Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Geopolitical and Energy Stakes behind the Israel-Gaza War of 2014.

'Barring some element that fundamentally changes the equation – an Israeli decision to re-occupy Gaza, the eruption of a third intifada on the West Bank – at some point both Israel and Hamas will be ready for mediators to help produce some negotiated ceasefire.'-America needs to end its obsession with trying to fix everything in Gaza-Aaron David Miller,
Israel is going for outright victory and to crush Hamas decisively as a political force. The absence of any geopolitical context to Aaron Miller's analysis is noticeable. Israel aims primarily to secure the Gaza Marine gas fields the better to stave off  a potential energy crisis and shore up Egypt which also lacks enough cheap gas.

Washington partly shares the aim of stable Egypt but it has been wary about the troubling division being opened up between Turkey and Qatar, on the one side, and Egypt and Israel and Saudi Arabia on the other. Growing tensions between these regional power alignments are blocking effective peace negotiations.

Hamas is backed by Qatar and Turkey because both have a geopolitical interest in being onside with their Muslim Brotherhood allies in Syria whom they hope will overthrow Assad and so push forward the construction of a Qatar Turkey pipeline. in rivalry to Israel's regional energy designs.

Israel, for its part, would not want the Sunni axis of influence to develop and for Qatar to be able to transit gas through to the Eastern Mediterranean before it has fully developed the Leviathan, Tamar and Gaza Marine gasfilelds. Nor would it want the rival pipeline between Iran, Iraq and Syria.

One reason Netanyahu was pleased that Russian diplomacy was able to avert  the prospect of a US and French military attack on Syria ( though he praised forceful US diplomacy for bringing Russia to negotiate ) was that Israel has no interest in Assad going so soon but in a continuation of the conflict.

Natanyahu was keen to urge the US to accept Russia's deal on Syria's chemical weapons back in 2013, even though his office officially denied it, because it was lukewarm about Washington's strategy in Syria which stood to benefit Qatar and Turkey more than it.

In turn, the coup in Egypt in 2013 was supported by Israel while the US was not so initially enthusiastic, with Kerry only reaffirming its full support and sometime later when the US had to accept it as an a fait accompli, partly because of the embarrassing scale of the killing but also so as not to anger Qatar and Turkey.

The US has backed off from being too involved in the Middle East since the wihdrawal of troops from Iraq. The shale revolution and the refocusing of diplomatic attention towards the Asia Pacific region in 2011 was part of that. So Israel has a free hand with which to crush Hamas.

The reason is that despite the vocal opposition to Israel's war in Gaza, few global or regional powers have any particular interest or ability to stop it. Israel wants to destroy Hamas while it has the chance with Egypt under Sisi sealing the border and frostier relations between Iran and Hezbollah and Hamas.
Israel has seized the opportunity to finish off Hamas the better to remove its rocket capacity which was feared as something that could be unleashed against Israel's gas infrastructure in the Eastern Mediterranean. Then, it would be able to use that to put the PA a position where it could break its alliance with Hamas.
The message would then be if the PA wants to benefit from the gas revenues it and the West Bank would be better off not alligning with Hamas because there would be no advantage anymore. Netanyahu's strategy is ruthless but it seems both the US and EU powers would have little to lose if he succeeded.

The need to hedge their bets as regards Israel's war on Gaza is partly about the EU's need for energy diversification. Israel could use the LNG supplies it is set to export in future to East Asia as well to to promote its regional security by supporting Egypt and Jordan which are seen as threatened by jihadists.

It's hard to see how Israel's war in Gaza could make it particularly less secure. The only possibility of that would be if ISIS were to gain a stronger foothold in Gaza at the expense of Hamas. Ex-IDF commanders have warned of this. Yet even then, that would not change much as Netanyahu is intent on a general 'war on terror'.

The Likud government makes no distinction between Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood or ISIS: all are jihadi Islamist fanatics at a regional and global level burning with a pyschopathological obsession with destroying both Israel and Western civilisation.

As a wealthy and largely rather effective 'national security state', Israel is not going to be realistically threatened. The last suicide bombing was in 2008. That threat has been largely averted. Hamas did not get much assistance from Iran between 2011-2014.

Part of that is connected with the sectarian divisions opened up and made worse by the Syrian conflict. It remains to be seen whether Hizbollah and Iran would put more priority on their struggle against Sunni jihadists than in starting to refocus on Israel should Israel prove too successful.

Yet that is very unlikely and the reality is that Netanyahu knows that he has the best chance Israel has had in years to compel a peace entirely on his terms, one that he refers to as a 'sustainable ceasefire' or a 'sustainable quiet', and that melds the agends of energy security with a a 'war on terror' one.

Irrespective of the humanitarian cost, which Israel blames on Hamas for continuing to attempt fire rockets as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the war is set to go on till it gain the regional security it wants which is why Netanyahu made it quite clear that ‘this will be a long operation’.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Gaza, Israel and the Uses of Terror.

'Israel is being projected on the world’s TV screens and front pages as a callous, brutal monster, pounding the Gaza strip with artillery fire that hits schools, hospitals and civilian homes...They know what it looks like – but they desperately want the world to see what they see.'-Jonathan Freedland, Israel’s fears are real, but this Gaza war is utterly self-defeating, The Guardian July 25 2014
There is no reason why Israelis need to identify with the military position being taken on Gaza or to accept the routine propaganda line that the 'ground incursion' and air and naval strikes are primarily or only about protecting them from Hamas terror. Hamas rocket attacks are mostly ineffective.

The Iron Dome defence system that was constructed in 2011-12 has been seen , to use that currently popular media word, a 'game changer' in that Israel is largely safe from attacks. The determination to go for outright victory and what Netanyahu terms the 'demilitarisation of the Gaza Strip' is the policy.

The Hamas tunnels and the possibility of abductions caused real fears but they are hardly on such a scale that would justify the the degree to which the IDF has pounded Gaza. The abduction of the three Israeli teenagers was seized on as the pretext for the Netanyahu to pursue his military strategy.

As Zbigniew Brzezinski pointed out,
'When Hamas in effect accepted the notion of participation in the Palestinian leadership, it in effect acknowledged the determination of that leadership to seek a peaceful solution with Israel. That was a real option. They should have persisted in that.

Instead Netanyahu launched the campaign of defamation against Hamas, seized on the killing of three innocent Israeli kids to immediately charge Hamas with having done it without any evidence, and has used that to stir up public opinion in Israel in order to justify this attack on Gaza, which is so lethal'
The question is why. The purpose of the campaign is quite clear: the readiness to eliminate Hamas or destroy its military capacity regardless of civilian casualties is part of a strategy that aims at destroying its bargaining position following the unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah in the West Bank.

One means to effect that is to firmly secure control over the Gaza Marine gas reserves which lie 20km off the Gazan coastline and so clearly in range of potential Hamas rocket attacks .To tap these reserves is considered a vital interest in the eyes of the Israeli government and its accepted by its allies.

Many conflicts across the globe after the end of the Cold War have been about access to strategically important resources such as oil and gas ( as well, in fact, even water). The Iraq War was justified on a 'war on terror' narrative but was about geopolitics and oil. The Gaza conflict is no exception.

So the problem is that the conflict in Gaza is portrayed as one concerned on the Israeli side only with fears for its security and the mutual fear, distrust and antagonism that goes all the way back to the way Israel emerged as a nation state in 1948. That is important to understand but it is not the entire picture.

Clearly, there is a fear that if Hamas were to be aligned with the Palestinian Authority then it would stand to benefit from the gas wealth, 10% of which is earmarked for the Palestinians as part of the policy of developing the West Bank economically.

The sticking point has been that Israel has wanted first to break Hamas, then pursue a separate peace with the Palestinian Authority whereby the gas revenues would flow into their 'special funds' on condition that violence against Israel is renounced in the West Bank.

The thinking behind such a strategy, supported by Special Envoy Tony Blair, is that a developing West Bank would act as a model for Gaza and encourage Gazans and Hamas to realise that armed resistance ( i.e terrorism ) and jihadism could only see them isolated further from the region.

