Oil Weaponized Against Israel’s Allies

October 17, 1973

Oil ministers from Arab states cut exports by 5% and recommend an embargo of Israel’s allies in response to the U.S. airlift of military supplies to Israel during the Yom Kippur War.

Two days later on October 19, when President Richard Nixon asks Congress for $2.2 billion in emergency aid to Israel, Libya announces an embargo on oil exports to the United States, and the remaining oil-exporting Arab states join the embargo the next day. The embargo includes the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa and Rhodesia.

The embargo ignites a global energy crisis. By its end in March 1974, the price of oil quadruples, and the U.S. economy is suffering through a recession. Although the oil embargo is often blamed for the recession, many economists say an American oil crisis was looming for years as domestic reserves were drained and oil companies battled Arab nations in pricing negotiations.

The embargo, which ends amid promising disengagement talks between Israel and Egypt, marks the start of a shift in U.S. foreign policy to appease oil-producing states and to address dependence on foreign oil. The embargo makes clear the continuing challenge of maintaining good relationships with Arab oil producers while supporting Israel.