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British Documents:  US Considered Seizing Mideast Oil Fields in 1973


Declassified British government documents show that the British government believed the United States contemplated using force to seize Middle East oilfields during the 1973 Arab oil crisis.

The release of papers from three decades ago center on a British assessment that was made after a warning from then U.S. Defense Secretary James Schlesinger to the British ambassador to Washington, Lord Cromer, that the United States would not tolerate threats.

British spy chiefs in the Joint Intelligence Committee, the JIC, wrote up the secret report in December 1973. It came two months after Arab states imposed an oil embargo on the United States and other western countries, to put pressure on the West to get Israel to withdraw from Arab territories.

The British assessment was that the administration of Richard Nixon might consider pre-emptive action. The overriding fear was that the Arab-Israeli conflict would continue to smolder and further protracted oil restrictions could follow.

The British JIC report calculated that U.S. supplies could be guaranteed, if American forces seized oilfields in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi.

The British intelligence chiefs believed that if such a scenario had actually been put into practice, Washington might ask for British help in Abu Dhabi because some British officers were already in the country.

The report warned that if such an action were undertaken, an American occupation of a decade would be required as the West developed alternative energy sources.

The assessment also warned that such a move would result in the total alienation of the Arab world and much of the developing world.

The oil embargo faltered and was ended a few months later.