Evidently, the longer the 2014 conflict drags on, the more anger and bitterness amongst Palestinians is set to increase. But the fact remains that in power political terms it is irrelevant because Israel would be able to develop economically and militarily with or without the Palestinians. 

For the first time in history, Gaza and Hamas are totally isolated. Iran is advancing its regional strategy via the backing Shia governments and forces such as Hizbollah. Egypt is intent on deepening and strenthening energy and security ties with Israel no matter the domestic reaction.

The Israeli government has seen a historic window of opportunity to compel a peace deal on Hamas on their terms by using effective military force to finish it off as an effective force with bargaining power. This is the reality of the conflict of 2014 and why it could be the bloodiest yet as the stakes are so high.

Hamas has its back against the wall. The blockade, the sealing of the border with Egypt following the Sisi coup against the Muslim Brotherhood government, the increased poverty and immiseration, the lack of regional support means armed struggle is seen as vital but their capacity for it is being eroded.

Israel has nothing to lose by crushing Hamas. It's security is not going to be made worse by the ground incursion into Gaza. The EU is interested in cooperating with it in the exploitation of its gas reserves. The US is bound to back it as part of the policy of securing the Saudi-Egypt-Israel alliance.

As for Israeli citizens, most of them would be able to get on with their ordinary daily lives in a largely successful advanced consumer-capitalist land without much that thought for Gazan casualties who inhabit a very different world from them and could be considered as dying because of the stupdity of their leaders.

Certainly, that the thrust of Israeli 'public diplomacy' from Netanyahu and slightly sinister spin doctors such as Mark Regev who claim that the victims of the IDF's 'ground incursion' are not really being killed by Israel but by the Hamas policy of hiding rocket stores in civilian areas.

Israeli government claims need only have a certain degree of plausibility for them to be accepted by both the Israeli public which wants security and finds the Palestinian issue a tiresome and tedious legacy of the past, and Western leaders who are also willing to identity with Israeli war aims the better to serve their interests.

Friday, 25 July 2014

The Israel-Palestine Conflict: Reflections on Just War and Just Terror

Propaganda about the Israel-Palestine conflict often falls into two versions. One is that Israel only uses such means as is strictly necessary to defend itself against Hamas, a dastardly group of terrorist fanatics that wants to wipe Israel off the map as stated in their charter.

The second is that, on the contrary, Hamas are a dedicated resistance force representing the true will of the Gazan people against an agressive colonialist terror state and that Israel is an alien entity in the Middle East founded on a form of 'state terrorism' far worse than anything offered by the PLO or Hamas.

Neither of these two propaganda tropes lead to an understanding that there is, in fact, a dark and pyschopathological link between Israel's politicians and the Hamas rocketeers who both need the aggression and terror of the other in order to advance their respective power claims.

Terror cuts both ways. Israel is a state in which its government is ready to deploy terror tactics to advance their strategy for dealing with Hamas. Likewise, Hamas is an organisation dedicated to an armed insurgency against Israel using rocket attacks and that is also a tactic of terror.

The brutal reality is in previous confrontations in 2012, 2008-9 and, further back to the period that followed on from the war which created the Gaza Strip and Israel back in 1948, terror has been used by fanatics both sides just as it was from the outset.

The Likud government pursuing the war in Gaza at present, though termed a 'ground incursion', is directly connected to the Irgun, a Zionist paramilitary group in many ways similar in its tactics to the PLO and even Hamas. That Israel is a succesful democracy tends to obscure this.

The irony, however, as historian Mark Almond pointed out during the 2008 Israeli-Gaza conflict is that it is precisely democracy that has ratcheted up the tensions and led to a belief on both sides that the terrorism of the other justifies being tough and intransigent so as to shore up domestic support.

As Almond puts it ' both Israel and Gaza are among the few democratic parts of the Middle East. But democracy makes peace more difficult to come by. few Israeli would-be prime ministers want to appear ‘soft’ on terrorism. And Hamas won the election in Gaza by voicing its bitter resentment of Israel'.

The Israel Palestine conflict of 2014 is, as with others before it, in reality a regional conflict. Yet it tends to get portrayed as the theatre of some cosmic global struggle between good and evil. As with other conflicts it is about ethnicity and religion but also about control over resources such as water and offshore gas.

Though Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel condemns the rocket attacks as terrorism ( which they are ) the fact is that they are designed as provocations to get Israel to retaliate in precisely the way it is doing and for Hamas to portray Israel as a terrorist power ( and it is carrying out war crimes ).

The difference, of course, is that the balance of terror in 2014 more than in any previous conflict is stacked in Israel's favour due to the development of the Iron Dome defence system in 2011-2012. And this has been decisive in Israel going for outright victory and to military means to force Hamas into submission.

The usual criteria of 'intentionality' and 'proportionality' when considering whether a hostile action is just war or terror has become blurred entirely. On both sides the emphasis has been on just terror, even if the the decisive advantage lies with Israel which wants to now finish off Hamas permanently.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Why Israel Could Eliminate Hamas as a Military Force: Energy Geopolitics and Regional Power Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.

'Why is it that Palestinian lives are not valuable enough for comment, let alone diplomatic action? For the same reason Netanyahu labelled Gaza, home to 1.8m Palestinians, a “fortress of terror”. There is a belief that Palestinians are terroristic by default'
-Jennine Abdul Khalik.
The reason why Western politicians and statesmen have been reluctant to criticise Israel or even refer to its attacks on Gaza as being disproportionate ( as was the case in the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon ) is that business and energy interests trump humanitarian considerations.

Israel is a nuclear armed state and has been emboldened to finish off Hamas as a military force in Gaza with the tacit acceptance of the US and Britain because it is set to become a significant exporter of gas after large reserves where discovered off the Israeli coast in 2010.

The Gaza Marine gas reserves, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), hold about 1.6 trillion cubic feet in gas, and state "offshore Gaza territory may hold additional energy resources.". The license to exploit Gaza Marine is held by the BG Group ( British Gas ).

The Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves controlled by Israel have made its commanding geopolitical position more secure as the EU states in particular would like to diversify their supply of gas away from Russia. But others are also vying to benefit from future LNG exports, including Russia and Australia

The hard reality is that none of the great powers have any interest in displeasing Israel or 'rocking the boat'. This is not merely because of the interests of the energy corporations. Energy diversification is bound up with global power politics and not being too dependent upon any one nation for gas exports.

Netanyahu has realised that with the Egyptian coup of 2013 and the Syrian conflict, Hamas is isolated from having any support in the Middle East, except a certain amount of diplomatic backing from Turkey and Qatar who have aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood to promote their energy interests.

In Syria, Turkey and Qatar back a Muslim Brotherhood government-in-waiting to replace Assad so as to promote a gas pipeline that would have connected the South Pars gas field in the Persian Gulf to EU markets or, at best, prevent Iran from exporting its gas through to the Eastern Mediterranean via Syria.

Yet despite vocal opposition from Turkey and Erdogan to Israel's 'ground incursion' into Gaza, neither Turkey not Qatar would directly back Hamas in the way Iran did in the past. Apart from the fact Qatar would be wary of a hostile reaction from Saudi Arabia, Turkey has interests in cooperating with Israel.

On Kurdistan, both Israel and Turkey had mutual interests in having Kurdistan export oil via Turkey and also on cooperation on a Mediterranean Pipeline Project (Medstream). What Turkey would not want is Israel to develop its offshore gas by 2017 in a way that would bypass it.

The determination not to be left out of the development of Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves and export routes is at the centre of Turkey's regional ambitions. It explains why Hamas has no interest in an Egyptian led ceasfire agreement and why Erdogan has slammed Sisi as a 'tyrant'.

The predicament of the Palestinian in Gaza is that their fate is tied up with cynical power political calculations and energy geopolitics. One reason there have been calls for Blair to be removed as Special Envoy is that he is regarded as too close to the Israeli-Egyptian alliance at the expense of Turkey and Qatar.

The outlook for Gaza is bleak. Israel has every interest in intensifying the blockade of Gaza from land, air and sea the better to crush Hamas and exploit the Gaza Marine gas reserves as soon as possible so as to increase its bargaining position in the region.

