Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Russia's Great Game Plan for Syria.

Given that since 2012 the Western Powers-the US, France and Britain-have been firmly aligned with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey as supposed 'Friends of Syria' demanding 'Assad Must Go', Russia's decisive military intervention and air strikes are firmly about ensuring 'Assad Will Stay' as a matter of fact.

The reason for Putin's 'escalation' of the conflict concern multiple objectives all tied up with a reassertion of Russia's Great Power status on the regional and global stage. Despite the Obama administration's denials, the differences between the US and Russia over Syria are part of a Great Game of geopolitical chess.

The "moderate" rebels in Syria are, in reality, Sunni jihadist groups backed by America and Britain's Gulf state allies. Some of them, such as al-Nusra, are affiliated to Al Qaida and in conflict with ISIS as the many fragmented 'rebel' groups compete for funding and arms by proving how effective they are against Assad.

The 'extremists' are ISIS because they are not only against Assad but also ranged against the Iraqi Shia dominated government in Baghdad that the US depends upon, along with Iran, to keep Iraq together and prevent it having to re-enter the country militarily after it withdrew combat troops in 2011.

ISIS are also 'extremists' because in 2014 they threatened Erbil and the Kurdish autonomous region and to surge southwards towards Baghdad and Basra: all are major oil producing areas regarded as essential to the present and future supply of oil to the global economy and hence bound up with energy security.

ISIS also poses a threat to Saudi Arabia, especially given its disastrous military intervention in Yemen. This has raised costs to the Saudi state at a time of low oil prices and threatens to destabilise both its finances and ability to use oil revenues to buy off internal discontent. Leading a war against Assad is part of its war against the Shi'ites.

Saudi Arabia has threatened Russia before that it would use jihadists to attack Southern Russia and the Sochi games. It was a terrorist threat that the Western Powers are willing to ignore, partly as France and the US still depend partly on Saudi oil but also due to huge lucrative arms deals with Riyadh.

The other reason Britain ignores Saudi sponsoring of terrorism and an intolerant Wahhabi Islam globally, while claiming to be at the vanguard of fighting terrorism, is that since the 1970s and oil price shock, London has become increasingly a place where Saudi petrodollars have been heavily invested.

There is a clear double standard in condemning Putin for shoring up Assad's state in Syria with arms, air power and military equipment. Britain and the US preceded Putin's move by moving in to support Saudi Arabia's onslaught in Yemen in which Saudi air power has been used indiscriminately to kill civilians.

As regards the absurdity of the Western "public diplomacy" line, Robert Fisk put it accurately when he wrote,
'...within hours of Russia’s air assaults last weekend, Washington, The New York Times, CNN, the poor old BBC and just about every newspaper in the Western world resurrected these ghosts and told us that the Russkies were bombing the brave “moderates” fighting Bashar’s army in Syria – the very “moderates” who, according to the same storyline from the very same sources a few weeks earlier, no longer existed. Our finest commentators and experts – always a dodgy phrase – joined in the same chorus line. '
Putin's move is no mere 'mistake' in his being overzealous to take on ISIS along with the rest of the 'international community' but adding "moderate" groups as targets. Putin aims at wrong footing the western powers tactically by bringing out the contradiction inherent in being against ISIS terrorism but not that of other jihadists.

Groups that were barely mentioned in British newspapers, until Russian fighter jets started bombing them, have suddenly come under the spotlight and are, in fact, not greatly 'less extreme' than ISIS: they are bloodthirsty jihadist movements that still depend upon the Gulf States for finance and weapons.

Western leaders must know this. Yet the underlying geopolitics of energy and influence within the Greater Middle East ensure that the Cameron's sort of moralising drivel about the 'butcher Assad' takes precedence over the fact his opponents are no less ruthless and massacring Alawis and Christians across Syria.

Russia has been able to exploit the absurdity and hypocrisy of Western foreign policy on Syria to lead the way in defending Assad, making the retention of the Syrian state the counterpoint to the sort of chaos unleashed by the West after NATO bombed Gaddafi's forces in 2011 and enabled jihadists to gain ground.

Putin's policy of shadowing Western policy and, in coordinating Russian air power with Assad's forces and Hezbollah on the ground, against 'terrorists' is designed to do three things other that preserve Assad's power base and show Putin as being a strong leader who is effectively 'tough on terror'.

1) Restore Russia as a Global Power that has to be taken into account in the Greater Middle East and as a balancing force to the Western led alliance in the struggle over Syria. By proving Assad is not going to be overthrown, Putin aims at showing that Russia could do a better job of preserving global security against jihadists.

2) Preserve Russia's military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and its naval base at Tarsous. With the discovery of huge reserves of oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean in 2010, Putin wants to position Russia as a power that can protect and be involved in the supply of oil and gas from the region to EU markets.

3) Prevent the possibility of Syria becoming an east-west transit route for Qatari gas pumped from the Persian Gulf towards Turkey and on to EU markets. This would provide a land based energy route that would reduce dependence on Russian gas and hence Russian power in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

4) Enhance Russia's global standing as a reliable partner in a renewed 'war on terrorism' both in the Middle East, in the Caucasus and Central Asia. When the US started to criticise General Sisi too much after the 2013 coup, Putin was first to try to exploit this to offer Russian technological aid over energy as well as arms deals.

5) Protecting Russia's southern flank against Chechen Jihadists. ISIS has recruited many Chechens spoiling for revenge after Putin crushed the Chechen insurgency in a brutal war which, by the turn of the twenty first century,established Putin as an authoritarian leader who could protect Russia against terrorism.

The presence of Chechens in the jihadist forces surging towards Latakia and towards Russia's military bases would appear to show that they have been able to cross from the Caucasus through Turkey into Syria where they have been deployed as jihadist 'assets' against Assad by Sunni forces there.

One additional factor in the decision to bolster Assad's Alawite dominated home base territory, other than the claim Russia is defending fellow Orthodox Christians too in Syria, is that Russia's SoyuzNefteGas began prospecting for oil in Latakia’s Qenenas district just a week before air strikes started.

