British spy chiefs warned after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war that they believed the United States might invade Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi to seize their oil fields, according to records released Thursday.
A British intelligence committee report from December 1973 said America was so angry over Arab nations' earlier decision to cut oil production and impose an embargo on the United States that seizing oil-producing areas in the region was "the possibility uppermost in American thinking."
Details of the Joint Intelligence Committee report were released under rules requiring that some secret documents be made public after 30 years. The report suggested that then-President Nixon might risk such a drastic move if Arab-Israeli fighting reignited and the oil-producing nations imposed new restrictions.
The 1973 embargo and production cuts, used by oil-rich Arab nations as a means to pressure the United States and Western Europe, caused a major global energy crisis and sent oil prices skyrocketing.
The committee of intelligence service directors calculated that the United States could guarantee sufficient oil supplies for themselves and their allies by taking oil fields in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, with total reserves of more than 28 billion tons.
It warned however that the American occupation would need to last 10 years, as western nations developed alternative energy sources, and would lead to the "total alienation" of Arab states and many developing countries, as well as "domestic dissension" in the United States.
Other records released Thursday showed that Prime Minister Edward Heath was furious at Nixon over the American president's failure to tell him he was putting U.S. forces on a worldwide alert during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
Heath learned of the alert — considered a high point in Cold War tensions — from news reports while he waited in the House of Commons for Foreign Secretary Alec Douglas-Home to make a statement on the Middle East crisis,
Britain's intelligence listening post, Government Communications Headquarters, had learned of the alert but did not tell Heath's office or the Foreign Office because officials assumed Heath and Douglas-Home already knew about it, the papers showed.
Nixon said he put U.S. troops on high alert for just under a week, starting on Oct. 25, 1973, to show the Soviet Union that America would not allow it to send military forces to aid Arab states fighting Israel.
The alert covered U.S. forces stationed in Britain, and Heath wrote in a memo that he thought Nixon's move, which came in the midst of the Watergate scandal, had been deeply damaging.
"Personally I fail to see how any initiative, threatened or real, by the Soviet leadership required such a world wide nuclear alert," the prime minister wrote. "We have to face the fact that the American action has done immense harm, I believe, both in this country and worldwide."