The exploitation of the Levant Basin has run up against certain problems as well as squabbles with other Eastern Mediterranean powers. With a looming 'energy crunch' forecast for 2015, Israel is determined to secure the Gaza Marine reserves as a 'stop gap' without needing to pay the market price.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Fate of Palestine in the New Great Game for the Energy Resources of the Eastern Mediterranean.

'Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has signalled that the offensive against Gaza will intensify still further. "The operation will be expanded until the goal is achieved," he said after a meeting of his security cabinet'
The goal of the Israeli military operation is said to be the destruction of Hamas's capacity to launch rockets from Gaza and to destroy the tunnels through which terror attacks are made possible. Yet the reality is that, in contrast to the 2008 conflict, Israel intendstotal victory in destroying Hamas militarily.

Hamas has been isolated by the impact of both the broadening out of the Syrian Conflict into a Sunni-Shia sectarian struggle in the course of 2012 and the Egyptian coup of 2013. Both have contributed to Gaza being cut off from supplies and finance and so desperate to shore up its flagging support base.

The Syrian Conflict fractured the unity of Hezbollah and Hamas in their joint struggle against Israel and led to Iranian funds for Hamas at first being slashed back in 2012. Even when Hamas courted Iran once more by not taking sides on Syria, supplies have not been able to get through.

The Egyptian Coup led to a government close to the Muslim Brotherhood being overthrown by General Sisi and the closure of tunnels into Gaza from the Egyptian side as Israel and Egypt have strengthened their security cooperation in trying to crush jihadist insurgents on the Sinai Peninsula.

The strengthened alliance between Egypt and Israel is crucially connected with the determination of Israel to exploit the gas reserves off the Gaza coast, the profits of which would benefit not only Israel but also the Palestinian Authority. By decisively destroying Hamas, the PA would have to negotiate on Israeli terms.

If the PA under Abbas refused to accept the destruction of Hamas, then the Palestinian elite would need to forget about having any share in Gaza's offshore gas wealth. The West Bank would continue to face economic problems and the region would miss out on their cut of the gas wealth provided through services.

Israel's discovery in 2010 of huge reserves of natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean should last half a century. One reason Hamas has no backers and there has been no condemnation of the IDF operation is that EU ministers hope that Israeli gas could help diversify supply away from Russia.

The US and Britain follow the same position that 'Israel has the right to defend itself' from Hamas rocket attacks and to be indifferent to IDF incursions ( even if wary that the Palestinian deaths make 'public diplomacy' difficult ) because both US and UK energy corporations have an important stake in the gas.

The gas reserves off Gaza are worth $4bn and were developed by the BG Group ( formerly British Gas ). The Leviathan gas fields off Israel's coast are being tapped by an energy consortium including Israel’s Ratio and Derek Drilling and US-headquartered Noble Energy. 

Simon Henderson in one study wrote,
'There is little doubt that the discovery off Israel of the Tamar field (10 tcf) in 2009 and the Leviathan field (18 tcf) in 2010 changed perceptions in Jerusalem, making Israel more confident of the strength of its negotiating hand. In late 2011 and early 2012, there was renewed Israeli interest in devising a way to exploit the natural gas of Gaza Marine.
'The level of international diplomatic interest in the development of the field increased in 2013 with both the East Jerusalem-based Office of the Quartet Representative, led by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry focusing attention on the positive aspects of Palestinian economic development. In October 2013, an unnamed Israeli official was quoted as saying that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government was “very supportive” of the project'.
Faced with an energy shortage and problems with disputes with Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus, it is said Israel's gas potential would not be ready before 2020. Even so, the EU is interested in seeing Eastern Mediterranean gas run from Israel via Cyprus, a "second Southern Corridor” to that running via Turkey.

One reason Turkey is the only regional power to openly condemn Israel's incursion into Gaza and to regard Hamas as an ally is it does not wish Israel's gas to run via Cyprus instead of through Turkey as Erdogan has a neo-Ottoman vision of his nation as the main east-west energy hub.

Qatar, likewise, had interests in backing Hamas because of its regional strategy of building a gas pipeline via Syria towards Turkey, one reason both powers are so keen to back Sunni jihadists against Assad the better to advance it against both Iran's rival plan for a pipeline via Syria and Israel's energy plans.

Hence Israel has gained from the Syrian Conflict and has no interest in taking any particular side in that struggle as neither the Turkey-Qatar plan, backed by the West, nor the Iranian 'axis of resistance', which has been backed by Russia's support for Assad, is in in its interest so long as it is yet to develop its gasfields.

The problem for the EU is that a deterioration of Israeli-Turkish relations would stall plans to export Israeli gas either via Turkey or even Cyprus and could leadTurkey to strengthen its cooperation with Russia, thus increasing Moscow's influence in the Black Sea region.

US diplomacy from John Kerry is going to centre around trying to broker a deal between Qatar and Turkey, allies in the struggle against Assad in Syria and his backer in Iran, and Israel and Egypt on the other. Egypt has sought Israeli gas to end its fuel crisis and restore economic stability and the security of the Sinai Peninsula.

With strengthened cooperation between Egypt and Israel to crush the jihadist insurgency in north east Egypt, the security of Israel's border with Gaza and of the Sinai pipeline. Two days ago militants blew up the Sinai pipeline. So destroying both the jihadists in Egypt and in Gaza is considered part of a joint security effort.

The naval blockade from 2007 positions the Israeli navy 65km from the Gazan coast because Hamas rockets have a range of only 50km. The gas reserves are 20km off the Gazan coast which makes the necessity to eliminate the rockets and the capacity to import or to make them through smuggling in the parts a geostrategic imperative.

A New Great Game is on across the Middle East for supplying energy to the EU which consumes 25% of the globe's gas supplies but produces only 2%. In this ruthless and pathological power political struggle, the Palestinians of Gaza are the ultimate losers because their struggle is merely a bargaining chip in a broader geopolitical contest.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Tony Blair's Role as Special Envoy for the Middle East Quartet.

'Last week he was in the Middle East....He says he is "saddened and angry" by what is happening in Gaza. He says he wants to see a two state solution. Whatever you think of Iraq, we did lead in the world, he says'.
Blair is using this twentieth anniversary of his becoming Labour leader in 1994 to spin his legacy as some far seeing political visionary whose approach retains 'clarity of purpose'. Yet Blair is going to be remembered for Iraq, a war that cost billions, and creating a debt fuelled economy that crashed in 2007-8.

The attempt to use his position as Special Envoy to the Middle East Quartet to 'frame the issues' on the need for a continued global war on Islamist terrorism everywhere, as though it were one seamless totalitarian threat, shows that he remains attached to discredited 'neoconservative' ideas in foreign policy.

Even so, Blair's ideology is what unites his position on Iraq with that of Gaza. The agenda is to first support Israel in crushing Hamas the better to force Palestinian leaders into agreeing to an Israeli settlement in which the gas wealth of Gaza would be used to benefit Israel first then Palestinians.

The same idea of 'trickle down' economics was behind Blair's support for the Iraq War" invade it, get rid of the dictator, allow Iraq's oil wealth to fund the reconstruction of the nation while allowing the west to diversify its oil supply. The result was a greater war within Iraq between those vying for its oil wealth.

Likewise, in Gaza, Blair's idea as a 'man of peace' invested with the duty to create 'stability' is in advocating Israeli control over the gas according to a deal he brokered back in 2011 whereby the BG Group ( formerly British Gas ) would sell the Gazan gas reserves to Israel instead of Egypt.

First and foremost, it is as a broker of gas deals Blair makes himself useful. It is secondary whether than actually creates peace because that could only happen if Hamas were to surrender authority and control over Gaza and not as a consequence of any concession Israel could make.

When the current conflict between Israel and Hamas broke out, Blair made it clear there was no chance of peace between the two. As Blair made quite plain “[There will be] ”no trust on either side between Hamas and Israel. That is not going to happen in the immediate term and possibly ever”.

Blair essentially supports the policy of Israeli PM Netanyahu in using a military solution to eliminate Hamas in Gaza as he sees Hamas as a terrorist organisation no less than ISIS or Al Qaida and so no less fundamentally evil than in having a dictator such as Saddam Hussein in control of resources in Iraq.