6) Countering Georgia's Proxy War. It is thought jihadists from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge have been allowed to spread and recruit by Georgia's security services to be used as assets should Russia threaten the Caucasian state as it did in the 2008 war. Hence the flow of Russian paramilitary forces to Syria.

7) Syria is another front, along with Eastern Ukraine, where Russia is fighting Chechen jihadist paramilitaries to advance its geopolitical reach and wrest control over strategic regions where the Western Powers too are also vying pathologically for access to and control over oil and gas flows between east and west.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Syria: Enter Russia and Britain as Global Players

Russia's dramatic military intervention in Syria has been met with anger by leading politicians in the West for wrong footing them and, through bombing non-ISIS targets, put them in the position of having to laud the efforts against ISIS while whining about the targeting of 'moderate rebel' militias as well.

The use of the terms 'moderate' and 'extreme' Islamist groups has, in practice, become interchangeable with those Sunni jihadi groups in Syria that are on the side of the West's allies in the Middle East ( Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states ) and those such as ISIS which are not ( the 'extremists').

Despite the Obama administration's denials, the differences between the US and Russia over Syria are part of a Great Game of geopolitical chess. Putin's move is no mere 'mistake' in his being overzealous to take on ISIS along with the rest of the 'international community' but adding other jihadi groups as targets.

Groups that were barely mentioned in British newspapers until Russian fighter jets started bombing them have suddenly come under the spotlight and are, in fact, not greatly 'less extreme' than ISIS: they are jihadi movements that depend upon the Gulf States for the finance and weapons they compete for.

The Russian airstrikes, which started on September 30th 2015, may well be condemned by powers such as Turkey's Erdogan as 'a grave mistake. Yet the straying of a Russian MIG into Turkish airspace, used by NATO to reaffirm its solidarity with Ankara, is not going to pit it against Moscow directly.

Turkey ultimately depends upon Russian gas imports. If it were to openly advocate a unified Sunni war effort in Syria and give direct military aid, Russia would simply threaten to cut off its energy supply in winter so Turkey cannot afford to confront Moscow too much no matter how much the West might like it.

NATO's Jen Stoltenberg has appeared like a lit up cyborg trying to exploit the MIG incursion to ratchet up the threat level from Russia because it bolsters the role of his organisation and its need to demonstrate its 'credibility'. The power game requires the incident is portrayed as a threat not an accident.

Of course, Russian air strikes over Syria put the Western Powers in a quandary as they have no legal authority to launch their air strikes as they do in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi state. Putin has consequently made much of the fact that his air strikes are at the invitation of the Syrian sovereign state.

The fact the West does not recognise Assad as legitimate is a clear double standard. When Assad's forces are accused of having used chemical weapons, the focus is on Syria's responsibility as a sovereign state as opposed to the use of chemical weapons by Islamic State and jihadi groups backed by Western allies.

In fact, Russia's air strikes, using ISIS as a pretext to advance its own geopolitical interests in the Middle East in bombing both ISIS and other Sunni jihadist militias threatening Assad held areas, simply mirrors what Turkey did in using ISIS as a justification for using air power to bomb the Kurdish PKK militias in Syria and Iraq.

In pursuing a geopolitical fantasy about there being a 'third force' between Assad and ISIS, despite all evidence to the contrary that there is an effective "moderate" Islamist force on the ground in Syria, the Western powers have opened up the space for Russia to enter decisively to roll back the Sunni jihadists.

The outrage from the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and largely powerless Sunni politicians aligned with Turkey and Qatar is fuelled not only by Russia having propped up Assad's forces north of Latakia against the onslaught of Sunni insurgent forces. It is due to the gas deal between Damascus and Moscow.

On September 22 2015 it was reported Russia's SoyuzNefteGaz started drilling for oil in Latakia’s Qenenas district some eight days before the region was threatened by Sunni jihadists. This followed on from a December 2013 gas deal for offshore gas drilling that back then infuriated the Syrian SNC.

The danger with the unifying of all the various Sunni militia groups is that the Western Powers, especially Britain and France, would see an opportunity to rally behind them in alignment with Saudi Arabia and Qatar to effectively draw Russia in further just as the Soviet Union was after 1978 in Afghanistan.

To use Russian involvement in Syria as an opportunity for the Western Powers to pull Russia into a full scale war, as it was between 1979 and 1989 as a means to divert it and put a strain on its economy, would be insane. But the West may not be able to prevent the Gulf states increasing their supply of weapons.

After all, Saudi Arabia is under pressure from ISIS in Yemen and, increasingly, with low oil prices the capacity to buy off internal discontent is diminishing: a straightforward war of all the Sunni militias against Iranian backed Hezbollah and Assad along with Russia could well prove too tempting.

Obama would appear to have played down the idea of a straightforward proxy war between the US and Russia over Syria even if Senator McCain is spoiling for a reinvigorated New Cold War Two. Turkey would seem more preoccupied with the looming threat of war with Kurdish militias than with Russia.

President Erdogan's war against the PKK in Syria and Iraq has triggered off a full scale insurgency in South-East Turkey in which Turkish jet fighters are strafing Kurdish areas. Meanwhile Britain has issued 37 arms export licenses to Saudi Arabia since it launched its war on the Houthis in Yemen.

Given that Britain and the Western powers have been prepared to ignore the warmongering excesses of two of its staunchest allies in the Middle East, it is hardly surprising that Russia has decided the West has evidently vacated any moral high ground it may have had to assert its geopolitical interests too.

Britain and France demanded Assad had to go back in 2012 because of lucrative arms deals with Saudi Arabia and Qatar: the latter is also an important source of liquefied natural gas, inward investment into two ailing European service sector economies and crucial for infrastructure projects.

