New York Times - 19 Apr 90

Prof. Robert B. Laughlin
Department of Physics
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305
(Copied 11 Jul 09)

The Secret Pipeline

By A. M. Rosenthal
Published: Thursday, April 19, 1990

This is an astonished one-column look at a story of world importance that involves politics, war, race, national survival and lots of money.

The astonishment comes from the realization that the story gets so little attention that most of the world does not know it is taking place. Fear is one reason, but greed, hypocrisy and duplicity are far more important.

The story is about oil and South Africa.

No country can function without steady supplies of oil. Most of the nations of the world have declared oil embargoes against South Africa.

But the oil keeps coming right in, enough for all of South Africa's industrial and military needs, enough to keep South African cars on the fine roads. In South Africa, simply disclosing information about which countries the oil is coming from can be punished by seven years in prison.

Put aside for the moment political questions about sanctions against South Africa. I believe sanctions are justifiable.

Right or wrong, it is obvious that Pretoria would have been severely weakened years ago, perhaps fatally weakened, if oil had not been coming into the country.

As we all have been told repeatedly, great affinity exists between the oil-producing Arab states and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Conclaves of Arab nations regularly stress brotherhood and endorse strengthening the oil embargo.

And on TV we all saw Yasir Arafat hugging Nelson Mandela in Zambia, and getting from him his strong endorsement against Israel.

The links between the African National Congress and the Arabs were probably emotionally strengthened by arms deals between South Africa and Israel.

Whatever government comes to power when Israel stumbles its way through its ludicrous political process, I hope it announces the end of those deals soon after it takes office. About a week after would be nice. And maybe someday the African National Congress and anti-apartheid movements around the world will have the courage to announce and denounce what all their leaders know but do not like to talk about publicly: Most of the oil for the Republic of South Africa comes from Arab states.

When the fall of the Shah of Iran closed Iranian oilfields to South Africa, the Arab states stealthily but enthusiastically took up the slack by increasing their own shipments.

Year after year, in cynical betrayal of their promises, Arab nations have sold oil directly or by transshipment hocus-pocus to South Africa - at a premium price.

Prof. Arthur Jay Klinghoffer of Rutgers University, a specialist on oil politics, says that over the past decade the leading suppliers of crude oil to South Africa have been Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. The latter two became increasingly important recently as Saudi shipments decreased.

Other Arab states that have sold oil to South Africa are Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and to a lesser degree Egypt, Iraq and Southern Yemen. Persian Gulf oil, Professor Klinghoffer reports, amounts to 80 percent of all South African oil imports. That is worth about $2 billion a year to the exporting Arabs.

Interesting, but not really shocking. The Arab states are oil businesses. Arabs are not the only businessmen to put money over mouth, profit over principle. Right, American savings institutions?

But, in my everlasting innocence, I think it shocking that non-Arab governments and anti-apartheid movements that denounce Israel for dealings with South Africa (or the U.S. for importing South African steel) remain so silent about the massive Arab double-cross of anti-apartheid, the oil lifeline to South Africa.

American supporters of Israel criticize her, on every important subject. I would appreciate receiving copies from Arab-American organizations of statements they have made criticizing the Arab states for talking embargo and shipping oil. The same, please, from African-American leaders particularly critical of Israel for dealing with South Africa.

But it would be wrong to focus on this issue simply as a telling difference of attitude between supporters of Israel and the Arabs.

This is more important: Neither the West nor the Soviet Union have done much, if anything, to expose the big lie that is the Arab oil embargo.

The information is available. All that is needed is the will, and a healthy allergy to hypocrisy.

It is not too late for the anti-apartheid movements to start doing the job of making the truth known. In about a week would be nice.