Cyprus Mail
Opinion

The wars being fought over natural gas

By Joel Bainerman 

WARS in the Middle East in the first decade of the new millennia used to be about oil. Now they are about natural gas.

Cypriots beware: don’t be hoodwinked by President Obama’s moral posturing and so-called concern that the Syrian regime is using chemical gas. Forget about the issue of whether Assad actually did or not – or if the opposition set up this whole scenario.

The real issue is not about ‘toppling an evil dictator’ or ‘creating a democratic Syria’ but rather the need by certain countries to have a Syrian leader that will agree to having their country be used as a transit country for natural gas from the Gulf.

Until now, the tiny nation of Qatar has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to support the rebels in Syria! Why? Because they love democracy and freedom-fighters?

It is because Qatar is the largest exporter of liquid natural gas in the world and Assad won’t let them build a natural gas pipeline through Syria. Qatar wants to install a puppet regime that will allow them to build a pipeline which will enable them to sell oodles and oodles of their liquefied natural gas to hungry European consumers.

Saudi Arabia is also spending a small fortune to support the rebels in Syria. Prince Bandar bin Sultan also wants to overthrow Assad for his own reasons so that the Saudis can use his country to control the flow of energy through the region.

Then you have the Russians. They are supporting Assad because as their ally, he is helping them to stifle the free flow of natural gas out of the Persian Gulf to Europe where the Russian gas company Gazprom enjoys a massively profitable market.

If Qatar is able to get natural gas flowing into Europe, that will be a significant blow to Russia. Syria, as Russia’s faithful ally is doing everything it can to help out its major backer.

So what does all this have to do with the US, which has no problem with tens of thousands of Syrians being killed in conventional ways but is now all up in arms over the use of chemical weapons?

Quite simple: if the US gets rid of the Assad regime it will bode well for the Saudis and/or Qatar but not for Russia.

Four years ago Qatar proposed a gas pipeline from the Gulf to Turkey, which would more than double its capacity to produce liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Hence Turkey’s sudden turnaround when it comes to Syria which until recently was a staunch ally of theirs.

Turns out Qatar wants to supply gas to the strategic Nabucco pipeline project, which would transport Central Asian and Middle Eastern gas to Europe, bypassing Russia.

Two different routes for such a pipeline were possible. One would lead from Qatar through Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq to Turkey. The other would be from the Gulf through Jordan and Syria to Turkey.

The following year, Assad pursued negotiations for an alternative $10 billion pipeline plan with Iran, across Iraq to Syria. That would enable Iran to sell their natural gas to Europe from its South Pars field shared with Qatar across Iraq in Syria. The problem is that the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline plan contradicted Qatar’s master plan.

The pipeline could be extended to Lebanon and Europe and transform Iran into a major global player in the natural gas market. Obviously, this is something the US would not be too happy with. The pipeline bypasses Turkey thus harming their privileged position as the desired crossroads for energy between East and West.

Hence the Turks siding with the US against Syria, who until the Syrian conflict broke out, was a close ally.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the project was signed in July 2012 just as Syria’s civil war was spreading to Damascus and Aleppo. Was it just a coincidence that “freedom fighters” come to the forefront at exactly the same time? The main cities of turmoil and conflict in Syria right now are Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo. These are the same cities that the proposed gas pipelines happen to run through Qatar. Just another weird coincidence?

Don’t be fooled any longer by a US president who is pretending to be concerned about the victims of chemical weapons. The US is seeking to protect its main Gulf allies and to stop Iran and Russia from pursuing the sale of their energy products. That is what the Syrian conflict is about and it has precious little to do with chemical weapons, democracy or freedom for the Syrian people.

The “concern for human rights” is always used by the US and its allies to justify military action which is needed to support their vested economic interests. This was exactly what happened in Iraq, Libya and now in Syria.
The stark reality is that a stable dictator like Assad, Qadaffi or Saddam Hussein is preferable to an unstable regime split apart by warring factions supported by foreign elements to serve their own economic interests. It’s time the Israeli public opened their eyes and stopped allowing their leadership to feed them fairytales about who the real bad guys in this picture.

So when President Obama says that the US is required to initiate a bombing campaign against Assad, because “Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria” ask yourself whether it is possible that he is lying- and that the flow of natural gas by his major allies is what really concerns him.

Joel Bainerman is a writer on Middle East economic and political affairs.

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