Origins of the Czech–Egyptian Arms Deal: A Reappraisal
With the conclusion of the Second World War the world witnessed the rise of two superpowers: the Soviet Union, the leader of the emergent Eastern bloc, and the United States, the new leader of the Western bloc. This historical development was concurrent with the evolution of a new international conflict - the Cold War between the two blocs. Both superpowers vied for influence and domination in areas which were not fully identified with either of the two camps. One of these areas was the Middle East. One of Stalin’s main foreign policy goals in the war’s immediate aftermath, in the Middle East in particular, was to end British and French hegemony in various colonies, and to fill the vacuum as soon as conditions would allow. This policy was translated into action at the United Nations when the Soviet Union supported the demands of Lebanon and Syria in 1946 and Egypt in 1947 for a complete and speedy evacuation of foreign troops from their countries. The Soviets were also actively involved in terminating the British Mandate in Palestine and were one of Israel’s major supporters in its struggle for independence in 1947-48. Soviet post-war policy contradicts the traditional concept that their interests and political activity in the Middle East during the Stalinist period were marginal. It also negates, as will be seen, the belief held by contemporary scholars that arms supplies from the Soviet bloc began reaching Arab countries in 1955; in fact, such supplies reached Egypt and other Arab countries as early as 1948.1 Furthermore, Soviet-Egyptian commercial relations increased steadily from 1948 until 1955.2 These pre1955 agreements, thus far neglected in the professional literature, were of crucial importance in the establishment of Soviet hegemony over Egypt and other Arab countries.