The other big interest at stake is the proposed Qatar-Turkey gas pipeline that was scuppered when Assad rejected it before the Arab Uprisings of 2011 in favour of a pipeline that would link Iran, Shi'ite dominated Iraq and Syria and pipe gas from the very same South pars gas field Iran shares with Qatar to the EU.

Both Russia and Iran have a clear interest in blocking any possibility of such a land pipeline energy route linking the Eastern Mediterranean with the Persian Gulf. For Iran it would mean its rival Qatar would have a way of avoiding tanker routes going through the Iranian controlled Straits of Hormuz.

Iran would be deprived of a major strategic advantage over its Gulf rival while the Western Powers and Turkey would have a major source of gas that would reduce the dependence of both upon Russia while removing from Moscow's grasp a vital strategic naval and military outpost in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The discovery of vast reserves of oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean in 2010 has led to a revival of old style Great Power politics in the region over pipeline routes and alliances that bolster or downgrade the respective powers of each contending state that is vying for influence and control.

Russia regards it as essential that it retains its position as a Mediterranean power so that it can interpose itself as a vital force capable of 'protecting' energy supply routes from Egypt, Cyprus, Israel and Syria and using its power to increase its ability to control energy flows and clinch oil and gas deals.

Britain and France are as hostile to Russia reasserting power in its traditional sphere of influence as they were at the time of the Crimean War ( 1853 –1856 ) which, as with the Syria conflict in 2015, is also connected with French and British fears of Russian dominance over the Black Sea region and the Near East.

The double standard is that Britain and France maintain they have the exclusive right as beneficent liberal Western powers and so shall determine the outcome of the war in Syria against nasty Putin while, in fact, all three Great Powers with global pretensions are playing a similar geopolitical game.

Britain's Foolish and Dangerous Game .

Both PM Cameron and President Hollande must know that the jihadi militias targeted in Russian air strikes are not "moderate" rebels but bloodthirsty fanatics such as those in Al Nusra who are itching to slaughter Alawis, Christians and others they regard as collectively responsible for supporting Assad.

Cameron's hypocritical guff about the 'butcher Assad', as if al-Nusra, Ahrar ash-Sham and Jaysh al-Fateh were somehow heroic 'rebels', has remained largely unchallenged by politicians and much of the media in Britain. News channels have omitted to mention that al-Nusra is affiliated with Al Qaida.

The claim in the liberal Guardian newspaper that Russia was attacking 'less extreme' groups rather than ISIS gave the game away and recycled the official British government line as opposed to the actual truth that Russia is striking both the jihadists loyal to the Gulf states and ISIS simultaneously as though one.

Russia's entrance into Syria does raise the stakes and could push the US into backing a regional peace settlement if the other Western Powers stopped being so stubborn in clinging to a failed strategy in Syria out of self righteousness and the inability to accept a Syria in which events are not determined by them alone.

As regards Britain, this seems unlikely because pushing relentlessly towards RAF strikes in Syria on ISIS and aligning with the Gulf states unconditionally is seen as part of a way to foil both Russia and discredit internal opposition to the foreign policy presented by the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Cameron is still smarting from his House of Commons defeat in 2013 for air strikes against Assad. By going to Parliament a second time, he could get Britain back at the forefront of a war against ISIS, avenge his humiliation and reassert his authority by getting Labour MPs to vote against their leader.

Just as Turkey launched air strikes on the Kurdish PKK in Syria partly as a means of fighting 'enemies within', so too is the push for air strikes against ISIS regarded as a way of forcing Corbyn's opposition and thus portraying him and his supporters in a sinister way as a national 'security threat'.

Cameron wants Britain involved in air strikes against ISIS as a way of placating Saudi Arabia which wants the Western Powers to do its dirty work against the Sunni jihadists that threaten it. As Putin is lambasted for supporting Assad, so Britain increased its arms exports to Riyadh to support the Saudis.

In fact, the main obstacle to peace in Syria, after Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is Britain for standing together so closely with the Gulf states while PM Cameron unctuously talks of Assad staying for six months after a peace deal while at the same time demanding he be put on trial for war crimes.

These demands make it all the more unlikely that Assad would want to compromise at all with any Sunni opposition given the record of those removed after Western backed rebel forces has been to be given politicised trials and shot, as with Saddam, or butchered in public, as was Gaddafi of Libya.

More than President Obama, PM Cameron on September 9th used the usual 'tough' and 'decisive' messianic pose to demand  'hard military force' to deal with both Assad and ISIS while ignoring the fact that the CIA trained 'third force' of Division 30 had crumbled and its leader defecting to Al Qaida.

However, more than just the war on ISIS is at stake. Clearly, Britain's contribution to air strikes that have not shown any sign of defeating ISIS are about restoring its role as a Global Player and a reliable ally of powers such as Saudi Arabia which have become increasingly hostile to Russia.

As Riyadh becomes more paranoid about Iranian backed Shia threats to Sunni ascendency in Iraq and across the region, the question is going to arise concerning how far Britain and France, as well as the US, are going to follow the Saudis in what they do against Russia if it threatens all out war in Syria.

The Chechen Connection.

Russia's War against jihadists is connected to the security of its borders to the south. Chechen ISIS fighters have been present in the region north of Latakia, no doubt hungering for revenge not only against Assad's Alawite state but also against Russia and Putin in order to avenge the defeat in the Chechnya War.

Turkey until 2014 had relatively open borders so as to allow the flow of jihadists down from the Caucasus through Turkey into Syria. The Pankisi Gorge in northern Georgia is known to be an area where Sunni jihadists are indoctrinated and used, it is thought, by Georgia's security services as 'assets'.

Part of this dangerous 'strategy' is concerned with using directing these jihadi 'assets' against Russia should it appear to menace Georgia again after the 2008 war. On the other hand, Georgian-Chechen jihadists are useful in engaging with Russia's ally Assad in Syria as part of their own proxy war against Moscow.

