The Intra-Arab War for Oil : 1950-1970

Egypt and Syria are two Arab countries of the East Mediterranean Sea. Actually Egypt is the largest and most important country of the Arab world. The two countries have some oil and natural gas reserves, but their reserves are peanuts when compared to the reserves of the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf i.e. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar. At the following two tables of the Energy Information Administration you can see the 10 richest countries in oil and natural gas reserves.

Natural Gas

Picture 1

Richest Countries in Natural Gas Map


Picture 2

Richest Countries in Oil Map

Natural gas is given in billion cubic feet, and needs to be divided by 35 in order to be converted to billion cubic meters, and oil is given in billions of barrels. As you can see there are 4 Arab countries in the natural gas top ten, and another 5 in the oil top ten. I believe that shale oil and shale gas are also included in the reserves, and that’s why USA ranks 4th in the list of the richest countries in natural gas reserves.

Gamal Nasser was a socialist army officer in the Egyptian army. In 1952 Nasser, together with other Egyptian army officers, overturned the Egyptian King. Eventually Nasser became Egypt’s president, and he established a one party political system. Nasser, like all socialists, greatly admired looked upon the Soviet Union, and he moved Egypt away from the west and towards the Soviet Union. Nasser could not accept that Egypt, the most important Arab country, was so poor in oil and natural gas reserves, and his dream was for Egypt to gain control of the Persian Gulf oil.

In order to achieve his goal, Nasser used Pan-Arabism as his main ideology. Pan-Arabism was calling all Arabs to unite in one socialist country. Nasser was hopping to unite all Arabs in one country, under Egypt’s control. That way Egypt would control the oil of the Arab world. In order to protect their oil from Nasser, the Arabs of the Persian Gulf used Pan-Islamism as their ideology. Pan-Islamism asked Muslims to be united in one country under the Islamic Law.

Under Pan-Islamism Saudi Arabia was hoping to be the leader, since Mecca and Medina are in Saudi Arabia. Prophet Mohamed was born in Mecca and buried in Medina, and for the Muslims these cities are the two holiest cities in the world. Therefore under Pan-Islamism Saudi Arabia would have an advantage over Egypt. On the other hand religion would only play a minor role under Nasser’s socialism, and therefore Egypt would have an advantage, because Nasser was promising to redistribute the oil of the Persian Gulf.

In 1958, Egypt and Syria managed to become one country under Nasser’s leadership. The two countries formed the United Arab Republic. The Syrians surrendered their sovereignty to Egypt, hoping that the oil rich Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, under Nasser’s pressure, sooner or later would have to join the new country. Therefore the Syrian people would enjoy some of the oil profits. In 1958 the Iraqi socialists managed to overturn the Iraqi monarch too. The problem was that the new Iraqi president, Abd al-Karim Qasim, was not willing to surrender to Egypt the control of Iraq’s oil, and he was not willing to join Egypt and Syria in the United Arab Republic.

Gamal Naser and Abd al-Karim Qasim became enemies, and Egypt and Iraq had very problematic relations during this period. Iraq’s refusal to join Egypt and Syria was a great disappointment for the Syrian people, because they had surrendered their sovereignty to Egypt, in return for oil profits. And now they were seeing that their sacrifice was for nothing, because even though a radical socialist came in power in Iraq, a man who aligned his country with the Soviet Union, there was no benefit for Syria. That caused great disappointment in Syria, and in 1961 Egypt and Syria became again two independent states. Gamal Nasser was furious, but he preferred not to intervene militarily in Syria, because he did not want Arab blood on his hands.

In 1963, Abd al-Karim Qasim was assassinated in Iraq, and the socialists that came to power started again discussing with Egypt and Syria the possibility of a union between the three countries, but this time under a federation, which meant that Iraq would not have to surrender to Nasser the control of its oil. However the discussion collapsed at some point and nothing happened. The thing with the Iraqis was that even though they did not really want to share their oil with the Egyptians and the Syrians, they needed Syria and Egypt, because they were encircled by American allies, as you can see at the following map. Remember that Iran was an American ally until 1979 and the Islamic revolution. The Iraqis needed the Egyptians and the Syrians, in order to reach the Mediterranean Sea and sell their oil without having to cross the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.

Picture 3

Map of Syria Iraq Egypt

You can also see on the map that Israel and Lebanon were a thorn in the eyes of Egypt and Syria. If Egypt and Syria had managed to conquer Israel and Lebanon, they could have blocked the exit of the oil pipelines of the Arabs of the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea, and they could have asked for a greater share of the oil profits. Israel and Lebanon were significantly reducing the geopolitical significance of Egypt and Syria.

