The Monarchs of the Persian Gulf


Several nations have done well out of the October war: the Egyptians and the Syrians, exulting in their new “self-respect”; the Soviet Union, posturing once again as the great protector of the Arabs. And, of course, Henry Kissinger, accorded by the forgetful world a reputation cleansed at last of the stains of Indochina. The true victors of the war, however, are none of these but rather the oil monarchies whose territories ring the waters of the Persian Gulf-Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Gulf sheikdoms.

While the number of casualties the Arab principalities suffered during the war can be counted on two hands, the benefits which they and Iran have derived from it are monumental. They have exploited the war to extract nearly $40 billion in additional oil revenues from the rest of the world. The industrialized nations bow down before them, ready to indulge any whim in the desperate hope that in response plentiful oil supplies might be forthcoming. The Egyptian and Syrian war effort has largely depended on their money, and in return they can demand immunity against revolution from within and aggression from without. Never were these potentates more comfortably seated on their thrones.

Ten years ago their prospects seemed less assured. In 1965 there were reasons to believe that a significant change in the regional balance of power was about to take place and that it would be a shift away from the monarchs and their Western protectors and in favor of Egypt, Iraq, the Soviet Union, and the revolutionary movements which each supported. By 1965 it was clear that the British, who for the past hundred years had been the dominant force in the region, had neither the money nor the will to bear the imperial burden for much longer.

Who would take Britain’s place? There were many policy makers in Washington and in London itself for whom it was axiomatic that all vacuums must necessarily be filled, and when they looked around to see who might fill this particular one, they found that the enemies of the established order seemed better placed to move in than its friends. Grave predictions were made that Southeast Asia was not the only place where the dominoes were going to start falling. With the Egyptians and the Iraqis fomenting revolution at opposite ends of the Arabian peninsula, were not the sheiks destined to be trapped in the shrinking space between? Moreover behind both these radical powers lurked the Soviet Union, with its expanding naval power and its ambition of achieving hegemony throughout the Arab world.

In the intervening years these gloomy prophecies have not come to pass; one by one the threats which were thought to be so dangerous have faded and disappeared, and the Royalist supremacy has survived intact. Egypt’s revolutionary involvement in Arabian affairs came to an abrupt end after the June, 1967, defeat, when President Nasser was obliged to withdraw his expeditionary force from the yemen. Moreover as President Sadat has turned more and…

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