Egypt, of course, is different for Blair because Sisi is a secular authoritarian and not a theocratic or ideologically fanatical dictator. One reason Blair supported the coup was that it was necessary to create 'stability' and to get the economy functioning and the fuel crisis Egypt faces solved in alliance with Israel.

To that end, Blair supports a reinvigorated Israeli-Egyptian security and energy nexus as does the US and EU states, hoping that Israeli gas could be used to help European nations avoid being overdependent upon Russia for gas and to enrich the elites in the PA so as to get them onside in the 'peace process'.

However, Blair also believes that the exploitation of Israeli gas reserves and the elimination of Hamas would benefit Russia as well. One reason Israel has been able and willing to try to finish off Hamas is that it lacks regional support following the coup in Egypt in 2013 and the Syrian conflict.

In 2014 Russia's Gazprom was set to help develop Gaza's gas field.Israel has taken a more pragmatic stance towards Russia in recent years as it discovered its own gas reserves and sought cooperation on energy projects. This is why Blair advocated that Russia and the West join forces against 'radical Islam'.

For Blair this blending of tough realpolitik and potential wealth creation through the exploitation of resources is a "progressive" foreign policy. In the short term, there may well be blood and tears, yet in the longer term there is no alternative and wealth and consumerism is the only way to overcome the past.

While Blair is routinely condemned by British politicians for joining the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 ,his thinking and the role of resources in foreign policy strategy remain close to the way Western politicians still approach geopolitical struggles across the globe. After all, he is Special Envoy for a reason.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Why There Will Be No Immediate Peace between Israel and Gaza.

'We Palestinians and Israelis have experienced many destructive wars and the result is always the same: more deaths, more terrible injuries, more bloodshed, more animosity and more hatred. What do we expect to be the result of any war?
The current conflict has led to at least 260 people being killed, more than 1,600 severely wounded, more than 2,300 Israeli air strikes, more than 1,300 rockets fired from Gaza and at least 600 houses and institutions demolished and destroyed'.As a father who lost his children in Gaza, I call for an end to this bloodshed, The Guardian Friday July 17 2014
The conflict is intractable and set to continue because religious and ethnic divisions, as well as the history of mistrust and enmity, is being intensified by a psychopathological struggle for the offshore gas off the Eastern Mediterranean that Israel wants a Hamas led Gaza to have no stake in.

Israel was emboldened enough by the prize of gas discovered by British Gas in 1999 off the coast of Gaza back in 2008 to want to destroy Hamas. Analyst Mark Turner, argues Israel sought by its siege and military attacks to want to "eliminate Hamas" and prevent any alliance with the PA in the West Bank.

With the discovery of the Leviathan and Tamar gas fields in 2010, Israel is set to be self sufficient in gas for 50 years and to be in a position of both energy independence and to export as LNG at least 40% of its reserves to the global market. This should put Israel in a commanding position.

Moreover, by being a major gas producer the EU states would have no substantial objection to Israel doing as it requires in Gaza, having already turned a blind eye to General Sisi's 2013 coup in Egypt and the strengthening once more of security and energy interests.

Hamas is not going to be allowed any benefit from the offshore gas off Gaza via Western influence either. This is one essential reason both the US and Britain remains largely indifferent to the current crisis and repeats stock phrases about 'Israel's right to defend itself'.
The gas field ( as with that off Egypt ) was discovered by the BG Group which holds the license and Both Tony Blair as Special Envoy to the Middle East Quartet and John Kerry believe could be used to fund the Fatah controlled West Bank, despite the fact the gas reserves lie off Hamas controlled Gaza.

Blair is employed mostly as an advocate of energy and business interests and because he has a talent for high sounding platitudes that make it appear as though there is a peace process “There will be.. no trust on either side between Hamas and Israel. That is not going to happen in the immediate term and possibly ever,”

Israel wants to tap this gas irrespective of the Palestinians in Gaza and so it the with the area cut off from Egypt and Iranian supplies it is more isolated than as ever before. The West seems content to let Israel get on with the job. Only Turkey has been vocally critical of Israel's military incursion into Gaza.

EU ministers have discussed the role of Israeli and Cypriot gas as part of their strategy of energy diversification, something given greater urgency following the crisis and conflict in Ukraine and Russia's attempt to check a Qatar-Turkey gas pipeline by backing Assad in Syria against the Sunni jihadists supported by the Western Powers.

Britain stands to benefit as the BG Group's dominant position in the offshore Egyptian gas field concession means it could play a key role in importing gas from Israel into Egypt, a prospect that could restore confidence after what William Hague called the "turbulence" of political events in 2013.

Egypt needs gas imports after its domestic supplies peaked and in order to fuel economic growth once more. As Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Sherif Ismail stated on July 6 “Whatever is in Egypt’s interest must be implemented immediately as we are dealing with an energy crisis”.

This explains why Israel and Hamas have refused to back down in the July 2014 conflict. Israel realises Hamas is weak due to the combined impact of the Egyptian coup, which removed the Muslim Brotherhood as a regional player, and the Syrian Civil War which has led sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia.

Israel wants to press home its advantage and crush Hamas the better to get it to give in and sue for peace wholly on Israel's terms. If Hamas chooses not to, Israel is indifferent. It has no interest in a Hamas Gaza benefitting from the gas wealth ( which it fears could be used to fund terrorism against it).

Yet for Israel the blood price is minimal so far and Bloomberg reported that the IDF military activity has had no impact upon shares in the leading Israeli energy firms such as Delek Group Ltd and Avner Oil Exploration, in fact, on the contrary, their share prices have increased.

Israel faced a potential energy crisis until 2010. As Egypt has too, the determination to deal with Islamist insurgents in Sinai and Hamas is part of a drive towards a mutually beneficial partnership in which security comes first and then the gas riches believed to be a 'Gift from God'.

The danger for Israel and for Gaza is that the failure of Hamas could lead to the rise of rival Islamist groups aligned to ISIS as Salafist entities such as Al Dalwa Al-Islamia try to propagate their role in the rocket attacks, having claimed to have led one against the town of Bnei Netzarim.

Should ISIS affiliates in Gaza link up with those in Sinai, the struggle could blow up into a broader regionwide conflagration set to get worse under the impact of increased global heating and recurring drought, economic collapse, resource struggles, overpopulation and male unemployment.

China, the US and the Prospect of Resource Wars.

'China's removal of the oil rig was also welcomed by Washington, which last week accused Beijing of "gluttonous, naked aggression" in the South China Sea, and had encouraged all parties to engage in a peaceful resolution to the crisis'. (Despite oil rig removal, China and Vietnam row still simmers , The Guardian Friday 17 July 2014 )
China's decision to go back on its provocative move to position their largest deepwater drilling rig, the HD-981, in waters claimed by Vietnam does not mean an end to the Middle Kingdom's quest for energy security through exploiting the oil reserves of the South China Sea.

In June 2014, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation dispatched its second largest oil rig to waters near the mouth of the Gulf of Tonkin. As China industrialises at rapid speed, the need for oil in areas it could assert control over has become seen as increasingly vital.

One reason is the US geostrategy of containing China since 2011 has made it all the more determined to avoid being overdependent upon oil coming from the Middle East and Africa which could be cut off from Malacca and Lombok/Makassar straits in Southeast Asia.

China imports 60% of its oil through these strategic 'chokepoints' and the US Pivot To Asia has involved trying to forge closer bilateral economic and military ties with both Malaysia and Indonesia, especially through naval cooperation. Malaysia which fears Chinese ambitions

In February 2014 Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) chief Admiral Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Jaafar received US Navy chief Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert and talked about potential cooperation in submarine operations and an incident where a Chinese vessel was alleged to be involved in a shooting incident.

The US is involved in trying to back its oil interests in East Asia no less than China. US energy giants such as Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil have struck deals with the state-owned oil companies of Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines to explore the oil of the South China Sea.

More broadly, the Pivot to Asia is concerned with compensating for the US's economic decline after the 2008 financial crisis by ramping up its military presence in the Asia-Pacific theatre so as to be able to check China by being in a position to throttle its economy by reducing its oil supply.

