107. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Eliot) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

    • Qadhafi and Phantoms for Israel

During an interview in November 1971, Colonel Qadhafi, head of the Libyan RCC, expressed his readiness to use oil as a political weapon against countries threatening the “Arab cause.” He demonstrated his willingness to use that weapon when he nationalized the Libyan affiliate of British Petroleum in retaliation against the UK for the latter’s alleged complicity in the Iranian seizure of the Persian Gulf islands of Abu Mussa and of the Tunbs.2

Qadhafi’s propensity to shoot from the hip has been amply demonstrated during the past two years. The nationalization of BP was the most recent example. His premature endorsement of the attempted coup against King Hassan of Morocco last July was another.3 Still a third was his forcing down of the BOAC plane last July that was carrying two members of the group that had plotted against President Nimeri of Sudan, which led to their execution.4

Although he does not need any egging on from them, the Egyptian press campaign urging retaliation against American interests in the Arab world, in response to recent reports that we will supply additional Phantoms to Israel, fits in with Qadhafi’s own instincts. The political and psychological impact of these reports on Qadhafi could be formidable. As the spearhead of the Arab cause, he may feel compelled to act by seizing one or more of the American oil producers in Libya. The precedent for doing so has already been set by grabbing BP.

One possible restraint on Qadhafi could be the problem of marketing the oil. There has been a decline in the demand for Libyan crude [Page 258] because of its price. Legal difficulties in marketing the crude seized from BP might also make buyers wary of touching seized American crude.

But these are rational considerations, and Qadhafi is emotional on the Israeli problem. If he wishes to damage us, the most obvious target is our oil industry in Libya. A secondary target would be our diplomatic ties. As a target, the latter are less attractive than the oil, since Qadhafi does not attach importance to them, but they may not escape his ire.

Theodore L. Eliot, Jr.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 12–5 ISR. Secret. Drafted on January 12 by Blake and concurred in by Sisco, Atherton, Katz, and Newsom.
  2. See footnote 5, Document 98.
  3. Army officers attempted to assassinate King Hassan of Morocco on July 12, 1971, in a failed coup. The army units involved received immediate public support from Libya. Moroccan officials believed that Qadhafi had prior knowledge of the coup. Libya broke diplomatic ties with Morocco on July 15.
  4. Libyan authorities removed two members of the group behind the aborted coup against Sudanese leader Major General Jafaar Numeri from a BOAC airliner on July 22, 1971, after forcing it to land. Despite British protests, Libya turned the two men over to Sudan the next day. On July 24, they were executed.
  5. James Carson signed for Eliot above Eliot’s typed signature.