on bad terms, but now reconciled thanks to Saudi mediation), and the rulers of the oil states, eager to reach a settlement with Israel under American auspices. Their objective will be Palestinian mini-state on the West Bank under the overall control of King Hussein of Jordan, a close ally of Syria.

The outcome of the Lebanese war means that the Palestinian resistance will not provide a very effective obstacle to such moves. The mainline leadership of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) will go along with a West Bank solution dictated by the Arab regimes. The oppositional Rejection Forces present little alternative apart from a campaign of Black September-style terrorism and reliance on their own ‘progressive’ regimes, Iraq and Libya.

The challenge to status quo in the Arab East will come from the working class of the region and in particular of Egypt. Mass demonstrations by workers shook Cairo, Alexandria and Helwan in January. The cause of the protests was the draft 1977 budget which cut back price subsidies by 90 per cent and increased the prices of sugar, petrol, rice, cigarettes and butane gas.

The Financial Times explained:

‘At the heart of the matter is the political pressure being brought on Egypt by the Gulf states, Washington, and the IMF to move the Egyptian economy move into line with principles of supply and demand. Subsidy cuts and reduction of borrowing for current expenditures are an integral part of IMF policy. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have seen fit to link extended aid to Egypt to the application of IMF approved measures.’

It added:

‘The demonstrations underline the urgent need for President Sadat to, maintain the momentum of his current effort for peace, and to reach an agreement with Israel which will allow him, eventually, to divert a large part of the crippling cost of defence to productive sectors of the economy.’ (January 19)

The struggle of the Arab working class is central to the defeat of US imperialism and its allies in the Middle East.

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