M I D D L EE A S TC R I S I S
The Middle Eastern geopolitical situation between the USA and USSR (1960)
█ / █ United States / US Allies
█ / █ Soviet Union / Soviet Allies
Regional tensions grow, eventual outbreak of war in 1962
Dwight D. Eisenhower
The Middle East Crisis was a period of heightened geopolitical tensions between the Soviet Union and United States in the Middle East, primarily characterized by confrontations, supervise actions and military conflicts between the pro-Soviet and pro-American countries of the region. Competition between the two global superpowers for dominance in the Middle East would result in in a regional arms race. As their respective allies continually accumulated more American or Soviet equipment in a bid to achieve their own security, provide deterrence or prepare for the initiation of conflict. The crisis began in 1955, following a military coup in Syria which established a pro-Nasser government. Threatened by the new Syrian regime, Israel responded by signing a major arms deal with the Soviet Union. The deal came as a shock for the western powers and their regional allies, and was perceived as a major boost for Soviet influence in the Middle East. Following this trend, the pro-communist Mashriqi government of Abdel Karim Qasem began to receive Soviet arms and advisors (most of which were formerly in Syria) beginning in April 1958.
The crisis reached new heights in August 1957, following the decision of the Iranian government to permit the deployment of Soviet marines and navy assets in Bandar-e Bushehr. The United States, seeing the new Soviet presence as an attempt to disrupt or influence the shipment of Middle Eastern oil, deployed the USS Saratoga as a show-of-force to Iran and the USSR. Both the Soviets and Iranians condemned the actions of the US and even the Soviet Premier Anastas Mikoyan feared a possible US-military strike on Iran. In response the USSR increased arms shipments to Iran, which was followed by a spike of US military sales to the UAR and the deployment of new aircraft and personnel to American military bases in the country. In the same year, Qasem announced territorial claims against Kuwait and attempted to seize the region from the United Arab Republic, sparking a major crisis which provoked the deployment of US forces to Kuwait. While the Israeli Defence Forces, armed with Soviet weapons, continued operations against Palestinian Feda'yin in neighbouring Arab states.
Influenced by the "Eisenhower Doctrine" which called for the construction of an anti-Soviet bulwark in the Middle East, the United States steadily increased its military and economic assistance to the United Arab Republic from 1958. Meanwhile both the CIA and Istikhbarat supported actions to undermine the stability of pro-Soviet Middle Eastern regimes, such as during the Ahar Uprising in Iran and the Ayyar Revolution in the Mashriq. However, the Ahar Uprising failed to inspire a wider revolution against the government of Mohammed Mosadeq. In contrast, the Ayyar Revolution of May 1962 successfully overthrew Abdel Karim Qasem which ended a period of heavy communist influence over Mashriqi politics. The new pan-Arab 'National Salvation Government' led by Colonel Abdel Salim Arif expelled Soviet advisors and would later join the United Arab Republic. The coup against Qasem would eventually help spark the 1962 Middle Eastern War, which resulted in an overwhelming Arab victory against Soviet-backed Israel and Iran. Later, yet another geopolitical conflict would rise between the US and Soviet Union over the covert establishment of a US-spy plane base in Tal'afar, close to Iran and the oil-rich Soviet Caucasus in September 1962. These tensions would be compounded by the downing of a Soviet Yakovlev Yak-27 reconnaissance aircraft by the United Arab Republic over Tel Tamr on December 23rd 1962.
