Embargo weapon still in the arsenal, unlikely to be fired
Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. — ''Arab oil is not more precious than Arab blood.''
With those words, Sheikh Zayid, president of the then barely two-year-old United Arab Emirates, became the first Arab leader to use oil as a political weapon during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. It was largely a gesture, but it was a gesture that raised the sheikh to the ranks of Arab world leaders.
This past summer, with the invasion and occupation of Lebanon by the Israeli Army (which was supplied by the United States), and with the massacres at Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps, some people here began to ask if it wasn't time again to use the oil weapon.
The Khaleej Times, the outspoken local Arabic daily, has repeatedly in past months called for an embargo. Such a move, intended to pressure the US into a firmer stand with Israel, would have widespread support here, observers say.
But top-ranking government officials say categorically that there will be no embargo and that there will be no move to withdraw U.A.E. investments and assets from the US. They raise their voices for emphasis when they say this.
''I tell you now very clearly, Sheikh Zayid and his government are not thinking of calling for an embargo,'' said Dr. Mana Saeed al-Otaiba, U.A.E. minister of petroleum and minerals. ''We regard the United States as a close friend.''
Ghanim Faris al-Mazrui, who directs Sheikh Zayid's personal investments, heads the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, and is a director of the U.A.E. Central Bank, said he felt such an embargo and withdrawal of assets from the US was ''an impossibility.'' He said, ''You can't just say, 'Well, I have this oil and I will stop it.' You think of your place in the world, of peace and cooperation, and it is unfortunate that in this present world we have a lot of madness.''
The U.A.E. is unusually open for an Arab country. Those who disagree with or question goverment policies may air their views in public. During a recent lecture at the auditorium of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, a legal adviser to the company, Suleiman Ateff, revealed his personal view that an Arab oil embargo solely against the US is technically possible, if carried out over an extended period of time.
Mr. Ateff, a Palestinian, said such an embargo could have been used effectively as a result of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. He added that an embargo could be launched in conjunction with the withdrawal of assets from the US, an Arab boycott of US goods and services, and the nationalization of remaining US petroleum interests in the Arab world. He said these actions could be taken in the event of another Israeli-Arab war.
Dr. Otaiba said the argument was an ''irresponsible statement.'' He added, ''We want to make it very clear that the weapon of the oil embargo is not something in the hands of experts who came from abroad to work in this country.''
He added, ''The United States is a friendly country to us; why should we put an embargo on a friend? We have different views concerning problems, but there are many, many points where we meet each other.''
The foreign policy of the Emirates has evolved in the years since 1973 toward a reliance more on moral suasion than on political strong-arm policies. The Saudis have long followed this course.
The U.A.E. has sought leverage grounded on economic cooperation and trade links, which they hope will lead to a wider political understanding of the Arab world. This position by the Emirates has exposed the government to criticism from some quarters here - particularly as a result of the Lebanon crisis - that the government is the friend of the US, the chief supporter of and supplier to Israel. Since the beginning of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon the U.A.E. Army has posted an armored personnel carrier outside the US Embassy. There was a small demonstration against the US and Israel, but observers say it is difficult to assess the effects of the Israeli invasion in the U.A.E. and any possible erosion of popular support for the government. One official said there was ''virulent anti-Americanism'' in local newspapers throughout the summer.
The Reagan peace initiative and a perceived US willingness to work for peace has reduced the anti-Americanism, at least for the time being. But there is concern in the government here that without actual progress on the Reagan initiative and restraint on Israel, widespread frustration throughout the Arab world could reach destabilizing proportions.
''The more the US is really restraining Israel, the more the US will be able to address a quiet Arab mind - not a disturbed Arab mind,'' said Mr. Mazrui. ''We think there is a basic change in the US attitude. We hope it will continue to grow.''