The US strategy of engaging with Asian nations as a counterbalancing force to China could bring benefits. The danger, though, is that by building up a coalition of nations it would take only one of those energy hungry states to be emboldened against China in an oil dispute to trigger off a dangerous conflict.

As Michael Klare writes, the region could become a "powder keg' due to the emergence of an arms race and rising nationalism interacting with pathological struggles over oil and gas. Vietnam is a potential flashpoint due to the history of conflict between it and China as recently as 1974 and 1979.

The assertion of Chinese oil interests and sovereignty over the South China Sea against Vietnam is particulary dangerous because Hanoi had improved relations with China by 2013. The imposition of the oil rig could now lead Vietnam to move closer to the US for arms and naval technology.

On July 15, 2014 the WSJ carried a report advocating what a number of assertive US nationalists have wanted for a while-the lifting of the ban on the sale of lethal weapons to Vietnam, as was argued for by President Obama's U.S. ambassador to Vietnam nominee Ted Osius.

Since 2007 the 'normalisation' of relations between Vietnam and the US has occured following on from the Bush administration's decision to allow non lethal defence products to be sold. How Beijing would react to that move remains to be seen but more provocative would be closer military and political cooperation.

Indeed, the oil rig crisis is not the only reason for a reapprochement between the US and Vietnam. It is a vital part of the entire Pivot To Asia strategy, as seen in the formation of a “comprehensive partnership” in 2013, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The creation of this vast free trade block is designed as an economic counterweight to China ( though China has been invited to participate ) and to underscore the global economic hegemony of the US and its economic model and values in a world in which China could be the next global power.

Yet conflicts over resources in East Asia could well destroy the idea of a permanent and uninterrupted period of economic growth whereby China and the US interests would dovetail as opposed to drifting apart. An oil price shock from the Middle East could trigger off economic chaos, intensified nationalism and conflict over the South China Sea.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Israel and Gaza: The War to Control Gas Resources.

'Israel and Hamas agreed to a UN request to halt hostilities for five hours on humanitarian grounds. The Israeli army announced it would halt its bombardment of Gaza between 10am (0700 GMT) and 3pm (1200 GMT) local time'
The ceasefire can not last because neither side has any interest in peace, other than to try to prove that it is the other who is the real aggressor. Israel has refused to negotiate with Hamas, which calls a 'terrorist organisation', and rejected the unity government approach to Gaza and the West Bank.

The reason why Israel was prepared to deal with Fatah but not with Hamas is connected to the conflict over Gaza being one crucially concerned with Israel's determination to control offshore supplies of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Palestinian authorities are vying with Israel for a stake in these resources.

The violence of July 2014 follows a similar pattern to that back in 2006 when Hamas won elections in Gaza, thus setting off a tit for tat conflict involving rocket strikes and disproportionate Israeli retaliation. Back then , it was a British Gas deal with the PA that Israel sought to scupper.

The discovery of large reserves of offshore gas off Israel in 2010, however, has proved a 'game changer'. Israel no longer needs or requires peace with a troublesome Gaza. The latest readiness of the IDF to use ground forces there reflects the fact that its resource discoveries have made it more powerful.

The IDF has felt emboldened by the discovery of gas and determined to grab the gas reserves down in Gaza too lest they provide revenue for future terrorist attacks on Israel. Mark Turner has even claimed the IDF was in 2006 ready to "eliminate Hamas" as a "a viable political entity in Gaza".

It seems likely Israeli leaders think that now is the best time to finish the job as regards Gaza. Cut off from Egypt after Sisi crushed the Muslim Brotherhood and closed down the smuggling tunnels, Hamas no longer even gets sufficient funding from Iran due to sectarian tensions created by the Syrian Civil War.

Israel has a carte blanche to impose its will as neither the US nor EU states want to be on the wrong side of Israel when it starts to export gas which it could fetch a higher price for in the Far East. EU commissioners and the US have emphasised the need to diversify gas supplies away from Russia.

Tony Blair's role as Special Envoy to the Quartet is to advance these gas interests without involving Hamas or the people living in the Gaza Strip. One reason Blair advocated bombing Syria was as a means to counter Iranian and Russian influence in Syria as it also has offshore gas.

The US backs Israel because it wants to check Russian influence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Even Turkey's criticism of Israel is hardly likely to make any difference. Turkey aspires to be an east-west energy transfer hub and Israeli gas could eventually help towards realising that geopolitical ambition.

In turn, Russia has no interest in alienating Israel because it hopes to co-operate with both Egypt and Israel in the business of benefitting from sales of gas to lucrative EU markets. Russia has an interest in pushing the PA to accept the development of Gaza's gas without Hamas.

Psychopathological struggles for control over resources such as oil and gas are going to be a recurrent feature of the 21st century as global supplies struggle to keep pace with worldwide demand. In these predatory conflicts, those such as the Palestinian Gazans are set to be the losers.

Yet, as the evidence in Syria and Iraq demonstrates, where marginalised groups in overpopulated regions exist and where there is high unemployment and sectarian religious fanaticism, there is the will to join jihadist groups of the utmost ruthlessness such as ISIS.

Given that the Israel-Palestine conflict is developing into a resource war, the chances are that should Hamas be eliminated as a force in Gaza, then ISIS would stand to benefit more than it has so far and there would be more carnage as Israel moved in to eliminate the new threat.

That's why former IDF Brigadier-General Michael Herzog has criticised the military actions on the basis it could lead to ISIS gaining ground, as it has already in Sinai in neighbouring Egypt. Permanent war could be the price to be paid for controlling resources. He said,
“One way in which in an Israeli military operation could backfire is by shaking Hamas’ control on the ground to the point that it allowed other factions, including jihadists, to come to the fore....At least Hamas provides an address – you don’t have that with the jihadist factions. They aren’t dominant right now, but Hamas no longer controls Gaza as firmly as it used to, and it if was seriously weakened they could take advantage.”
But even with over 200 dead in Gaza so far, the resource imperative is considered too vital an interest to have qualms as to the civilian death toll. Indeed, on July 13 2014 a Bloomberg Report made it clear the IDF's actions had not affected the share prices of Israeli energy companies.

Israel, Gaza and the Geopolitics of Energy in the Eastern Mediterranean.

'Palestinian resistance is often criticised as futile given the grotesque power imbalance between the two sides. But Hamas, which attracts support more for its defiance than its Islamism, has been strengthened by the events of the past week'-Seumas Milne Gaza: this shameful injustice will only end if the cost of it rises, The Guardian, July 16 2014
Hamas has not been strenghtened. The tactic is to fire off rockets into Israel, get a disproportionate Israeli response and recreate the community of martyrdom led by it against other Islamist rivals vying for power. This has become especially important given how cut off from the region Hamas has become.

The Syrian Civil War has fractured the unity of the coalition against Israel as sectarian tensions between Hamas and Hezbollah have led to the ending of funding from Iran. With the removal of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood government,supplies to Gaza from Egypt have been cut off too.

Milne goes on to claim, 
'as it has shown it can hit back across Israel – while Abbas, dependent on an imploded “peace process”, has been weakened still further.The conflict’s eruptions are certainly coming thicker and faster. global opinion has never been more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
Global opinion has no power. Israel is a nuclear armed state and has shown it is ruthless enough to impose a policy of vengeance designed to try and prove 'resistance is futile'. Israel remains a trading partner with EU states and the US and has, moreover, since 2010 become a centre of energy developments.

The discovery of huge reserves of offshore gas in the Eastern Mediterranean is set to make Israel energy independent an indispensible partner for states such as Egypt and Jordan as well as EU states wanting to reduce their dependence upon Russia as Europe's main supplier of gas. 

While Israel's gas should embolden it, as its economic security would not be affected by the way it chooses to deal with the Palestinian question. Plans for LNG terminals in EU territory of Cyprus have been mooted or else an underground pipeline via Turkey should better relations be created.

The US made moves in the Eastern Mediterranean in May 2014 to try to bring about a final settlement of the dispute between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus when Vice President Biden visited the island, the first time for a senior American statesman in half a century.

