Saturday, 13 September 2014

The War on the Islamic State and the Struggle for Hegemony and Resources in the Greater Middle East

President Obama chose the 13th anniversary of 9/11 to make the speech on degrading and destroying ISIL The aim is to exploit the media refracted outrage at the beheading of two US journalists the better to advance 'public diplomacy' preparing America for the long war for control over strategic resources.

NATO has become an organisation crucially concerned with energy security in the post-Cold War world. he pretence, of course, in its public diplomacy is that this is an additional auxiliary ambition as opposed to one which is bound to be core to it as an organisation protecting the power and wealth of western states.

IS is a threat primarily to the security of oil producing zones south of Baghdad and the Kurdish regions as well as to Turkey. Turkey, a NATO member, was at the forefront of arming, training and forwarding Sunni militants into Syria to overthrow Assad along with the US's regional partners and the CIA.

The 'game plan' is to try to 'degrade' IS, build up the Sunni militant forces capable of being controlled by Turkey and the Syria National Council. Then to Assad's government could be removed the better to check Iran, forestall a Shi'ite gas pipeline to the Eastern Mediterranean and Russian's interests.

Russia is feared because it has been active in backing Assad so as to gain the access to the gas reserves off the Syrian coast in the Levant Basin which was discovered in 2010. The Syrian National Council opposes that and so do France and Britain which want Eastern Mediterranean gas to be amenable to western control.

The US is focused on upholding the interests of the European powers in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Levant Basin offers the EU and Turkey the opportunity to find an alternative sources of gas to Russia and a chaotic war ravaged Libya after the NATO backed war ended up creating a failed state.

The Libyan military intervention of 2011 was a war designed to back Qatar's regional strategy of empowering "moderate" Sunni forces and democracy the better to secure oil and gas supplies against the encroaching influence of and energy hungry and rapidly industrialising China.

Unfortunately, Libya collapsed into further resource conflict over who controls the oil which has been sharpened by a proxy war between forces all aligned with the US. Qatar backs militant Islamists. UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt back ex-Gaddafi militias. Supplies of energy from Libya are not secure.

The conflict in Eastern Ukraine has made the search for energy diversification more urgent. The strategy of backing the overthrow of President Yanukovych and so better controlling the oil and gas flow from the, Black Sea the Caspian region and Central Asia backfired when it triggered off ethnic tension.

Putin was able to exploit the fears in the Russian speaking east to pursue a similar policy to that which Turkey pursued in Syria two years before in giving covert support to rebels in regions close to its border areas and so interfering in the internal politics of a sovereign state on the Turkish model.

Just as Russia was able to ignore the case for territorial integrity and sovereignty in Ukraine where resources interests and geopolitical interests were at stake when it annexed Crimea, so too is the US prepared to ignore those arguments over sovereignty when it comes to Syria.

Neither Assad IS nor Islamic State is considered legitimate by the US and the "international core coalition"   ( i.e NATO powers ) and so the existence of IS as a transnational terror threat could also provide an opportunity for the west to reshape Syria in accordance with its energy security needs.

Regime change in Syria would mean there would be less Russian influence over the geopolitical struggle for power in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey could not afford to antagonise Russia directly as it depends on it for energy and Russia sought to keep it so by developing Israeli's Tamar gas reserves.

By keeping Syria under Assad and thus maintaining the unity of the Shi'ite crescent from southern Iraq through to Syria and hence southern Lebanon where Hizbollah is dominant, Russia could prevent the realisation of a Israel-Turkish pipeline and help ship Israeli LNG towards lucrative East Asian markets.

So Israel and Russia have aligned closer. When the Syria conflict broke out, the US was pulling out of Iraq and Obama refocused the US towards Asia ( "The Pivot to Asia" ) Netanyahu despises Obama and distrusts Britain and France for moving too close to Qatar upon which they depend more and more for LNG.

Israel showed sensitivity towards Russian concerns over the Caucasus during the 2008 Russo-Gerorgian War, suspending arms supplies to Georgia, and made no criticism of Russia's annexation of Crimea because of the influence of Russian Jews in Israel and the fact Tel Aviv has designs on Gaza's offshore gas reserves.

The other reason for Israel's closer relations with Russia is that it has no interest in Assad being removed only for the Muslim Brotherhood to come to power in Damascus. Turkey and Qatar's regional policy includes recognising and backing Hamas in Gaza and potentially hampering Israel's exploitation of the offshore gas.

Assad, moreover, has largely protected the border with Israel in the Golan Heights. A Syria embroiled in conflict and neither dominated by Sunni forces or the Shia would suit Israel because it diverts Hizbollah into war with Sunni Arabs and serves to divide Hamas from Hizbollah while Israel develops the gas fields.

With ISIS, the US had to refocus on Syria and Iraq once more because it would not want either Russia or Iran to take advantage of the collapse of a Sunni Arab alternative to Assad the better to advance its strategies for the region, not least the possibility of a 'Sunni' Qatari-Turkey gas pipeline.

Erdogan's neo-Ottoman strategy is about recreating Turkey as an east-west gas hub rather as Ukraine would have been, one other reason Ankara was not outwardly hostile towards Putin's annexation of the Crimea as it upgrades the importance and status of Turkey in relation to the western powers.

Those who regard the causes of the growth of IS and its consequences as the only calculation in Washington's response to what Obama calls "ISIL' ( meaning 'threat to the Levant' ) are simply ignoring the wider geopolitical context the pathological power struggles over energy that begat the Islamic State.

The chaos that IS emerged out of was the product of a regional proxy war between Turkey and Qatar, which backed Sunni militias wanting Assad to go no matter what the risks would be, Saudi Arabia, which backed rival jihadists opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, and Iran's backing Assad and the Shia.

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