Historical Middle East Flashpoints

Have there been any Cuban Missile Crisis type moments in the last few decades where the Middle East could have blown up into a global conflict? I’m looking for a real moment in history that could be used as a jumping off point for a fictional international conflict.

Well, the Suez Canal Crisis should do you for a start. The Six Day War could have been a major incident if Israel hadn’t succeeded in evicerating the Egyptian Air Force, then turning around and smashing Jordanian and Syrian armored forces before anybody in Washington or Moscow could even get a fix on what was going on. (There are some implications that the war was instigated by the Soviets to divide Western Europe and the Arab nations, or altenatively a split in NATO between Western Europe and the US & Great Britain, but no solid evidence exists of this.) The 1973 Arab-Israeli War was definitely a proxy war between the US and the USSR, with the Soviets building an anti-aircraft network to rival the SAM Alley installations in Vietnam. There are suggestions, as in the prologue of Tom Clancy’s The Sum of All Fears, that if Israel had felt itself on the losing side it would have invoked the nuclear option. It’s unclear that they were prepared to do so at that time, but it remains a possibility.

Getting away from Israel for a bit, we have the various wars between Iran and Iraq, Iraq and Kuwait, and the placement of intermediate range nuclear armed Jupiter missiles in Turkey, which directly lead to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Take your pick.


Especially because in the aftermath of the war, the Arab states declared an oil embargo against the United States and other western nations because of their support for Israel. I remember some people were arguing that this was the equivalent of a declaration of economic warfare and we should respond by sending troops to occupy the oilfields.

There was also the Iranian Revoultion. Had circumstances happened slightly differently, either the US, or USSR, or both, could have gotten more directly involved.

Funny how so many people forget this aspect of the situation, and think it was all about evil Russkies and their Cuban proxies… :smack:

The stupid thing is that Khrushchev engaged in the whole “put missiles in Cuba” thing as a way of appeasing more hardline military leaders at home who felt that Big K was “soft on Capitalism”, while at the same time creating a negotiating position with Marilyn Monroe’s Birthday Boy that would force him to pull missiles from Turkey. It was well appreciated at the time that the SS-4 and SS-5 ballistic missiles installed in Cuba, while technically having the range to reach Washington, were nowhere near accurate enough to ensure a disarming strike, and that the Soviets were well behind in both numerical equivilence of warheads and launchers, despite the supposed “missile gap” upon which Kennedy falsely campaigned to the White House. K hoped to bluff the US into agreeing to the removal of IRBM installations Europe (or at least Turkey and Italy), which would make him look good at home; however, owing to intelligence from Soviet Colonel Oleg Penkovsky (who was uncovered and executed just before Kennedy’s public announcement of Soviet missile installations in Cuba) Kennedy and EXCOMM knew that the Soviets were bluffing and decided to bluff back…not realizing that some of their intelligence was out of date, that the Cuban installations had at least a limited ability to launch, plus the capability to use nuclear weapons in a tactical application against the planned US conventional invasion of Cuba, and that Castro recommended said use wholeheartedly despite the dire consequences to Cuba.

It’s too bad because an agreement for mutual removal really would have been a win-win deal for everyone involved. The Jupiter installations–which were problematically controlled by the nations in which they were stationed (although American personnel held the arm and launch codes)–were always intended as a temporary stopgap measure while the Atlas and Titan ICBM systems, which would be securely stationed in the continental United States, were finishing development and initial production.

In the end, we did agree to removal, but secretly rather than publically, and the removal was only a couple of months before the planned decommission of those systems anyway. Meanwhile, this was continued evidence that Khrushchev was a weak leader, and in no small part contributed to his forced retirement and replacement by the more hardline and non-reformist Leonid Brezhnev became General Secretary of the Communist Party (the real leadership of the “shadow government” of the Soviet Union) and Khrushchev’s designated successor, Alexey Kosygin, became Premier, the gelded nominal head of government. So much for Kennedy’s vaunted foreign policy successes.