In the geopolitical scheme of things, the Palestinians of Gaza are not considered to be especially important. One reason Tony Blair is the Special Envoy of the Quartet is precisely because he effectively would keep the current situation as it is by dressing up realpolitik interests inthe language of 'democracy promotion'.

Israel's discovery of offshore gas was a 'game changer'. With Hamas losing its power and funding, its rocket attacks are a last ditch attempt to shore up their power and influence. Yet Israel's belligerent determination to deal with Gaza could backfire should ISIS gain more support in the area.

Hamas, in fact, already ceded control over rocket attacks to the Salah e-Din Brigades of the Popular Front. With a full scale insurgency in neighbouring Sinai Peninsula in Egypt dragging on, many Palestinian Gazans could join in with ISIS as a means to break out from their containment in a huge overpopulated 'ghetto'.

Monday, 30 June 2014

ISIS and Iraq: The Lethal Proxy War for Resources and Power in the Middle East

With the prospect of a looming sectarian clash between ISIS forces and Shi'ite militias not subject to Iraqi state control in areas close to Baghdad, it would be better to see it as part not of a 'civil war' but more accurately considered as part of a “regional war complex”.

ISIS clearly has sought to create a new Caliphate that transcends the borders of Syria and Iraq and which could be spread into other zones where Sunni insurgents have fought against state power: there is evidence of ISIS gaining recruits in the fight against Egypt and Israel on the Sinai Peninsula.

ISIS was able spread and surge deep into Iraq because Sunni tribes in and around places such as Tikrit, those with no stake in a political system dominated by Shi'ite Muslims and Kurdish politicians, rose up and joined the jihad as a means of forcing Maliki to stand down.

That is why Washington, though concerned about ISIS and the potential threat to global oil prices and the borders with its Gulf ally Saudi Arabia, has send military advisors and armed drones. The Obama administration only wanted to contain ISIS but it is not necessarily opposed to Sunni opposition to Baghdad.

A significant US military intervention in Iraq, one rejected by Washington since it pulled out of Iraq in 2011 and pusrued a 'hands off approach' , would have only worsened the situation by giving the impression that the longed for Caliphate was being destroyed by an 'alliance' of the Americal Infidels and Shia apostates.

Washington would like Maliki to go in order to take Iraq out of Iran's sphere of influence and in order to align itself with Saudi Arabia. John Kerry in Riyadh in his meeting with King Abdullah wanted Saudi Arabia to seek out 'moderate' Sunni insurgents in Syria and the hope is that could be done in Iraq too.

The Obama administration's $500 million request to Congress for funds to covertly back 'moderate' Sunni insurgents in Syria is intended to act as a signal that Sunni militias and their leaders in Iraq could stand to benefit if they are prepared to contain both ISIS and Iran.

The leaders of Sunni tribes already have positioned themselves as potential 'moderates' that have no necessary alignment to ISIS any more, in fact, than the Free Syria Army did when it was ranged alongside ISIS in Syria back in 2013 in their struggle against Kurdish separatists.

Sunni leaders such as Ali Hatem Suleimani made plain that his forces are marching alongside ISIS only in order to remove Maliki and that “We can fight Isis and al-Qaeda whenever we want to”. Kurdish leaders want Sunni Arabs to increase their presence in government so as to reduce Shi'ite power.

The reason is Erbil has sought more control over its oil revenues in disputes over the sale of oil via Turkey to global markets. Intelligence experts claim the Kurds could have given the nod to ISIS to surge southwards towards Baghdad in order to pursue a strategy that would reduce Shia and Iranian influence.

To that extent, the insurgency in Iraq is not centrally about ISIS. True, the group has murdered and killed civilians but this is mere collateral damage in a ruthless proxy war between Iran's Shi'ite 'axis of influence' and Saudi Arabia and Qatar's strategy of building a 'Sunni shield'.

The US, Britain and France support Saudi Arabia's and Qatar's strategy of backing Sunni jihadists for geopolitical and energy reasons. The US depends upon Saudi Arabia for 17% of its crude oil imports. Britain and France back Qatar and Turkey because they proposed in 2009 a gas pipeline to the west.

What neither the US and Saudi Arabia nor Qatar and Britain and France want is a Shi'ite pipeline from the Gulf via Syria to the Eastern Mediterranean. Russia backs Assad because it already has a strong presence in the region and would like a stake in controlling east-west energy flows.

The crisis in Iraq and Syria is crucially connected to energy geopolitics and the overdependence of the West on fossil fuels from the Middle East as well as the broader collapse of civilisation stemming from the impact of global warming, drought, diminished agricultural yields and overpopulation. 

In the longer term from global warming is set to make regional conflicts such as that in Syria-Iraq intractable. For as the Tigris and Euphrates rivers dry out, declining wheat and rice production means only those with control over oil revenues would be able to survive and that means joining militias that could guarantee it.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

The US and Iran have no Alliance in the Struggle Against ISIS

US and Iranian military involvement in Iraq against ISIS does not amount to an 'alliance'. Both powers find themselves temporarily aligned against the spread and threat of ISIS for different reasons. For Iran it is about maintaining the Sh'ite 'axis of resistance' against Sunni insurgents in Syria and Iraq.

For the US, its deployment of drones and military advisors is mostly about helping check ISIS so that it could not threaten Baghdad or the south where attacks by ISIS could threaten global oil prices and even to blowback into the land of its main ally in Saudi Arabia.

It was Saudi Arabia, along with Qatar, that in 2012 and throughout 2013 supported and bankrolled the most effective Sunni insurgents in Syria and created the space within which ISIS could gain ground and control over oil installations to fund its activities.

Throughout 2014 Saudi Arabia has moved away from the policy under pressure from Washington and the obvious fact the policy failed in so far as ISIS broke with the Free Syria Army it had previously been aligned with back in 2013 in its struggle against Kurdish seperatists.

That allowed Assad to roll back the FSA from Damascus, leading the Syrian National Council and some intelligence observers to start claiming he had been funding ISIS himself through buying oil from them. But that, of course, would not change the fact that most past funding for came from donors in the Gulf states.

In turn, due to the threat of blowback Saudi Arabia and Qatar sought to accuse each other of backing the wrong sort of Sunni jihadists. One senior Qatari official stated, “ISIS has been a Saudi project.”. Other GCC members have been critical of Qatar for 'playing with fire' and continuing to back Islamist groups with links to Al Qaida.

So even if Iran and the US are seen to be in 'alliance', they are not. Iran's regional policy would be in ruins if Iraq fell into the hands of Sunnis as it was under Saddam Hussein. The construction of a Shi'ite gas pipeline via Iraq and Syria, agreed on back in 2011, would be impossible.

Likewise, the US, along with Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are not going to stop opposing that plan by supporting Sunni insurgents in Syria against Assad. Qatar wants a Qatar-Turkey pipeline that would supply European markets and that is backed especially by Britain and France.

Iran is already under sanctions and the last thing Washington would like would be a lucrative gas pipeline through which it could export gas to the Eastern Mediterranean, interests it has in common which Russia which is backing Assad so as ensure gas supplies are controlled by it and its regional the US, partners.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Spread of ISIS and the Possibility of Regional Sectarian War in the Middle East.

'The solution to the threat confronting Iraq is not the intervention of the Assad regime. In fact, it’s the Assad regime and the terrible violence they perpetrated against their own people that allowed (Isis) to thrive in the first place'.
President Obama's spokesman, Joshua Earnest's statement that the administration has “no reason to dispute” the reports of Syrian airstrikes in Iraq is one designed to provide a pretext for air strikes against Assad should Washington become concerned that Iranian influence is growing.

One other reason is that Washington needs to deflect the blame for what has happened in Iraq away from Saudi Arabia and Qatar and place it wholly on to Assad and his Shi'ite allies now that Tehran has taken more of a belligerant stance in wanting to shore up Maliki with military assistance and drones.
The growth and spread of ISIS has less to do with Assad than with the bulk of the past funding for Sunni jihadist groups being provided from private donors in Gulf states allied with the US and Britain such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar with those states tacit backing.

