Revisiting US-Arab Diplomacy: Operation Boulder and the Oil Embargo

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LNG and CNG fuel pumps are seen at a Blu LNG filling station in Salt Lake City, Utah, March 13, 2013. (Photo: Reuters - Jim Urquhart)

By: Yazan al-Saadi

Published Monday, April 8, 2013

On 8 April 2013 WikiLeaks announced the launch of the Public Library of US Diplomacy (PlusD), which holds “the world’s largest searchable collection of United States confidential, or formerly confidential, diplomatic communications.”

The records amount to nearly 2 million US diplomatic and intelligence reports, 250,000 embassy cables, and even the 1970s “Kissinger files.”

According to Julian Assange, “The collection covers US involvements in, and diplomatic or intelligence reporting on, every country on Earth. It is the single most significant body of geopolitical material ever published.” The project aims to provide access to documents that are either declassified or kept classified within the US National Archives.

PlusD is meant to be a research aid that facilitates access to this valuable information. An initial scan by Al-Akhbar of the diplomacy library shows how Gulf countries were not eager, as previously advertised, to use the ‘oil weapon’ during the 1973 war and revelations regarding the little-known discriminatory policy by the Nixon Administration targeting Arabs, known as the “Boulder Operation.”

The (Nonexistent) 'Oil Weapon'

Contrary to the romanticized memories of Saudi King Faisal Bin Abdulaziz al-Saud’s use of an oil embargo to support the Egyptian-Syrian surprise attack on Israel in 1973, cable documents show that Faisal was vehemently opposed to using oil as a weapon to deter the West from aiding the Zionist state.

When hostilities broke out in October 1973, US officials in the Jeddah embassy noted that Faisal was likely “dismayed at these developments because they may result in (a) setback to his efforts to diminish Arab alignment with [the] Communist Bloc, (b) increased radical criticism of SAG's [Saudi Arabian government] generally moderate pro-US stance, and (c) perhaps even demands that SAG resort to oil weapon to assist a cause which defeated military and diplomatically on defensive.”

Indeed, barely a month after the cessation of hostilities, the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Omar al-Saqqaf notified the American ambassador that the Saudis were keen to resume and even considerably expand the volume of oil production after a political settlement was made.

Other Gulf heads of state also shared Saudi’s sentiments. They conveyed to a visiting American ambassador that they “want quickest possible progress on Mideast problem and end to oil embargo.” For these Gulf states, the biggest threat was the Soviet Union and the horrors of any growth to “below-surface revolutionary and radical elements.” This was also noticed by the banking mogul David Rockefeller during his tour of the Gulf.

Ultimately the oil embargo was eased and then entirely lifted by March 1974 due to the insistence of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and the acceptance of Syria.

Moreover, in the midst of the oil embargo, the Americans were already planning for the future by actively dominating and accelerating Saudi Arabia’s industrialization process and to encourage stronger financial ties as a means to ensure that future stoppages would less likely occur.

For more details on the inner workings of the oil embargo, check out these PlusD cables:

UAE Minister of Petroleum speaking with American official on lifting oil embargo.

Saudi Minister of Oil Zaki Yamani assuring Americans that boycott will be lifted and oil prices would be forced down if necessary.

UAE Minister briefs US on plans to lift embargo.

Saudi Minister checks if US was receiving all the oil it needed.

Request by US officials on information regarding ‘oil leaks’ during the embargo.

Clarifications of oil ‘leaked’ by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to the US.

Saudi oil minister trying to coordinate with US on bringing oil prices down.

Operation Boulder: Nixon’s Discriminatory Policy Towards Arabs

Long before 9/11, Arabs and Muslims have been on the receiving end of institutionalized racism from the American government and law enforcement agencies. The earliest example of this discriminatory policy is the little-known “Operation Boulder” initiative. Launched by the Nixon Administration in 1972, it was allegedly a response to the “terrorist threat” that followed the Munich Olympics operation carried out by Palestinian organizations.

As Boston University law professor Susan M. Akram noted in a March 2002 article in Arab Studies Quarterly, “Nixon Administration's ‘Operation Boulder’ [was] perhaps the first concerted US government effort to target Arabs in the US for special investigation with the specific purpose of intimidation, harassment, and to discourage their activism on issues relating to the Middle East.”

Much of the secrets behind Operation Boulder were only recently discovered. What we know today is that the operation involved stringent reviews and background checks of Arabs, particularly Palestinians, by the FBI, CIA, State Department, and Secret Service. Moreover, much of the information was shared between the Israeli and American security services, as well as pro-Zionist organizations within the US.

At the program's zenith, background checks were made on 40 to 50 visa applicants per day and the operation was only terminated by the State Department in 1975 after objections were raised by the FBI. Despite the massive effort to monitor Arabs in general, only 23 visas for non-citizens were denied at the end.

But for Arab-Americans, they were constantly watched, harassed, and had restrictions placed on their movement throughout the country. One of the iconic cases regarding Operation Boulder was that of Abdeen Jabara, a Palestinian-American lawyer and activist who was secretly wiretapped and followed by the FBI. Jabara was able to successfully win a lawsuit against the US government for violating his civil liberties. His case spotlighted this discrimination, but now, it has vanished from the historical memory.

US State Department documents further shed light on the nature of this policy. Over 2,000 documents deal specifically with Operation Boulder, the majority of which are still classified or simply inaccessible. Of the few that are available via PlusD, one can get a sense of the operation’s sprawling nature.

For more details on the structure, methods, and aims of Operation Boulder, head to these PlusD cables:
Increased workload for American visa officials

Saudi military officials exempt from Operation Boulder

Doubling workload for US officials due to Operation Boulder

Special case for Algerian finance minister’s family to be exempt from Operation Boulder

Request for Boulder check on Arab students coming into US

Frequency of Arab visa applications at the US embassy in Sweden

Query on minimizing Boulder telegrams

Assessing the case of a Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship

Concerns of attempt by ‘Turkish and Palestinian Terrorists’ in trying to obtain a visa

Operation Boulder proposal to limit visiting time for Arab Canadians

Procedures for Operation Boulder

Congressional interest for Operation Boulder, not declassified

Algerian’s visa refused on account of Operation Boulder

PLO delegation being processed under Operation Boulder

Warnings of Operation Boulder being discriminatory towards Palestinians

Proposed abolition of Operation Boulder, not declassifed

Memo on cancellation of Operation Boulder to check for “potential Arab terrorists,” not declassified

After official cancellation of Operation Boulder, request to check on Arab aircraft crew

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