As OPEC+ showed its muscle today, cutting its output and spitting in the face of the US which was seeking lower oil prices, one was reminded of how this organisation first flexed its muscles – 49 years ago, in the wake of what is known as the Yom Kippur War or the Ramadan War.
It was on Saturday, October 6, 1973, that the combined forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan launched an attack on Israel at two minutes to two in the afternoon.
It was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar and there had been some warnings of an imminent Arab attack. But these were not taken seriously.
Five hundred Syrian MiG-17s led the attack, bombarding the Golan Heights. Then tanks broke through the UN ceasefire lines, subdued the defensive forces and advanced towards Kuneitra and Rafid.
Egyptian infantrymen then crossed the Suez Canal and attacked Sinai.
Israel was in mortal danger of being overwhelmed and would have lost this war were it not for the US resupplying the country with arms to defend itself. This time, the Arabs retaliated.
A few days later, the six OPEC members from the Gulf — Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar — hiked the price of a barrel of oil by 70% from US$3.10 to US$5.11.
That wasn’t the end. On December 23, the price went up again – by 120%, to US$11.65.
It was this hiking of prices that led to a rush of money flowing into the Gulf states, followed by a rush of expatriates, many from the Indian subcontinent, who sought to improve their economic well-being by taking up all the jobs that Arabs would not do.
Development in the Gulf has proceeded apace since then, with some hiccups [as in 2008, when the global financial crisis hit] but some states still have enough oil under their control to be able to swing prices through increasing or decreasing their output.
The world has never been the same after the 1973 war. There have been a number of conflicts in the Gulf after that – between Iraq and Iran, between Iraq and a Western coalition after the invasion of Kuwait [again driven by a quarrel over oil), and the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US.
And then, of course, there have been inter-Arab spats such as the fight between Saudi Arabia and Yemen that is going on to this day.
Every year when October 6 comes around one remembers these events. The day isn’t noted in anybody’s calendar, but it definitely is on on which the world changed forever.