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The guiding force of the Arab oil strategy is the shrewd, durable and ascetic leader of Saudi Arabia, King Feisal ibn Abdul Aziz al Saud. Feisal's raw desert kingdom sits atop the world's richest oil deposit; the best estimates of Saudi Arabia's proven reserves run to 137 billion bbl.—one-fifth of the world's total. Feisal's oil wealth has made him a combination banker and big brother to the Arab nations. He also commands special respect among the world's 471 million Moslems because his kingdom embraces Islam's two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina. Feisal has a keener understanding of the West than most Arab leaders, and since he became king nine years ago, his relations with Europe and particularly the U.S. have been good.
The Saudi king long resisted calls by such firebrands as Libya's Strongman Muammar Gaddafi and Iraq's President Ahmed Hassan Bakr that the Arabs wield their "oil weapon" for political gains. But after Egypt and Syria invaded Israel last month, Feisal finally agreed to cut back the flow of oil. Later, when President Nixon announced that he would ask Congress to send Israel $2.2 billion worth of arms, Feisal exploded with rage and shut off all the oil to the U.S.
Global Change. Feisal's decision to scale down led the rest of the Arab world into a rare show of unity. In the Moslem Middle East, only non-Arab Iran continues to pump and ship oil in normal amounts. Last week, accepting the credentials of the new U.S. ambassador, James Akins, Feisal said that the Arabs were determined to stand fast this time and that they could not be "forthcoming" on the issue of energy as long as the U.S. held its old position on Israel. It is a measure of the rise of Arab power in world affairs that the absolute monarch of a far-off desert kingdom can make life difficult for Americans.
The implications of the oil warfare reach far beyond the Arab-Israeli dispute. Not since World War II has any event carried more potential for global change. Even if the Arabs were to reopen their taps tomorrow, the world would never again be the same. The sudden shortage of fuel has finally jolted governments into a realization that the era of cheap and ample energy is dead and that people will have to learn to live permanently with less heating, lighting and transport and pay more for each of them. That awareness will force nations to conserve energy and push costly searches for new supplies and technology. Sweeping changes will be made in the way people work, travel and spend their leisure time.
The consequences will be particularly hard felt in the U.S., which burns about one-third of the world's oil and stands to depend increasingly on foreign supplies. Last week, in a television address to the nation, President Nixon implored Congress to create an agency that would be given much more funding than the Manhattan Project, which produced the wartime atomic bomb. The aim of this new energy research and development administration would be to develop enough domestic petroleum, nuclear, solar and other energy sources to make the U.S. self-sufficient in energy by 1980—an unlikely possibility.