This explains why Moscow has been issuing official statements about their inability to prevent Russian militias, battle hardened in Eastern Ukraine and Chechnya from travelling south towards Syria. Moscow's position is that whatever cynical tricks Western allies try on, Russia would match them.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

France's Civilising Mission in Syria and the Evil Russian Bear

'... the message that Vladimir Putin has been sending out as he prepares to take the stage at the UN general assembly later this month: let’s all ally ourselves with Bashar al-Assad – the Syrian president may be a murderous thug, but we shouldn’t let that stand in our way'.
Natalie Nougayrède urges 'the West', as supremely represented by France and its civilising mission at home and abroad not to play Putin's cynical power game in Syria after he intervened to supply Damascus with weapons and Russian military personnel, as well as strengthening air bases on the Eastern Mediterranean.
On the contrary, the West should have taken the moral high ground by bombing Assad's state and military in 2013 and so enable ISIS to roam freely across Damascus and murdering hundreds of thousands of Alawites and Christians because, when France acts, it does so for the loftiest of all intentions.
While claiming Putin's diplomatic intervention in 2013 allowed Obama to "wriggle out of commitment to air strikes" against Assad, after a chemical weapons attack that has not been conclusively proved as the work of Syrian state forces, Nougayrède then sententiously cautions and chides the reading public,
'...let’s put aside naive and wishful thinking. There is no credible sign that Putin is ready to overthrow or replace Assad. Nor was there ever a serious Russian intention to do so, at any point. In the summer of 2012, when the big powers met in Geneva to discuss a Syrian national unity government, Russia made sure that this would not entail Assad’s departure. Russia has consistently shielded the Syrian president – not out of any love for him, but because, after the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, he represents Russia’s last foothold in the Middle East: and its best chance to demonstrate western fickleness'.
Western 'lack of resolve' and 'Syria fatigue' may well be surprising. Since 2012 President Hollande seems to have had a remarkable amount of energy in clinching lucrative arms deals with Qatar as a way of ingratiating himself with the gas rich emirate, securing LNG supplies, investments in French housing and infrastructure.
The French embrace of the Gulf state that has, along with Saudi Arabia bankrolled Sunni jihadists, as they butcher and crucify their way through Syria, may not be clear as a humanitarian stance before rest of the world. After all, the call 'Assad must go' was led by Qatar and France in the 2012 Friends of Syria Group.
Convened by Nicolas Sarkozy, a would-be new Napoleon, the 'Friends of Syria' was backed by other states whose record of 'democracy promotion' is not so apparent, most notably Saudi Arabia whose Wahhabi state is a decadent version of the ferocious and militant 'Islamic State' emerging in Syria and Iraq.
The idea that Russia's attempt to shore up Assad is causing the Gulf states to fund groups such as Al Nusra and groups affiliated to Al Qaida is not borne out by facts. The Gulf states and France had geopolitical agendas of their own in demanding 'Assad must go', such as the prospect of a Qatar-Turkey pipeline.
Russia's decision to prop up Assad has no comparisons to Kissinger's use of the Khmer Rouge as a “counterweight” to North Vietnam. If anything, it has more in common with Turkey's President Erdogan's tacit and covert help for ISIS, the Islamist version of Pol Pot's revolutionaries, as a counterweight to the PKK Kurds.
But, of course, Nougayrède's selective moral outrage against Russia and Assad ignores what Turkey has been getting up to because it does not fit what can only be called a propaganda mould, in which Putin and Russia are clear evil and France stands out as a potential beacon of "our values" in the world.
For, after all, Turkey is also in NATO and another 'Friend of Syria'. So Erdogan's shady role in Syria has to be downplayed or ignored and put into the Orwellian memory hole while Russia's attempt to bolster Assad is regarded as the height of cynical Kissinger style, Cold War realpolitik.
This is convenient when the aim is to pretend that there is a New Cold War that Russia has started so as to use the moral impetus of the NATO and Western cause against totalitarianism as part of an uplifting propaganda drive that screens out all mention of Western energy geopolitics and interests.
Either the Qatari or the Iranian pipeline would have traversed Iraq and then Syria; it is not just who would get one built but the need to block the other in getting one and so both asserting their regional influence from the Persian Gulf through to the Eastern Mediterranean.
No war, not least a conflict as complicated as Syria's war, is ever only about just one thing such as oil or pipelines. But the geopolitics of energy flows is absolutely crucial in  understanding the stakes in Syria as far as the interests of the competing regional and global powers are actually concerned.
The jihadi movements are effectively funded by dysfunctional Gulf states as they turn a blind eye to it and so give their tacit assent to it. Geopolitical interests aside, for Saudi Arabia in particular it is ever more important to divert internal discontent with a rentier regime outwards towards the Shi'ites and Iran.
The difficulty is that, apart from antagonising Shia Saudis living in some of the main oil producing regions towards the borders with Bahrain, it conjures up the competition from ISIS which is going to exploit Sunni Shi'ite enmities to ratchet up their apocalyptic end-time jihad across the region.
However, religious identity politics is connected to regional power political rivalries between Iran and the Gulf states as well as with Turkey as Erdogan attempts to play 'diaspora politics' in using Sunni Arabs and Turkic peoples in Central Asia and Western China as counters in a geopolitical great game.
The pursuit of power is interconnected with the control of energy flows and pipeline routes not only because of worldwide rapid industrialisation in developing nations. It is also one formidable tool in coercing adversaries diplomatically by threatening their economies if they grow too assertive.
Prating gasbags such as Edward Lucas, in his abysmal The New Cold War, are always ready lambast Russia for doing this, as it indeed does. Yet it is not only Russia but the US and Western powers that are prepared to 'wield the oil weapon' as a form of reconfiguring Great Power relations for their own benefit.
Naturally French politicians and columnists for Le Monde would identify their cause to overthrow evil autocrats with that of all humanity because 'we are the world' and France's identity is bound up with the liberation of certain worthy oppressed peoples everywhere where there exist much coveted resources.
But, in reality, France operates as a state much like many others with pretensions to global power such as Russia, especially in being at the forefront of vying for lucrative bilateral arms ties that enhance their respective spheres of influence in the Middle East where once it rivaled Britain for influence.
Consequently, windbag columnists are apt to project onto other powers such as Russia all the evils that their own state is engaged in doing constantly because it makes them feel good and because they are willingly blind to what France does as a 'Global Player' as they want to believe it is 'better' than Russia.
Hypocrisy is probably an unavoidable part of global power politics. Yet there comes a time when the inability to look in the mirror and see that what France has done is not greatly different from Russia with its constant rival vying for arms deals with General Sisi in Egypt and supporting his new 'war on terror'.
So, despite Nougayrède's earnest entreaties to not play Putin's Great Game in Syria, France is already playing that game in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb and Levant as no less of a player itself. Putin's move is just one more in a general geostrategic game of chess on the regional and global chessboard.
France's geopolitical ambitions in bombing ISIS and removing Assad to expedite a reassertion of its power in its former mandate land of Syria are apiece with the solid backing for Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states in using lethally destructive air power to crush the Shi'ite Houthis in neignbouring Yemen.
The reason, apart from oil and weapons deals, is preventing the prospect that Iran could assert decisive influence over the strategic chokepoint of Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which connects the Suez Canal ( and the new one supported by France ) with the Persian Gulf, in addition to the Straits of Hormuz.
However, the Saudi air strikes are killing thousands of civilians and involve the use of cluster munitions which are a savage way of killing civilians that very much rival Assad's deadly barrel bombs in Syria. However, Nougayrède appears to have been curiously very silent about these atrocities for some reason.
In May 2015, Hollande jetted into Riyadh to sign a $7 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia as part of its utmost commitment to a renewed 'war on terror'. Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubei made plain that Paris had a special and mutually beneficial partnership with the Saudis against the Iranian threat.
“We have common views with regard to the challenges in the region today with Syria, Yemen, Iraq, terrorism ‎and of course Iran’s nuclear program, and there are very large commercial and military ties between our two countries.”
At the Summit between France and Saudi Arabia, where transport, energy and military sales were all up for grabs, France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, chimed “We sense the new [Saudi] team’s desire to move quickly.......We’re working on 20 projects, which may represent several billion euros.”

