IRAN'S WAR with Iraq is creating a measure of Arab unity that has not been seen since Egypt split Arab ranks by its separate peace with Israel. The results were on panoramic view at the Arab summit in Jordan. Arab moderates have long been fearful of the boost that Iran's war progress gives to radical fundamentalist tendencies at home, but it did not seem they could overcome the unhappy fact that Syria, in the pursuit of a vicious political rivalry with Iraq, had become Iran's patron and protector in the Arab camp. Syria is also the country that, in its resistance to Egypt's peace with Israel, has struggled to isolate the Egyptians in the Arab world, thus limiting the help that the willing Egyptians could provide the frightened Gulf Arabs.
In Amman, however, the Saudis, who heavily subsidize Syria, apparently applied the screws, and the Syrians, whose economy is in deep trouble, relented. This led the summit to make a vigorous condemnation of Iran and to release the member countries to do as they please in resuming relations with Egypt.
So a way has now been opened for Egypt, the largest and most powerful Arab country, to extend its material efforts to bolster the Gulf Arabs. They in turn are liberated to go public in their ties with Egypt, and to expand them. Syria presumably will keep up the arms-supply and economic connections it maintains with Iran, but it becomes at least conceivable that Egyptian military forces could yet join the battle to help repel an Iranian tide. A fuller degree of Arab support will now also flow to international efforts to obtain Iran's compliance with the United Nations' appeal for a cease-fire. The United States has reason to be pleased that the Arab world is coming together on the Gulf issue, and on the side the United States is on.
The Arabs are so scared of Iran they are averting their gaze from the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, which has a continuing erosive quality but lacks the urgent catastrophic potential of the Iran-Iraq war. Israelis and Palestinians in their separate ways are feeling the impact of the Islamic radicalization promoted by Iran, and they cannot ignore that Iran and Iraq have built armies of a size unprecedented in the region and have sustained combat for an unprecedented time. The Gulf war has enflamed the larger universe in which the Arab-Israeli dispute is set. The Arab summit has made a contribution to reducing the heat.