At the following map, with the red line, you can see a rough sketch of the Trans Arabian Pipeline, which operated from 1947 to 1982. This was the largest pipeline of its time, and it crossed the Golan Heights in order to reach Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea. The Golan Heights were under Syrian control until 1967, when they came under Israeli control. It is said that 30% of the oil that the Saudi ARAMCO has ever sold, has been sold through the Trans Arabian Pipeline. Gradually, with the construction of the large oil tankers, which could carry huge volumes of oil, the pipeline became less important, and it was abandoned in 1982.

Picture 4

Map of Syria and Lebanon

That’s why Nasser was Israel’s greatest enemy, and that’s why Syria never recognized Lebanon. Syria always claimed that Lebanon was a part of Syria. If Syria and Egypt had managed to eliminate Israel and Lebanon they would have drastically increased their geopolitical importance, and they could have asked for a much larger portion of the oil profits. It was only in 2008 that Syria and Lebanon accepted to establish diplomatic relations. I guess the reason is that Iran, Syria’s main ally, is financing Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah is playing an increasingly important role in Lebanon. Moreover, Iran brought forward the project of the Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon Pipeline.

And like all that was not enough for Egypt and Syria in the 60s, Israel and Iran agreed on the Eilat-AShkelon Pipeline. Eilat is the only Israeli port that gives Israel access to the Red Sea. The Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline would carry Iranian oil to the Mediterranean Sea, avoiding Egypt and the Suez Canal, and also avoiding Syria. For a rough map of the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline see the following map.

Picture 5

Map of Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline

Nasser could not accept all that, and in 1967 he decided to close the Straits of Tiran to Israel, sending at the same time many army units at the Sinai Peninsula. By closing the Straits of Tiran, Nasser was basically blocking the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline. However Israel, supported by the Americans, attacked Egypt and Syria, and during the Six Days War, the Israelis took the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Therefore the Eilat- Askhelon Pipeline Company was established in 1968, and at the same time the piece of the Trans Arabian Pipeline that was passing through the Golan Heights was no longer under Syrian control.  For the Golan Heights see the following Wikipedia map.

Picture 6

Map of Golan Heights

At another geographic location, in North Africa, Nasser could not blackmail Algeria and Libya, at least not in the same way that he could blackmail the Arabs of the Gulf. Even though the socialists took control in Algeria and Libya, and they did aligned their countries with the Soviet Union, they did not want to share their oil with Egypt and Syria. The Algerians and the Libyans did not need Egypt and Syria in order to sell their oil to the Europeans and the Americans. Because even though the Algerian and Libyan socialists aligned their countries with the Soviet Union, they could only sell their oil to the Europeans and the Americans. Russia had, and still has, an abundance of oil.

Gamal Nasser died in 1970, without ever achieving to control the oil of the Persian Gulf. However he had supporters in all Arab countries, and all Arab leaders attended his funeral. The only Arab leader who did not attend was the Saudi King. After all, Nasser was mainly after the Saudi oil. I must also say that when Nasser was using Pan-Arabism, and the socialists of the Persian Gulf, in order to attack the Arab monarchs of the Persian Gulf, the Saudis were using Pan-Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, in order to attack Nasser. Therefore Nasser designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

However nowadays, the Muslim Brotherhood is supported by Turkey and Erdogan. Tayip Erdogan wishes to become the new Sultan of the chaliphate. That way Turkey would play a greater role in the oil and natural gas of the Persian Gulf. As a result the Saudis have designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. In a way Erdogan is for the Saudis a new Nasser. Except that Erdogan is not a socialist, like Nasser was, but he is an islamist. That does not mean that the Saudis and the Turks cannot reach an agreement. That will depend on how much Turkey wants.

You always hear intellectuals saying how complicated the Middle East is. That’s a great lie. The Middle East is complicated only when oil and natural gas is not based at the centre of the analysis. When oil and natural gas are placed at the centre of the analysis the Middle East is the simplest region in the world. There is only one rule in the Middle East, and that is that the fastest gun takes the oil. But the intellectuals will not say that, because their job, as Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand were saying many decades ago, is to convince us about how much we need the civil servants that are paying them.

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13 thoughts on “The Intra-Arab War for Oil : 1950-1970”

  1. Fascinating article. Thanks for sharing. I found you via the comment you left on my site, Dave Enjoys. I’d encourage you to include a bibliography with specific points highlighted in the bibliography. I’d love to be able to follow up on some of the statements you made.


    1. Thank you very much. You can google what I say. I am only talking about major events which can be found everywhere on the internet. Pan-Arabism, Pan-Islamism, the Eilat-Ashkelon and the Trans-Arabian Pipelines, the Muslim Brotherhood, the United Arab Republic, everything is on the internet.

      If you liked it that much I would encourage you to read “Russia vs Turkey : The Geopolitics of the South & the Turk Stream Pipelines” and the “USA Russia & China in the Middle East : Alliances & Conflicts”. They are the previous posts. Thank you very much again for your comment Dave


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