Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Looming Crisis on the Arabian Peninsula

The root of this trouble is an ongoing failure to define a “war on terror”. Calling an embryo caliphate “an existential threat to Britain’s national security”, as has Cameron, is not just an absurdity. It implies a government with no confidence in the resilience of the British state against a genuine military threat. -Simon Jenkins
The root of the reason that the "war on terror" cannot be defined is precisely because has not been not primarily only "war on terror". The "war on terror" is pretext for justifying intervening and scaling up the drone and air power wars in lands where strategic resource interests are at stake.
This is as true of Syria as it was in the decision back in 2003 to invade Iraq. Just as in 2003, in 2015 there are real concerns about the stability of Saudi Arabia, not least as ISIS has started showing an growing ability to menace not only Yemen but, increasingly, Saudi Arabian oil production plants.
The Saudi war against Houthi led Yemen is not only part of a strategy to roll back Shi'ite forces, backed by Lebanon's Hezbollah and covertly by Iran, but also to reaffirm Riyadh's preeminent position as the defender of Sunni Arab Islam. It is a means to divert discontent onto an 'existential enemy'.
Saudi Arabia reaffirmed also in August 2015 that 'there is no place for Assad in the future of Syria,” a position echoed by Hollande yesterday when he blamed only Assad for the chaos in Syria. This despite the fact the Saudis are still pumping petro dollars into the coffers of jihadists attacked by their US ally.
This insane contradiction can only be explained by resource interests. While Saudi Arabia wants to check the extension of Iranian influence westward in Syria by whatever means possible, the Western powers are more interested in keeping oil flowing to help lower oil prices and kick start the global economy.
Just as it was only the surge of ISIS into Iraq in 2014 and the threat it posed to Iraqi oil reserves that got Obama to take it seriously, the effective control over Syrian oil reserves has meant both Assad and the other rebel groups are now having to pay ISIS for oil vital for running generators and farming.
With the catastrophic impact of recurrent droughts, a consequence of the full impact of global heating starting to take effect, ISIS have managed to thrive in the chaos as the survival of the most ruthless force allows in what has been called 'combat darwinism' in a land wracked by brutal struggles over resources.
Saudi Arabia has needed higher oil revenues to buy land in places such as Ethiopia simply to secure its food supply, it flooded the global market with oil, partly to compete with US shale oil but also as part of a strategy backed by the US of driving oil prices low and so destroying the Russian economy.
As well as punishing Russia for backing Assad, Saudi Arabia had wanted to put pressure on Iran which, until the nuclear deal, was set to remain under sanctions. But fearing the US was no longer dedicated to staunchly defending its interests, it has grown increasingly paranoid, with reason, about its security.
If oil prices do not rise again then a major source of its ability to buy off internal dissent is destined to vanish and so it is frantically trying to push an ever risky strategy of ratcheting up its proxy war against Iraq as well as bankrolling jihadists in Syria and Iraq as well as invading Yemen.
The impact of the financial crisis and economic slowdown in China and the cost of the war in Yemen means the kingdom’s foreign exchange earnings could be wiped out within four years and this could lead to food insecurity causing the same sort of political turmoil as happened elsewhere in the MENA states in 2011.
That included Yemen where drone strikes have been used by the US in a way that also killed civilians and swelled the jihadi recruitment base. There is a danger of them carrying their war into the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia where most Saudi Shi'ites live.
The huge Ghawar oil field lies in the Eastern Provincehome to 'an aggrieved Shia minority' that could rise up should Saudi Arabia's economy start to tank substantially. Saudi Hezbollah remains a threat and a greater risk should the Yemen War be the Saudi version of Iraq.
The potential for an ever widening conflagration across the Greater Middle East makes fears and concerns of 'mission creep' seem footling. There is the chance not only of greater military involvement in Syria but also full scale crisis in a nation crucial for the global economy.
The failure to use Western influence long ago to advise Riyadh to reform and the insane attempt to align with its strategy on Syria, which made an uprising into a brutal geopolitical conflict over east-west pipeline routes, was determined by short sighted energy geopolitics.
This is why the Western powers are still hedging their bets on the removal of Assad and the destruction of ISIS using technological means and air power. The nuclear deal with Iran was itself partly based on the realisation that another secure energy source might be needed.
The Western Powers hope they can hem in ISIS while aligning with Turkey so as to preserve the possibility of reducing dependence on Russia for oil and gas, getting other supplies gaining eventual pipelines from the Persian Gulf supplying oil in future and Kurdish oil via Turkey.
Yet the Western powers also realise at present that Kurdish oil running via Turkey could fracture the Iraqi state and empower ISIS. While Turkey is as concerned to 'wipe out' the PKK in Syria after it joined in airstrikes against ISIS in a way that has benefited ISIS.
Unless the ever more dangerous global great game for energy security is understood, then there is no chance of grasping why Western policy has been so contradictory and blundering and why the Western Powers are being sucked into conflicts that seem far away.
“As powers continue to play the Great Game 2.0, natural resources sit at the heart of everything. Every negotiation, every war, every battle of words unfolding in the world, oil and gas have been the one common denominator. Everything else is pretty much fairy dust” .

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