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That the Soviet Union is anxious to extend its influence throughout the crisis area is beyond dispute.* What is less certain is how boldly it is pursuing this goal. Moscow's view of Iran under the Shah appears to have been highly ambiguous. Some experts believe Iran's Tudeh Communists played a direct role in the well-organized strikes of the oil workers and in the mass demonstrations against the Shah. Russian radio stations broadcast anti-American and anti-Shah propaganda. Yet the Soviets also became the Shah's third largest arms supplier and entered into several commercial ventures with him, including the purchase of natural gas. A widely held view among foreign observers is that Moscow preferred the Shah's rule to the uncertainty of what might follow.
Most Western diplomats believe the Soviets are simply exploiting targets of opportunity as these present themselves. "The Russians are great opportunists who will readily take advantage of a situation that presents strategic gain with the minimum of risk," says a senior British official. But he adds that the conservative Soviet leadership should be credited with properly understanding the serious risks involved in actively seeking to overthrow the Shah and deny Persian Gulf oil to the Western world. He concludes: "There is no concrete evidence suggesting that the Russians have been masterminding or in any way been directly involved in the drastic changes taking place in Iran."
But instability itself is contagious, and the opportunities for exploitation are increasing. A complicating factor is that the U.S. is no longer widely recognized as the strategically dominant power in the region, making local leaders less inclined to look to the U.S. for their security. A case in point is Pakistan. Already annoyed by Washington's new pro-India tilt, by U.S. refusal to sell it arms and by attempts to block a nuclear-plant deal with France, Pakistani leaders were shocked by the Administration's ho-hum reaction to the coup in Afghanistan. Once a solid U.S. ally, Pakistan has moved to patch up relations with Moscow.
Perhaps the greatest single fear of U.S. strategists is that the troubles in Iran could have a direct effect on Saudi Arabia. The rulers in Riyadh place a high priority on both Arab solidarity and socioeconomic stability in the region, and thus their interests tend to parallel those of the U.S. Saudi leaders have worked actively to counter Soviet influence in northeast Africa and the Middle Eastnotably by helping keep Egypt afloat financially, by offering aid to Somalia's regime after it broke with Moscow, and by giving moderate counsel at Arab summits.
Now, however, the Saudis are upset that the U.S. has not taken a more active role in combating Soviet influence in Africa, especially in Ethiopia and Angola. The Saudis themselves feel encircled by hostile regimes: to the southwest by Ethiopia, with its Cuban troops; to the south by Marxist South Yemen; to the north by the new leftist regime in Afghanistan; and now by the instability in Iran across the gulf. The Saudi fear is that unfriendly