The reason for that is that both Qatar and Saudi Arabia were vying throughout 2013 to back the most effective jihadist factions fighting with the Free Syria Army against Assad and in competition with each other. ISIS was aligned to the FSA in 2013 in their fight against Kurdish separatists.

From a tactical perspective, this backing of Sunni jihadists has backfired because ISIS turned against the FSA and, in effect, enabled Assad to roll back the FSA in and around Damascus much to the annoyance of the 'Friends of Syria Group which met in London in May 2014.

In his speech John Kerry stated 'Assad may think that today he is doing better and this process is somehow going to come to a close with him sitting pretty – but we are not going away". After all, Assad had not agreed to a political settlement in which his own arrest and trial would be a precondition.

The stakes in this geopolitical game are regional influence and energy interests. Britain and France even more than the US have been at the forefront of the demand that Assad must go because their ally Qatar announced plans in 2009 to build a Qatar-Turkey pipeline that would provide gas to the EU.

This pipeline has become all the more important with the danger posed by the expansion of Russia's influence both over the Black Sea region after the annexation of Crimea and in Syria and the Levant where it signed a lucrative deals with its client Assad to exploit gas reserves off the Syrian coast in December 2013

Hence the prospect of a Qatar-Turkey gas pipeline has been set back by Assad remaining in power and announcing in 2011 it would not be built and agreeing to alternative plans for a 'Shi'ite pipeline' from the South Pars gasfield Iran shares with rival Qatar via Iraq and Syria to the Eastern Mediterranean.

Both Britain and France were itching for the US to launch airstrikes against Assad in the summer of 2013 to assist the Sunni insurgents in overthrowing him and, therefore, to check both Iran, whose participation in the Geneva Conference has been rejected because Qatar and Saudi Arabia were against it.

ISIS represents a form of 'blowback' from the strategy of using Sunni jihadist fanatics to get rid of Assad. In surging towards Baghdad it posed both a threat but also an opportunity for Britain and the US to make support and assistance to President Maliki conditional on moving away from Tehran.

The Syrian opposition is keen to play on what are reported to be Assad's airstrikes against ISIS across the border in Iraq because they support their Gulf allies foreign policy and would like to see Shi'ite influence in Iraq reduced. Months before in January 2014 they had accused Assad of backing ISIS.

The reason for that was ISIS had tied up the FSA in northern Syria. Now that ISIS is 'objectively' posing a threat to Shi'ite axis, Al Qaida affiliated groups in Syria such as Al Nusra, that were bankrolled by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have decided that ISIS is not so extreme after all and pledged allegiance.

Part of the decision is, of course, ideological as Al Qaida is wanting a showdown with the Shi'ites and Iran is a colossal sectarian war. But over the long term this clash is a deadly consequence of the Gulf powers foreign policy, one aided and abetted by the US and Britain.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Persecution of Christians, the British Left and the "War on Muslims"

The plight of Christians being persecuted is something that should be of as much interest to 'progressives' whom journalist Owen Jones believes are wary of taking up their plight through 'fear' of being seen to be on the side of 'Muslim bashers' on the far right, something that would indicate that they are somewhat craven.

Jones, however, seems blithely unaware that the dominant propaganda thrust of the anti-war activists he associates with through the Stop the War Coalition is that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were, as George Galloway claims, part of a 'war on Muslims'. 

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were, of course, no more a 'war on Muslims' than the NATO attack on Serbia in 1999 was part of a war on Orthodox Christians. The Afghanistan and Iraq Wars were wars to gain geopolitical advantages mingled with fervent hopes of installing democracy.

So the reason why Christians are largely of no concern is that their persecution cannot be said to fit into the crude propaganda narrative that 'Western Imperialism' is pitted against all Muslims everywhere both at home and abroad, one that seeks to harness 'Muslim outrage' to boost anti-government sentiments.
'It is, unsurprisingly, the Middle East where the situation for Christians has dramatically deteriorated in recent years. One of the legacies of the invasion of Iraq has been the purging of a Christian community that has lived there for up to two millennia'.
True, but in Syria it is the legacy of Saudi Arabia and Qatar funding and backing Sunni jihadists as a way of overthrow Assad that has done much to assist groups dedicated to persecuting and murdering Christians to flourish and gain ground as part of a proxy war against Shi'ite Iran.

Anti-war activists have not had a 'consistent line' on the Middle East since sectarian wars have spread across the Middle East as the violence has shifted across the Syria-Iraq border and and put Iran and Presidents Maliki and Assad in direct confrontation with Sunni Islamist insurgents.

Consequently, the propaganda line, as put forth by Seumas Milne for example, has changed into the idea that the invasion and occupation of Iraq itself caused sectarian divisions because it was the intention of the US and Britain to set Sunni against Shia in order to maintain control, colonial 'divide and rule' as a plan.

In fact, the invasion removed a secular dictator and the occupation authorities did not put into effect any plan to use Shi'ite miltias against Sunni ones opposed to Baghdad until the civil war stage of the insurgency broke out after the 2005 elections.

The invasion of Iraq was a catastrophic decision without which the sectarian conflicts could not have broken out and Christians would not have been persecuted. But as Syria after 2011 shows, those sectarian tensions exist and could end in violence irrespective of Western intervention.

In Syria, it is true the US and Britain's alliance with Qatar and Saudi Arabia has meant aligning with regional powers intent on backing and bankrolling Sunni jihadists against Assad who is supported by the Allawi Shia and by many Christians only through fear they would be killed if Assad was removed.

But its a propaganda myth that the US somehow is the 'imperial master' in the Middle East along with Britain. In reality the US has tended to back off from involving itself in the Middle East after 2011 and tends to give tacit backing to Saudi Arabia because of its oil.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar follow their regional interests against Iran by whatever means they think 'effective'. Britain and France have been far more aggressive in wanting the US to involve itself in removing Assad because of their dependence upon Qatar and its liquefied natural gas.

In Britain anti-war activists would be better off understanding that the killing and mayhem in Iraq and Syria, and the threat of ISIS, is partly the cost of Britain being overdependent upon Qatar for energy and the use of its petrodollars to invest in propping up its ailing rentier economy.

Unless Britain finds alternatives to fossil fuels, then there is going to be no end to the prospect of it being dragged into conflicts or effectively backing unsavoury jihadists because ultimately the stability of its high octane consumer economy depends heavily on access to oil and gas.

This is something the left often shirks confronting. Wars for oil or about oil are considered to be about corporate profits and the political elites benefitting. While that's true, the unpleasant fact remains that the living standards of the majority of citizens are heavily tied to cheap oil and gas.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Egypt : The Military Crackdown and the Threat of ISIS.

The fate of the three al-Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt is bound up in Egypt's attempt to clamp down on the Doha based new station because it is seen as favourable to the Muslim Brotherhood backed by Qatar after 2011 in rivalry with Saudi Arabia which supports the military state.

Washington, in turn, remains a stalwart ally of Saudi Arabia in its attempt to create a wall of Sunni Arab states in the Middle East to deter Iranian influence in the region. This is a goal broadly shared by the US which in 2013 accounted still for 17.2 % of its total crude oil imports.

General Sisi's crushing of dissent and imprisonment of political opponents is the unfortunate cost to be paid for 'stability' in Egypt as it faces the increased threat of radical Sunni jihadist violence from those angry about the coup against Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

More ominously, an insurgency on the Sinai Peninsula has attracted radicalised jihadists from Syria fighting for groups such as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and heeding the call from Al Qaeda and ISIS to go and take the battle to Egypt, the homeland of Al Qaida's leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

But the attempt by Sisi's regime to yoke Al Qaida together with the Muslim Brotherhood is as much about shoring up its own domestic legitimacy as it is about pleasing its Saudi sponsors who after the coup offered $5billion in aid to help support Egypt's tanking economy.

When President Morsi was in power, Saudi Arabia feared the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood could embolden Islamists at home. But it has been in competition with Qatar both in Egypt and in Syria where both powers have vied for political control over the anti-Assad Sunni militias.

The geopolitical energy dimension to this struggle for regional influence is that while both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have a joint interest in overthrowing Assad, to prevent an Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, they are at variance on Qatari attempts to build a gas pipeline from the Gulf which could circumvent Saudi Arabia.