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Russian Geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean and the War in Syria

News that Russia's Vladimir Putin has sent military personnel and hardware to shore up President Assad in Syria has been met with concern by Western leaders. Russian ships laden with arms have passed through the Bosphorus and aircraft with humanitarian supplies have been flown out to Syria.

Putin is increasing his power in the Eastern Mediterranean and interposing himself as a potential third force between the Western states and the states of a region that has seen a scramble for gas since 2010. Needless to say, in Western 'public diplomacy' the energy agenda is seldom even mentioned as a factor.
Both Iran and Russia have a vital interest in propping up Assad to thwart one real aim of the geostrategy behind the Western and Syria National Council demand that 'Assad must go': to remove his and Russia's control over Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves in a deal clinched by Putin in December 2013.
The deal infuriated by the Syrian National Council, Turkey and the oily 'Friends of Syria' ( with friends like Saudi Arabia and Qatar pumping millions into the coffers of militant Sunni jihadists it is difficult to see how Syria would need enemies with friends like this ). They had hoped Assad would go quickly after 2011.
The idea Assad could be overthrown as Gaddafi was always unlikely. Syria, like Ukraine, occupies a strategic east-west gas and oil pipeline route. Russia would not want as a supply route linking the Persian Gulf to the Eastern Mediterranean as this would undermine its use of control over energy flow to the EU.
Whereas in Libya neither China nor Russia nor Iran had vital interests if Gaddafi were toppled that could not be subsequently asserted under another ruler, in Syria if either Qatar or Iran built rival pipelines instead of the other they would enhance their power and status in the region and globally at each other's expense.
By helping Assad consolidate his rule of the regions abutting Lebanon and the Eastern Mediterranean coast, Russia and Iran could block off Qatar and Turkey's rival plans while they enhance their exports of gas via routes not exclusively under the control or complete influence of the West.
Evidently, for Iran these export routes are via the international maritime water ways from around the Persian Gulf via Egypt and the Suez Canal, routes it shares with the Gulf states. However, a pipeline overland linking the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean would vastly undermine Iran's power.
Iran controls part of the Straits of Hormuz already and could always close it and therefore throttle the global economy if it were pushed. This 'strategic trump card' is the one hard hand it holds still in place of nuclear weapons and would be greatly diminished had Assad been removed as the West anticipated.
The nuclear deal went ahead not due to the supposed nuclear threat Iran could have posed. It reflected Washington's acceptance that Iranian cooperation is needed so as to keep ISIS at bay in central Iraq. The possibility of Assad really 'going', as once anticipated by the West is also not on the cards in the short term.
Putin is now rubbing that in by giving Assad military assistance in much the same way Washington, and ferociously anti-Russian states like Poland, are giving Ukraine military help in the Donbass; except that everybody claims to hate ISIS while globally many states are not especially pro-Kiev.
After all, ISIS threatens global oil supplies not only to many Western economies present and future but also the East Asian economies, most obviously China's. ISIS has consolidated its hold over eastern Syria where most of its oil lies and in north west Iraq. The Western allies also have contradictory ambitions.
Russia's move to shore up Assad is part of his 'public diplomacy' in putting himself at the head of a counter terrorism drive against energy rivals such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both of whom undeniably can be said to sponsor 'terrorists' in the shape of jihadi militants. At the same time it increases his standing in Egypt.
Russia's arms export markets are one reason. The other his strategy to expose Western prating and double standards over Syria, as they had no problem in tacitly accepting Sisi as leader in Cairo after the 2013 coup and so, logically, there should be no reason not to accept Assad as a counter terrorist leader.
Russia wants to enhance its standing in Cyprus; fears of Turkey's belligerence over gas drilling is has ked Putin to emphasise Russia's role as an honest broker as Greece and Turkey, NATO members both, shift apart once more over Cyprus and Athens rebels against Germany over the euro and austerity policies.
The simple fact is the Cold War alliances are slowly disintegrating and becoming more complicated by the revival of older historical antagonisms; ethnic-sectarian enmities, nationalism and the revived role of religious allegiances as the two successor states created out of the Ottoman Empire-Iraq and Syria-crumble.
The reports of growing Russian military activity in Syria were troubling, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday. “I am concerned about reports about increased Russian military presence in Syria,” Stoltenberg said. “That will not contribute to solving the conflict.”
What Stoltenberg means is that Russia's backing for Assad would not solve the conflict in the way NATO representatives such as himself would like in so far as he means the the 'right' rebels of Division 30 and others being shoved on the grand chessboard as counters to Russian influence in Syria.
The absurdity of NATO's position is clear; Putin is attacked for backing Assad while Turkey's Erdogan is backing Sunni jihadists in ever more desperate attempts to remove Assad'. Putin is denounced as a vile warmonger for backing the Donbass militias against Kiev, but not Erdogan's policy on Syria.
Turkey was less interested in ISIS losing than with the Kurdish PKK gaining ground in northern Syria ( Rojava ) and the Kurdish cause of independence setting off irredentist momentum within south-east Turkey. Increasingly paranoid about this he took a fatal gamble in starting to bomb PKK positions in Syria.
Erdogan's brinkmanship was about rallying Turkey behind him against domestic opponents, including the HPD, which backs more Kurdish autonomy after elections failed to give him a clear majority in the Turkish Parliament. A NATO state is backing forces in Syria that other members are actually fighting against.
NATO would seem no longer fit for purpose and Turkey is clearly no longer worthy of being a NATO member if were really were about 'democracy promotion' and defending 'the West' or 'our values'. A military organised to fight the Cold War has morphed into an organisation dedicated to advancing other goals.
One of the most important ambitions is energy security, though this is usually put out in 'public diplomacy' terms as a sort of interesting sideline NATO may well have to factor is as opposed to an essential geopolitical goal it had during its 'nation building' ventures in Kosovo and Afghanistan
Just as Erdogan is posing as neo-Ottoman champion of Sunni Muslims to project prestige and power in regions where pipeline ambitions are a vital influence, so too now is Putin championing the rights of diaspora Russians and Christian Orthodox believers in Syria. 50,000 Syrian Christians applied for asylum in Russia.
A report has revealed that Putin was praised in a letter sent to the Kremlin that called him a “powerful factor for global peace and stability”. The West was rounded on, apparently, for supporting terrorists whose aim is “to eliminate our presence in our homeland.” This has barely been mentioned in the West.

