- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

Threats by Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab countries to halt political, military and oil cooperation with the United States are largely viewed as idle rhetoric but reflect an anger in the Muslim world unseen for decades.
Every time a major Arab-Israeli war erupts, people say Arab-American ties will be cut, said Michael Hudson at Georgetown University's Center for Arab Studies. "It has not come to that. At most, there is a kind of irritation," he said.
While the State Department is concerned about Arab anger over U.S. backing of Israel, Pentagon officials and others in the Bush administration believe "the Islamist threat is overblown," he said.
But flurries of e-mail messages from friends, academics and Arab officials in normally friendly countries like Morocco and Kuwait have convinced Mr. Hudson that Arab anger is at an all-time high.
Crude oil rose 35 cents to a three-week high yesterday of $26.73 a barrel in New York after a published report that Saudi Arabia might stop oil deliveries to pressure President Bush to force an Israeli pullback from the West Bank. Oil prices are already up 35 percent this year.
Fueled by one-sided news broadcasts from outlets such as Al Jazeera in Qatar, the Arab public has become enraged, said Mr. Hudson and other analysts.
Massive protests have threatened pro-American governments in places like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
"I haven't seen this since 1967," when Israel defeated Egypt, Jordan and Syria in the Six-Day War, said Mr. Hudson. "Older people say the damage done is as bad or worse than 1948," when Israel was created.
But even if the Arab public is more volatile, their governments are less able to effectively oppose the United States without the backing of the Soviet Union. Few think the Arab states would risk the loss of trade, oil sales and military-political links that a break with the United States would entail.
But even the threat to use the "oil weapon," issued by an unnamed Saudi official yesterday in the New York Times, has led some to worry about a repeat of the 1973 Arab boycott.
"I don't take that oil threat seriously," said Richard W. Murphy, former assistant secretary of state for the Middle East under President Reagan and now with the Council on Foreign Relations.
He noted that the Saudi oil minister said in Washington on Monday that oil would not be used as a weapon, and Crown Prince Abdullah's foreign policy adviser Adel al-Jubeir repeated as much yesterday.
"Oil is not a weapon," Mr. Al-Jubeir told reporters covering the crown prince's visit to Mr. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Mr. Murphy said the Saudis could, however, create tension in oil markets by refusing to increase their production to meet any shortfalls created by Iraq's recent decision to stop selling oil. Saudi production is a bit over 7 million barrels per day, but it is capable of producing up to 10 million.
There is also concern about oil production in Venezuela, where political, labor and management unrest has interrupted exports in recent weeks.
Mr. Murphy said Al Jazeera television broadcasts have created severe pressure on Arab leaders to publicly distance themselves from the United States, even though they have nowhere else to turn for investment, security and diplomatic cover.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's decision not to meet with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell after Mr. Powell's peace mission to the Middle East was seen as a snub.
But Egypt has grown attached to nearly $2 billion a year in U.S. economic and military aid. Jordan also receives U.S. aid and protection, and Saudi Arabia is defended by U.S. forces.
"It may be that the hawks in Washington have the correct impression that the Arab regimes have no place to go," said Mr. Murphy. "They can't resist Israel and they can't resist the United States. The local challenges [from demonstrations] are surmountable."

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