Yet in competing for influence in Syria by backing the most effective Sunni jihadists on the ground and fracturing the unity of the Free Syrian Army, by 2013 Saudi Arabia and Qatar had enabled Al Qaida affiliated groups and ISIS to gain a strong foothold and for blowback into Egypt.

There are already jihadist organisations with connections to ISIS operating on the Sinai Peninsula which is said to be 'fertile ground' for the group to expand. Israeli-Egyptian cooperation to crush the jihadist insurgency in Sinai has resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties and surging support for the jihadists.

Washington's decision to release a $650m aid package to Egypt and continued military assistance, including Apache helicopters, is connected to the need to keep in check the threat of jihadist blowback caused by Syrian and Libyan conflicts and the military's coup and cack handed crackdown on Sinai.

Scores of civilans have continued to get killed in the cross fire in Sinai in villages said to be contain jihadist groups and Muslim Brotherhood supporters along with the use of torture centres, mass arrests and arbitrary imprisonment in a region where the government has made it difficult for journalist to enter.

Washington may not like the Egyptian states's imprisoning and suppression of journalism but it is a necessary consequence of the shoddy and failed foreign policies of its Gulf allies and which has contributed towards the havoc, mayhem and death spreading across the Middle East.

Monday, 23 June 2014

ISIS: Britain's Lethal Embrace of Qatar and the Threat of Blowback

'Why Cameron should want to elevate, indeed almost romanticise, that menace is a mystery. The only security against this violence is from policing and from targeted intelligence. The only security against this violence is from policing and from targeted intelligence'-Simon Jenkins, Isis is no Threat to Britain, The Guardian, 22nd June 2014.
The reason both Cameron and Fox want to ramp up the threat of ISIS as one that could be directed against Britain is that the British government has backed Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar in their geopolitical struggle and use of Sunni jihadists in Syria and Iraq against Iran and its allies in Syria and Iraq.

There is a need, therefore, to pretend that ISIS is simply another 'more extreme' version of Al Qaida, another evil which has arisen as though out of the void caused by the collapse of authority in Iraq which is blamed almost wholly on Maliki in Baghdad ruling in a sectarian way.

Yet the fear is one of 'blowback' from Syria and the possibility both northern Syria and Iraq could become similar to Afghanistan, another land where Sunni jihadists backed primarily by Britain and America's Gulf allies gained a foothold and that ended up creating Al Qaida.

While Saudi Arabia has backed off from supporting Sunni jihadists such as Al Nusra, because of a certain amount of pressure from Washington, Kuwait has continued as a source of funding and Qatar made in plain in March 2014 that it would continue to back the toughest Sunni jihadists in Syria.

Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah said in a speech in Paris "The independence of Qatar's foreign policy is simply non-negotiable...Qatar is to take decisions, and follow a path, of its own." Backing Sunni jihadists is considered essential to advancing its regional interests.

Removing Assad is considered crucial in order to advance the prospect of building a Qatar-Turkey pipeline that would pump Qatari gas towards lucrative EU markets and enable it to avoid having to depend on exporting LNG via the Iranian controlled Straits of Harmuz in the Persian Gulf.

Britain is a key backer of Qatar and unwilling to criticise Qatar's regional ambitions because as North Sea gas has depleted, the importance of imported Qatari LNG has become vital. In 2011 it was reported that it provided all but two cargoes of the product shipped to the UK.

Hague's obsession that 'Assad must go' is connected to energy security and backing Qatar no matter the potential threat of jihadist blowback. Britain is overdependent upon gas from Qatar but Russia, the only power that has more of the globe's gas than Qatar, is regarded as as a threat to its interests.

Russia, of course, has backed Assad and gained a foothold in exploiting the Levant Basin, a field of offshore oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean. Yet Russia also, through the annexation of Crimea and the advance of pro-Russia separatists in Eastern Ukraine, could control energy flows in the Black sea region.

As Russia exerts greater influence over regions considered strategically vital for the flow of oil and gas into the EU, Britain has shown readiness to court favour in Doha. Qatar owns 20% of the London Stock Exchange, invests 10bn pounds annually in the UK and has helped shore up London's property boom.

Britain is increasingly overdependent upon Qatar to prop up its ailing rentier economy and provide it with up to 90% of its LNG which, in turn, provides around a quarter of the UK's gas supply and 59.3 % of the total gas supplied to British homes. Britain's economic recovery after the financial crash of 2008 depends heavily on Qatar.

Britain, therefore, backed Qatar in its proxy war against Iran in Syria after 2011 so as to forestall the possibility of the Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline that would transport gas from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea in order to supply Europe and that could bypass Turkey and sink Qatar's proposed alternative.

The consequence of this brutal geopolitical proxy conflict is that is has opened up space for ISIS to operate no matter that Britain and the US is trying to use its intelligence services to redirect assistance to Sunni jihadists it can control in order to contain those that could pose the threat of blowback.

This 21st century will see greater conflicts over access to oil and gas in a world of increased demand and competition caused by global industrialisation and high octane consumerism, one described by the American academic and writer Michael Klare in his aptly titled Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy. 

It is in preparation for those resource conflicts and the threat of terrorist blowback that politicians such as Liam Fox argue for increased levels of state surveillance over 'extremists' in our midst and, by implication, over the entire populace in Britain as part of a messianic 'ideological battle' that is set to 'go on for a long time'


How Dependent is Britain upon Qatar ? 

It is possible to argue that  LNG is not a particulary predominant section of Britain's energy portfolio and that is is not 'dependent' upon Qatar. While it's true that domestic production of gas and Norwegian supplies made up the bulk of it in 2013, this is not the entire story.

Britain's North Sea gas is rapidly depleting and Russia is held to pose a threat to the energy interests of other EU nations and the expansion of NATO power, something evident in Rasmussen's attempt to claim that anti-fracking activists were being funded by Moscow.

The only reason why demand for more LNG declined in 2013 was the mild winter which allowed stocks not to be used up, which is fortunate as LNG is becoming more expensive due to high Asian demand, especially from Japan in the wake of the Fukashima nuclear power plant disaster.

LNG is a crucial component of Britain's domestic gas market and the need for politicians to keep prices lower rather than higher accounts for the interest in a Qatar-Turkey pipeline which would run via Syria and prevent gas having to get to Europe via tanker on the Straits of Hormuz.

Support for Qatar and opening London to its lucrative investments is one reason why Qatar is prepared to divert LNG supplies west even when the price does not fall so much in Asia as as would justify that on the profits it could have otherwise made from its sale in the east.

The boost to Britain's economy provided by Qatari capital from gas exports should not be underestimated. In February 2014 it was reported that Qatar was going to boost investment in Barclays Plc
(BARC) and J Sainsbury Plc after aquiring stakes in both.

Ahmad Al-Sayed, chief executive officer of the sovereign wealth fund,claimed, on visiting London, "Britain is one of the main destinations for investment...You’ve great systems, great regulations. We’re happy to invest more when the opportunity is coming.”

The UK is the main destination in Europe for Qatari investments, amounting to $33.8 billion. By any standards, that's a huge amount and its a prime driver of London's property market boom which is blamed for creating the 'wrong kind of growth' and a bubble economy.

Britain has depended upon Qatar to assist in getting it out of the economic recession caused by the finacial crash of 2008 and out of austerity in readiness for the 2015 elections. It is prepared to invest in infrastructure projects from nuclear reactors to London's sewers.

The cost of that dependence is that Britain, led as a 'Global Player' by Cameron and Hague, is support for its foreign policy in Syria no matter the potential consequences of terrorist blowback, as part of the 'warm bilateral relationship' both countrties

LNG is not the only reason why Britain is so beholden to Qatar but is important along with its huge investments and large market for British weapons and military assistance which even led in April 2014 to plans for the UK to have a military base in the region.

As Defence Minister Phillip Hammond put it,
"The UK and Qatar enjoy a very strong and multi-faceted bilateral relationship, which embraces defence and security issues, trade and investments, and is getting stronger all the time. We are building the momentum to strengthen the relationship and we are conscious of the need to sustain that momentum,"