The Lost Opportunity of 2012-The Syrian War

“It was an opportunity lost in 2012”
The news that Russia wanted a diplomatic solution and for Assad to step down as part of a negotiated transition in 2012 is no surprise any more than its being ignored by the Western Powers, especially Britain and France. Both powers had aligned very closely back then with Qatar's policy of backing Sunni rebels.
The Guardian reported today,
'On 22 February 2012 he was sent to meet the missions of the permanent five nations (the US, Russia, UK, France and China) at UN headquarters in New York by The Elders, a group of former world leaders advocating peace and human rights that has included Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan 
“The most intriguing was the meeting I had with Vitaly Churkin because I know this guy,” Ahtisaari recalled. “We don’t necessarily agree on many issues but we can talk candidly. I explained what I was doing there and he said: ‘Martti, sit down and I’ll tell you what we should do.’“He said three things: One – we should not give arms to the opposition. Two – we should get a dialogue going between the opposition and Assad straight away. Three – we should find an elegant way for Assad to step aside.”
The reason was back then, far more than it is in 2015, a product of Britain and France seeking to pose as champions of Sunni democracy against dictatorship and to clinch lucrative arms deals and gas deals with Qatar. Both Qatar and Turkey had planned for Assad 'to go' when he rejected their gas pipeline plan.
A gas pipeline that linked the Persian Gulf with the Eastern Mediterranean and hence Qatari gas directly via a land route to Europe would have vastly reduced energy dependence upon Russia. It would have removed the potential threat Iran poses to the oil and gas tanker routes that go via the Straits of Hormuz too.
Russia is bound to defend Assad and shore up a consolidated state in and around Damascus and Latakia and Assad's home territory along the Eastern Mediterranean. On the geopolitical chessboard concerning energy, Russia would retain the offshore gas drilling concession granted in December 2013.
While Assad's forces were brutal in trying to crush protests and armed opposition, the Sunni opposition had by 2012 been hijacked by Sunni jihadists bankrolled by the Gulf states. But the US had planned on destabilising and overthrowing Assad long before as revealed by Wikileaks cables released in 2011.
Whether Russia could have prevailed upon Assad to step down is unclear. What is clear is neither the US nor Britain or France were interested, especially not the old colonial mandate powers whose leaders, Cameron, Sarkozy and Hollande, have regarded the Middle East as a region where they shall determine events.
Syria was becoming increasingly unstable for many reasons leading up to 2011: overpopulation, a succession of years of drought and water shortage as a consequence of climate change depleting oil reserves and high fuel prices and an ineffectual autocratic government.
However, the reason it has collapsed into anarchic chaos and bloodshed is due to regional and global power political players vying for influence and control over a crucial geopolitical east-west position between Iraq and the Gulf region and the Eastern Mediterranean. Peace is difficult as no side wants to back down.
Britain and France would not want to antagonise Qatar by engaging in any diplomacy in which the demand 'Assad must go' is not central, even if they have included the six month stay on provision. Britain has bound itself closely in mutual military and security establishment ties to Qatar.
Qatar, as late as March 2015, was trying to use its money and funneling of weapons into detaching Al Nusra from Al Qaida. Before they had been prepared to support any effective Sunni militant group in opposition to Shia militias backed by Iran. Yet Al Nusra has committed numerous atrocities against civilians in Syria.
Thousands of Syrian civilians are set to continue dying or leaving as refugees or as migrants from camps in neighbouring lands as Turkey and Lebanon travelling westwards. A large part of the blame lies with the Gulf powers and with Britain and France in failing to forcefully push for diplomacy with Russia and Iran.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Egypt's War on Terror : Resource Wars, the Security State and the Savage Threat of ISIS.

