IRAN: The Crescent of Crisis

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Iran and a region of rising instability

"An arc of crisis stretches along the shores of the Indian Ocean, with fragile social and political structures in a region of vital importance to us threatened with fragmentation. The resulting political chaos could well be filled by elements hostile to our values and sympathetic to our adversaries." —Zbigniew Brzezinski

In the broadest and grandest of measurements, this crisis crescent envisioned by President Carter's National Security Adviser reaches all the way from Indochina to southern Africa. In practical terms, however, what Brzezinski is really speaking of are the nations that stretch across the southern flank of the Soviet Union from the Indian subcontinent to Turkey, and southward through the Arabian Peninsula to the Horn of Africa. The center of gravity of this arc is Iran, the world's fourth largest oil producer and for more than two decades a citadel of U.S. military and economic strength in the Middle East. Now it appears that the 37-year reign of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi is almost over, ended by months of rising civil unrest and revolution (see following story). Regardless of what kind of government comes to power in this immensely strategic land, the politics of the region, and indeed the geopolitics of the entire world, will be affected.

The crisis area is vast. It includes India, once again the world's most populous democracy, but a politically divided and troubled nation with a squabbling, ineffective government; impoverished Bangladesh; unstable Pakistan, where an inept military regime is currently considering the execution of deposed Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the autocratic but brilliant politician who rebuilt his country after its disastrous defeat by India in 1971. To the northeast is Afghanistan, where a pro-Soviet junta that seized power last year is trying to rule over one of the world's most ungovernable tribal societies. In the west is Turkey, torn by religious unrest and social instability to the point that martial law had to be declared in 13 provinces two weeks ago.

Directly south of Iran across the Persian Gulf is Saudi Arabia, whose traditional monarchic system remains intact but which is nevertheless highly vulnerable: only 8 million people live in a land one-fourth the size of the U.S. that possesses the world's largest proven oil reserves.

Egypt, kept from bankruptcy by infusions of cash from Saudi Arabia, faces urban unrest and overpopulation; a moderate regime in Sudan, to the south, has barely survived two attempted coups inspired by radical Libya. On Saudi Arabia's southern flank lies the pro-Soviet South Yemen, whose radical government has been fomenting guerrilla warfare in neighboring Oman. Across the Red Sea, in the Horn of Africa, the Ethiopian junta of Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam is being held together by Soviet military aid and the presence of some 17,000 Cuban soldiers. Pondering the complexities of the Indian Ocean region last week, Brzezinski concluded: "I'd have to be blind or Pollyannish not to recognize that there are dark clouds on the horizon."

The nature of the clouds varies surprisingly from country to country. Some oil-rich lands, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and even Iraq, are made more difficult to govern by their oil wealth. Others are

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