(IPS) LONDON --
U.S. mulled military invasion of the Arab Gulf region to seize oilfields during an oil embargo in 1973, but feared a possible counter-attack by Iraq whose vice-president at the time was none other than Saddam Hussein, according to recently declassified British government documents.
Although the 1973 war -- launched by Egypt and Syria to end Israeli occupation of Sinai and Golan Heights -- was over after three weeks, a secret assessment drawn up by the British Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) -- including the heads of MI5 and MI6 -- concluded that Washington was ready to use force to take over the oilfields.
Arab countries decided in October 1973 to impose a complete oil embargo on the U.S. over its support for Israel and slashed down production, sending oil prices sky high.
The JIC assessment concluded that oilfields seizure was "the possibility uppermost in American thinking when they refer to the use of force; it has been reflected, we believe, in their contingency planning."
According to the BBC News Online, this came after British Ambassador in Washington Lord Cromer quoted the then U.S. Defense Secretary James Schlesinger as saying "it was no longer obvious to him that the United States could not use force."
The documents, released under the 30-year-rule for declassification, indicate that London took the threat so seriously that it drew up a detailed assessment of what the Americans might do.
The JIC calculated the Americans could guarantee sufficient oil supplies for themselves and their allies by taking the oilfields in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf state of Abu Dhabi, with total reserves of more than 28 billion tons, Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The JIC warned the American occupation would need to last 10 years, as the West developed alternative energy sources, and would result in "total alienation" of Arabs and much of the rest of the third world, as well as "domestic dissension" in the U.S.
However, the committee said the Republican administration of President Richard Nixon could be prepared to take the risks, if it was faced with the "dark scenario" of renewed Arab-Israeli conflict and further protracted oil restrictions.
The declassified documents said that although the attacks would not be fraught with ferocious resistance, given the modest military capabilities of the would-be invaded countries, the U.S.feared the counter-intervention of then-advanced Iraqi forces to expel them.
"For Saudi Arabia, the operation could be fairly straightforward. The peacetime garrison of Dhahran is one lightly armed National Guard battalion and a Hawk SAM battery," it said.
"The initial assault could be made by a brigade tasked to knock out the Hawk battery, seize the airfield, and so far as possible prevent sabotage to the oilfields.
"For Kuwait the operational problems are greater. The Kuwaitis have about 100 tanks, mostly concentrated near the airport. This means that although the initial assault could still be made by a brigade, the assault force would need to be rapidly reinforced, say within six hours, by tanks of its own."
A "complication" in the case of Abu Dhabi was the presence of some seconded British officers in the Abu Dhabi Defense Force, and for this reason, the JIC said Washington could ask London to carry out that operation.
The JIC said that the U.S. would probably give the Soviet Union prior notice of its intentions, and that Kremlin opposition would "probably stop short of direct military intervention".
However, in a reversal of what was actually to happen 18 years later, the JIC said that if the Americans seized Kuwait, Iraq may try to mount a counter-invasion to expel them.
"The greatest risk in the Gulf would probably arise in Kuwait, where the Iraqis, with Soviet backing, might be tempted to intervene," it said.
The intelligence also warned that American military intervention could create strains among the Western allies.
"Since the United States would probably claim to be acting for the benefit of the West as a whole and would expect the full support of allies, deep U.S.-European rifts could ensue," it said.
The declassified documents said other possibilities, such as the replacement of Arab rulers by "more amenable" leaders or a show of force by "gunboat diplomacy", were rejected as unlikely.
The episode shows how the security of oil supplies is always at the forefront of governments' planning, commented the BBC.
It also draws attention to the current situation, as it revives memories of the U.S.-British cooperation to invade Iraq, that sits on the world's second largest oil reserves.
War opponents have long insisted that the war on the oil-rich Arab country was rather an attempt to keep a tight grip on oil production not only in Iraq but the entire Gulf region.
Washington claimed the war was to dismantle weapons of mass destruction, nothing of which have been found so far nine months after occupation and a few weeks of the capture of ousted president Saddam Hussein.
The U.S. has military bases in almost all Gulf countries, including the three countries it earlier planned to invade, and its companies landed a majority of contracts there.
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