Egypt's New War on Terror

Egypt has branded itself as a staunch leader in a second 'war on terror'. This one followed on the from the failure of the 2011 "Arab Spring", a chain of uprisings throughout the MENA states against old Cold War era nationalist autocracies that could no longer cope with economic problems and high food prices.

A full scale insurgency led by ISIS exists in the east of Egypt in Sinai and to the West in Libya. But the war in Egypt is also a longer term consequence of the economic problems caused by overpopulation, increased fuel prices, Bedouin anger and the crushing of a shaky democracy by the military 'deep state' in 2013.

Sisi's coup was deemed necessary by those like Tony Blair in order to preserve the "stability" as the Morsi government proved itself too bungling and incompetent to do anything immediate to overcome Egypt's economic problems or deliver the security needed to a simmering revolt in Sinai.

Truly the 2011 "Arab Spring" was the turning point at which history failed to turn. The fall of Mubarak was regarded as giving Arab democracy a chance. But the Egyptian deep state and the Muslim Brotherhood both saw it as a chance to make it a brutal power contest between them which only the army could win.

As a consequence of coup against Morsi 'stability' by 2015 means arbitrary imprisonment, executing Muslim Brotherhood leaders and suppressing journalism and 'collateral damage' through the heavy handed use of US made Apache helicopters shooting up villages in Sinai where radical Muslim Brothers fled.

The Egyptian junta wants to stop journalists covering the war in the east so as not to frighten off tourists who were again targeted by Islamist militant at ancient sites such as Luxor. Egyptian security forces are working flat out to prevent the insurgents bombing Red Sea resorts near Sinai.

But also the true scale of the war and violence being ratcheted up is a danger to global investor confidence in Egypt as insurgents have acted to blow up gas and oil pipelines. Media outlets in the West have only in 2015 started asking if there is a full blown insurgency but the reality has existed since 2014.

The Egyptian generals took a tremendous risk in overthrowing Morsi's government and crushing the protests of 2013 with such bloodshed, the better to have a real decisive battle with Islamists once and for all. It has scotched the chances of coopting Islamists into a democratic framework.

What remains is a grim battle between the Egyptian state and the remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood which the Western states have complained about publicly but not ceased to tacitly accepted behind closed doors as the price to be paid for preserving key interests from lucrative arms deals to gas.

Resource Conflicts: Egypt, Israel and Hamas as Partners for Peace Through War on ISIS.
The EU's quest for energy diversification is an important reason for mealy mouthed waffle from European worthies about the junta's approach to a 'war on terror'. While 'engaging' with the MENA by accepting the need for migrants, EU leaders are, at the same time, are stoking up anger and bitterness in the region.

This is not only true with the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, backed in Turkey by Erdogan's government and having prominent supporters among the Muslim diaspora in the West, but also with Hamas, an extreme jihadist paramilitary and political movement which rule's in the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

As the insurgency has developed into a full scale war in Sinai, with F 15 bombers being used to bomb jihadist positions in North Sina just as they have in Libya, only Egypt's decision to try and seal the border between Sinai and Gaza has prevented ISIS gaining further ground in a new war against Hamas.

The Egyptian strategy of sealing in Gaza after the coup removed Morsi, who was sympathetic towards the cause of Hamas,however was originally intended as part of a co-operative plan to secure Israel's borders against Bedouin attacks from the Negev desert and to assist in Israel's air,land and sea blockade of Gaza.

Containing Gaza was not merely about Israel's 'war on terror' in the sense of Hamas's rocket attacks into the Jewish state but also about two other things. The first is to push it into a position of such intransigent fanatical hatred against Israel that it could never be regarded anywhere as a partner for peace.

Unless Hamas demilitarised in response to Israeli military assault in the three wars since it won the elections in 2007 it could be expected to play no part in benefiting from Gaza Marine gas alongside the Fatah led West Bank which is recognised as a peace player in regional and global diplomacy.

That suited Israel's ambitions to become a regional energy hegemon because it could use Gaza Marine gas to pipe towards its two regional security partners in both Egypt and Jordan, both of which have been threatened with a looming energy crisis, power black outs and rising Islamist militancy.

The second aspect of Israel's war against Gaza, energy geopolitics, is seldom mentioned in western media commentary of the conflict, which tends to reduce it to a long standing ethnic conflict as opposed to one now made even more protracted and intractable by the resource that could make Gaza rich.

The recent discovery in August 2015 of huge Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves in addition to Israel's could well change the balance away from Israel leading the way on energy exports westwards but it it also could lead Israel to be more determined to secure its gas field from Hamas and Hezbollah rocket attacks

The Israeli navy has not only been beefed up with naval frigates and the development of a 'maritime iron dome' it has started  training exercises designed to deal with ISIS or Hamas attacks on gas rig infrastructure. To the north, Hezbollah's Yakont missiles are considered a major threat to energy security

A war with Hezbollah could be imminent as Israel seeks to strike in order to demilitarise Hezbollah as well as try to permanently remove its usefulness to Iran now that the nuclear deal with Iran might not be overturned in 2016 even with a Republican administration in Washington.

Iran could soon be exporting gas to Western states and elsewhere in the near future as could Egypt should the EU make any more whiny complaints about human rights, something that could of course upgrade Israel's importance as a gas rich democracy that energy hungry Germany values as strategic partner.

Germany under Merkel desperately wants to reduce the sort of trend towards more dependence upon Russian gas as signified by the Nord stream pipeline that was cliched as an energy deal by former Chancellor Schroeder when Putin was seen as a strategic partner for peace and prosperity himself.