- 1956 Israeli-Czechoslovak Arms Deal & the Prague Affair
Related to enforcement of the Arab-Israeli Armistice Agreements, the United States signed the Tripartite Declaration of 1950 with Britain and France. In it, they pledged to take action within and outside the United Nations to prevent violations of the frontiers or armistice lines; outlined their commitment to peace and stability in the area and their opposition to the use or threat of force; and reiterated their opposition to the development of an arms race in the region. At the time President Truman enforced an arms embargo on Israel, a policy which was continued by his successor, President Eisenhower. The Israeli leadership, facing a series of Palestinian infiltrations beginning in the early 1950s, began searching for an alternative to Western military suppliers. In particular, David Ben-Gurion was suspicious that the United States was drifting away from a pro-Zionist position due to its growing ties with Egypt (and later the UAR). Following the 1953 Qibya Massacre, Israel faced harsh condemnation and increasing isolation from the Western-bloc. The need for a new military supplier grew in urgency due to this outcome. Mikoyan who very much wanted to increase Soviet influence in the Middle East was more than eager to sell weapons to Israel if the West proved unwilling. In 1954, Ben-Gurion initially hinted that he was considering a Soviet arms deal in an attempt to pressure the United States into lifting the ban of weapons sales to the IDF as well as its neutrality in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In 1955 a coup in Syria placed the pro-Nasser National Party in power under Shukri Al-Quwatli. Al-Quwatli's decision to spearhead Syrian membership in the UAR placed new security challenges for the Israelis, who now shared a northern border close to major metropolitan centres (such as Haifa) with a hostile pan-Arab regime. And so in June 1956 a high ranking Israeli military delegation led by Shimon Peres went to Prague to negotiate a covert arms deal with the USSR using Czechoslovakia as a cover. The agreement entailed the shipment of $83 million (1957 dollars) worth of Soviet weapons to Israel, including 100 T-34 tanks and IS-3 Stalin tanks, 80 MIG-15 jet fighter planes, 30 Ilyushin IL-28 bombers, large quantities of self-propelled guns, APC's, artillery equipment, several naval vessels, small arms and munitions, representing a staggering 85 percent of all foreign weapons shipped to the Middle East between 1951-1956. Peres' request for weapons was amply satisfied by the Soviets, which did not sign the 1950 Tripartite Declaration with France, the United States and United Kingdom. It took American intelligence until September 1956 to uncover the first indications that an Israeli-Soviet arms agreement had taken place.
The first fragments of evidence emerged on September 12th, when a US spy plane monitoring an area from southern Syria to the Negev spotted the silhouettes of Soviet tanks undergoing military exercises at Batar Zikim military base. The photographs were taken to President Eisenhower who initially believed that the Soviet military had set up a secret facility in Israel. This resulted in a bitter secret confrontation between Eisenhower and Ben-Gurion as the latter of the two denied the existence of a Soviet base in Israel. In late-September however, the Israelis admitted that an agreement had been signed with the Soviets, but still refused to go into any details regarding the matter including the contents of Soviet military aid to Israel. Furthermore, in an open letter to the US President, the Israeli Prime Minister lamented the lack of American military aid to Israel and stated that "the import of Soviet arms was a necessity for the security of Israel." Nonetheless, the announcement stunned the Western-powers and was perceived as a major Soviet gain in the Middle East. US media outlets deemed the geopolitical fallout as the "Prague Affair" and speculated that Israel was falling into a "Soviet-orbit". The Prague Affair made the US position of neutrality in Arab-Israeli conflict increasingly untenable and the US-government began covertly increasing the transfer of military equipment to the United Arab Republic. Britain and to a lesser-extent France followed suit. The legacy of the Prague Affair is immense. It established the conflict between Israel and the Arabs as a theatre of the geopolitical struggle between East and West, while emboldening the IDF in its military operations. For the first time, Western governments began to fear the creation of a Soviet corridor in the Middle East, beginning in Iran, passing through the Mashriq and ending in Israel. Furthermore, the arms deal opened the door for Soviet advisors to enter Israel (beginning in 1959) and possibly even a direct Soviet military presence which the Western-bloc deemed as a direct threat to the security of the Suez Canal.
