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October 19, 1986|Marvin Seid

ARABIA IMPERILED: THE SECURITY IMPERATIVES OF THE ARAB GULF STATES by Mazher A. Hameed (Middle East Assessments Group: $14.95; 189 pp.). The war between Iran and Iraq has now entered its seventh year, amid growing concerns that the initiative in that bloody and long-stalemated conflict may soon pass to the Islamic revolutionary regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Any apparent Iranian triumph, whether it involves the overthrow of Iraq's dictator Saddam Hussein or the establishment of Iranian rule over a portion of southern Iraq, would produce political and strategic shock waves extending far beyond the immediate borders of the region. Of greatest consequence would be the impact on the oil-producing states of the Arabian peninsula, led by Saudi Arabia.

This is an area, Mazher Hameed argues in this useful strategic survey, that for too long has suffered from the benign neglect of the United States, and from an American policy that too often tends to view the security needs of the Saudis only in the context of the Arab-Israel conflict. Such a policy, says Hameed, ignores the incalculable harm that could be done to the economies of the United States and other Western countries if the vast oil reserves of the Gulf were to fall under the hostile control of either Islamic radicals or of the Soviet Union, should it be able to take opportunistic advantage of regional upheaval.

Hameed echoes the Saudi view that a direct American presence in the area is unnecessary, that it would, in fact, prove destabilizing rather than supportive. His central point is in behalf of an adequate level of military supplies and political encouragement that would permit the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, led and dominated by Saudi Arabia, to achieve a respectable capability to deter overt aggression, terrorism and subversion.

The vulnerability of the Arabian peninsula does not, of course, arise solely from its general military weakness. The political and social structure of the area also is a potential source for instability, a point Hameed treats rather too lightly. None of this alters Hameed's primary argument that the security of Saudi Arabia and its smaller neighbors is essential to the long-term security of the West.

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