Germany has ramped up its arms deals with both Sisi in Egypt and with Israel, with its engineers working with the Israeli navy to protect its natural drilling sites in the Eastern Mediterranean. Germany has pledged itself to defending a state loathed by the Muslim migrants it sees as a handy migrant force.

With Turkey at logger heads with Egypt over both the coup of 2013, the Gaza War in 2014 and a proposed 'peace pipeline' that could include Israel but exclude Turkey, Erdogan could use diapora politics to stir up trouble in Germany by lambasting "Islamophobia" and its deals with Israel and Egypt.

There are rumours afoot of an Aphrodite-Egypt pipeline and new startling revelations to come that could make Ankara very anxious if it starts to get its interests nudged aside by Egypt, especially as both are engaged in a shady proxy power struggle over Libya and its resources.

Hamas Remakes itself as a Strategic Partner for Peace 

Throughout 2015 ISIS has proved able to gain ground in Libya and exploit the proxy war there as in Syria and the Egyptian 'war on terror' in Sinai as well as make inroads into Gaza where Hamas is regarded by ISIS operatives as weak in an area still devastated by the 2014 war and lack of rebuilding.

Hamas has found itself in the summer of 2015 face with a decaying Gaza and having to resist the threat of ISIS which has started to carry out attacks against Hamas officials it reviled as 'tyrants' and so attempted to kill through car bomb attacks after it beheading Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk in Syria.

Hamas has had to bizarrely in 2015 tried to reposition itself as a responsible counter terrorism force in Gaza against ISIS which has continued to gain recruits despite claims to the contrary by its spokesmen who want to prove they rule Gaza while ISIS aims to prove that it cannot in fact do that.

The grim irony is that Israel in the summer of 2014 reduced whole areas of Gaza to rubble as part of its ongoing 'war on terror' against Hamas whom Netanyahu declared is 'the same' as ISIS. Now Israeli strategists are talking of having Hamas as a form of 'moderate' rebels to keep ISIS in check.

Hamas basically had nowhere to turn to because Qatar abandoned it after the 2013 coup in Egypt and growing sectarian war across the region, especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, meant Iran started to drop its support for a Sunni jihadist insurgent group and party by 2014. 

So Hamas could well now face accusations that Hamas is really in league with Israel, an accusation to be countered by the one that posits ISIS as a creation of Israel because Israel is so incredibly clever in getting lots of presumably less clever people to commit stupid actions on its behalf. 

It could well be that Meshal's recent not so secret behind the doors diplomacy with the well known man of peace, Tony Blair, is about trying to resurrect Hamas as a force for stability and partner for peace with Israel should ISIS really become a substantial rival threat to both itself in Gaza and so Israel.

The Spillover of Conflict Westwards from the Syrian War

What is disturbing, in the context of the 'migrant' or refugee crisis, is the way the Western Powers Britain and France, but also Germany, are using it, along with humanitarian advocates, to claim the 'West must do more to help' Syria. France and Britain stress drone strikes against ISIS; Germany taking more migrants.

Typical was this claim, in the Guardian, from one humanitarian working in Lebanon that 'People fleeing death at the hands of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and Islamic State are dying needlessly because of the west’s indifference and inertia'. Yet the Western states have not been indifferent.

The assertion would appear to suggest people are dying in Syria because 'the West' is not doing enough to 'stop the war'. Either that or there are many refugees dying in Lebanon because the West is not taking enough. If the West is to be criticised it should be for what it has actually done not what it has not.

The idea that the West must 'do something' was one of the main reasons Britain and France went into Libya in 2011 and the demanded 'Assad must go'. The role of France and Britain has been very shabby over Syria because they aligned so firmly with the Gulf powers instead of trying to rein in their funding of jihadists.

The danger is now the Western Powers will take more migrants and refugees from Syria and Iraq while also taking steps to ratchet up the war without stressing the primacy of political solutions that do not make Assad's departure the precondition for negotiations. The consequences of that could be lethal.

The problem is that no attempt at good deeds might ever be forgiven while the Western Powers drone on in Syria and Iraq. Syrian emigres will surely demand in the West 'something is done' but they might not like it if the war intensifies and drags in the Western Powers further using further air power.

The assumed cowardice of trying to win wars using remote control drones and closely aligning with Saudi Arabia and Qatar could well breed politico-religious discontent among certain sections of 'the Muslim community in the West'. The conflict shows every possibility of spilling over into Lebanon and Turkey.

With a burgeoning population swelled by refugees, Lebanon's own social system is set to be put under greater strain. As in the 1970s and with the Palestinian diaspora being kept in refugee camps, there is potential for militants jihadists to indoctrinate and recruit in Lebanon and Turkey and elsewhere.

The spectre of Lebanon's delicate peace since 1990s fracturing along sectarian lines is quite possible, not least as the series of heatwaves, in the years running up to the Syrian uprising and civil war in 2011, saw record temperatures, drought and water shortages. Food insecurity and power black outs are growing.

While Turkey and Lebanon control their water, the PKK under Ocalan was aligned in the 1980s with Assad as a way of counter balancing and threatening Turkey's control of the Taurus mountain region from which water flows down into the Euphrates river. Conflicts over water are raising tensions.

The PKK has affirmed it could attack dam construction sites in the region in revenge for Erdogan's decision to use the 'war on terror' against ISIS as a pretext to degrade the PKK in Syria fighting ISIS through air strikes. A full scale civil war in south-east Turkey is yet another spillover effect of the Syria War.

In turn this makes the job of the Western states over Syria ever more fraught with danger. With large Kurdish and Turkish diaspora communities already demanding the German government takes a stand on or with Turkey on terms they regard as right, ready to condemn Berlin for not doing so, violence is in the air.

There is one certainty: if the Western states seek to make all the world's problems their own through mass migration in the context of wars they hold a responsibility for having made worse, or, in the case of Iraq in 2003, having started, a new epoch of intensified violence and terrorism could become very real.

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” .