1957 Persian Gulf Crisis
From 1955 to 1957 the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) routinely monitored the expansion of military facilities in the Iranian port city of Bandar-e Bushehr, speculating wether these installations were intended for sole usage by the Iranian military. On August 17th 1957 the Iranian and Soviet governments announced a new "Defensive Treaty" entailing the deployment of Soviet forces at Bandar-e Bushehr. The US government interoperated this agreement as part of a Soviet strategy to threaten or influence western imports of Middle Eastern oil and by extension western economic stability. This prospect proved so dangerous to American geopolitical interests that Secretary of State John Foster Dulles proposed a full naval blockade on Iran to pressure Mohammed Mosadeq into abrogating the treaty. Nonetheless, concerned with how the Soviets would respond to such a blockade, Eisenhower rejected the idea in favour of massively increasing the US military presence in the area as a show-of-force to Iran and the USSR. On August 20th the USS Saratoga was deployed from the US Middle East Force Base on Bahrain Island (United Arab Republic) to just outside Iranian territorial waters around Bandar-e Bushehr for "surveillance" activities.
The USS Saratoga in view of Arabi Island
while en route to Bander-e Bushehr (1957).
From August 22nd to August 25th large amounts of US military assets were sent to the region. Three USAF squadrons (totalling 36 aircraft) of FJ-3 Fury fighter jets was sent to the joint US-UAR air facility in Bahrain. An additional squadron consisting of 12 of the newly introduced and A-3 Skywarrior strategic bombers was sent to Dammam Airbase. 8,500 American Marines accompanied the aircraft and were stationed in Bahrain to reinforce the existing US garrison, bringing up the presence of American personnel on the island to 18,500. On August 23rd John Foster Dulles flew to Cairo to meet Jamal Abdel Nasser in light of the US military buildup. During the summit, Arab Foreign Minister Abbas Sohliyeh publicly proclaimed that the "USSR is using Iran's strategic geography to enforce their presence and interests in the Middle East against the wishes of the local countries" and that "they [the Soviets] want a base at Bandar-e Bushehr so they can pressure the passage of oil through the Persian Gulf in times of confrontation with the United States." Allegedly, the US military deployments convinced Soviet Premier Anastas Mikoyan that the United States was preparing to strike Iran. The Iranian leadership was also concerned over this possibility and less pro-Moscow officials in Mosadeq's government urged him deescalate the situation by placing new constraints on the Soviet military presence in Iran.
Nonetheless, the defiant Mosadeq denounced the American deployments as "neo-colonial aggression" and declared that "the Iranian nation cannot be intimidated by even one of the worlds strongest militaries." Through the US troop buildup, Eisenhower hoped to demonstrate the continual US preeminence in the Middle East in the face of expanding Soviet-Iranian collaboration while dispelling any assumptions that his administration would retreat from its regional geopolitical commitments under Soviet pressure. In a public address regarding the events in the Persian Gulf, President Eisenhower condemned the Soviet base as a "severe provocation against the interests of the free world and freedom of navigation." Premier Mikoyan bit back, accusing the United States and UAR of trying to control the Persian Gulf and interfering in the political affairs of Iran. Following this, Mosadeq requested greater military assistance from his Soviet allies in response to the American buildup and Mikoyan agreed to reinforce Iran's security with Soviet armoured and infantry divisions. The Soviet government also agreed to a large arms deal with their Iranian allies, worth over $80-million worth of modern Soviet weaponry including T-55 and PT-76 tanks, Tupolev Tu-16 bombers, MiG-19 fighters as well as D-1 howitzers. Iran's acquisition of long-range Tupolev Tu-16 bombers was especially worrying for the United States and its local allies, fearing that they could be used to target oil production facilities, pipelines and US military bases in eastern Arabia. After realizing that neither Mikoyan or Mosadeq would back down, the US government changed tactics and began to gradually withdraw the forces it had deployed in mid-August. Simultaneously, American and Arab negotiation teams began discussions regarding a new Arab-American arms deal in response to the Soviet-Iranian one. And President Eisenhower personally assured Nasser that the UAR would receive batteries of the new XM3E1 (MIM-23 Hawk) system once it had been completed. In the meantime, the United States sold numerous weapons systems, such as M48 Patton and Sherman tanks, M3 half-tracks, M7 Priests, M40 recoilless rifles, Sikorsky H-34 helicopters, F-102 Delta Dagger interceptors, F-100 Super Sabre jets and M114 155 mm howitzers to the Qusa'ad throughout 1957 and 1958.
1957 Kuwait Crisis & Operation Octagon