A very interesting article from Al Monitor, about the efforts of the Turkish President Tayip Erdogan to unite the Muslim World and become its leader. And about whether the leaders of the Muslim World can accept Erdogan as their leader. See Al Monitor παρακάτω “Will Islamic world accept Turkey’s leadership?”, April 2016.
The article refers to the recent summit of the Muslim countries in Turkey (Organization of Islamic Cooperation OIC). Al Monitor mentions that the socialist leader of Egypt Abdel Sisi was absent, together with the King of Jordan. I must say that both the Egyptian socialists and the King of Jordan are very upset with the Turkish Islamists, because they support in Egypt and Jordan the Islamist socialist organization Muslim Brotherhood.
Recently the Jordanian King accused the Turkish President of sending terrorists to Europe on purpose, and also said that the Europeans are afraid of Erdogan. See Al Monitor “Are Amman-Ankara ties in crisis”?, April 2016. See also Independent “Turkey is deliberately ‘unleashing’ Isis terrorists into Europe, says Jordan’s King Abdullah”, March 2016. See also the Gatestone Institute “Turkey: Muslim Brothers’ Protector”, June 2015.
In the summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Erdogan had the Saudi King first at his right, and fourth to his left was the Iranian President. Erdogan wanted to show how the relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey have improved, and also that in the Saudi-Iranian conflict Turkey favors the Saudis. I must say that the relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia have improved after King Salman became King in January 2015, because he accepted to relax the stance followed by his predecessor against the Muslim Brotherhood. He also pledged billions of Saudi investments in Turkey. See Al Monitor “Saudi Arabia turns to Turkey”, February 2016
However the Turkish President also said that his religion is Islam, and not Sunnitism or Shiitism, in an effort to unite Iran and Saudi Arabia, two of the main powers of Shiite and Sunni Islam respectively.
For Turkey it would be great if Iran and Saudi Arabia could reach a détente, or even manage to cooperate. The Turks and the Qataris are hoping that if the Saudis and the Iranians reach an agreement, it would be much easier for them to send the oil and gas to Turkey, and from there to Europe. Turkey wants to reduce her dependence on Russian gas, and also to send the oil and gas of the Middle East and the Caspian Sea to Europe. That would mean billions in revenues for Turkey, and also an increased geopolitical role. The opposite would be true for Russia. The largest gas field of the world i.e. the South Pars/North Fields, lies in the Persian Gulf, and it is shared by Iran and Qatar. A bit to the north, in Turkmenistan, lies the second largest gas field in the world, the Galkynysh.
Map 1South Pars/ North Fields Gas Field
A rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, would be very good for Turkey and Qatar, but it would be a disaster for Russia, because it would open the corridor Middle East-Turkey-Europe. If Iraq was to be included in this kind of deal things for Russia would become even worse. With peace between the Sunnis and the Shiites of the Middle East, it would be much harder for the Russians to intervene in the Middle East.
But it is not as easy as it seems for the Saudis and the Iranians to reach a détente, even though it would be a blessing for the Turkish Islamists. The Turks and the Iranians have been supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and the Iranians are also supporting the Shiite minority of Saudi Arabia too. The idea is that if the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Saudi Arabia and Jordan, it will be much easier for Turkey to control these countries, and it would be much easier for Iran and Saudi Arabia to cooperate, since the Muslim Brotherhood is sponsored by Turkey and Iran.
Iran is already an Islamic Republic, and the Turkish Islamists are closing the media and destroying the opposition in Turkey, and they are transforming Turkey to an Islamic republic too. If the Saudi members of the Muslim Brotherhood were to rise in Saudi Arabia, the three main players of the Persian Gulf would all be Islamic republics.
The Turkish efforts to overturn the family of Saud in Saudi Arabia are enhanced by the animosity that has been developing between Saudi Arabia and United States after the terrorist attacks at the Twin Towers (9/11). The Americans do not blame for the attack the then Saudi King, but all the terrorists were Saudis, and this was definitely a Saudi attack, even though it was also supported by Iran, Afghanistan, and maybe from Iraq too. Recently the American courts fined Iran with 10.5 billion dollars for its support to the Saudis who carried out the attack. See Bloomberg “Iran Told to Pay $10.5 Billion to Sept. 11 Kin, Insurers”, March 2016.
The Congress is also thinking about investigating the role of Saudi Arabia in the attack. See CNN “Saudis warn of economic reprisals if Congress passes 9/11 bill”, April 2016
The Americans never accused the then government of Saudi Arabia of organizing the 9/11 attack, but the present Saudi King, King Salman, was funding charity organizations that have been associated with Al Qaeda. That was of course before he became King of Saudi Arabia, and I guess it has a lot to do with the war within the Saudi Royal family. See Foreign Policy “King Salman’s Shady History”, January 2015
I guess that after the Saudi King promised to be more relaxed towards the Muslim Brotherhood branch of Saudi Arabia i.e. Erdogan’s friends, and all the Saudi investments he pledged for Turkey, Turkey will relax her stance towards the Muslim Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia.
However, even if at some point the Turks and the Iranians manage to bring the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Saudi Arabia, it won’t be a piece of cake for an agreement to be reached between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Remember that before the rise of the Iranian Islamists in 1979, Iran was the main US ally in the Persian Gulf, and Saudi Arabia was also a US ally. However the two countries were still killing each other for their exports. And it is not only the Saudis and the Iranians. There is also Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Iraq, Syria, and everybody is looking after his own interests.
But even if we assume that the Saudis and the Iranians reach an agreement, in order to send oil and gas to Europe through Turkey, thus overcoming Russia, what will happen with Asia? The Arabs and the Iranians are mainly exporting to Asia. The only common interest they have in Asia is to block the gas of Turkmenistan and the oil of Kazakhstan from reaching India and the Indian Ocean. But the Iranians have a clear advantage over the Saudis when it comes to India and China, due to the Iran-Pakistan corridor. Maybe the Iranians and the Qataris could jointly export gas from the South Pars/North Fields to China and India, but is there to unite Iran and Saudi Arabia?
China could attempt to sort things out for the Iranians and the Saudis, because it is mainly China that imports oil and gas from the Persian Gulf. The United States have increased their oil and gas production from shale rock, and they import huge quantities from Canada and Mexico, both countries very rich in shale rock.
China could say something like “I will buy that much from you, that much from you and you and you”, in an effort to keep everybody happy. That was the point of the recent visits of the Chinese President to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran. See Reuters “China’s Xi to visit Saudi, Iran in new diplomacy push” January 2016.
See also “Can China Afford to Finish the War in the Middle East”?
I said that Iran has an advantage for Europe and Asia, and therefore I must also say that Saudi Arabia has an advantage over Africa. But the rich customers are in Europe and Asia, and not in Africa. Recently Egypt returned to Saudi Arabia two islands that Saudi Arabia had surrendered to Egypt in 1950, in order for Egypt to block the Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline that was promoted by Iran and Israel, and which was constructed in 1968, after the 1967 war between Egypt and Israel.
The Saudis will construct a bridge that will pass from these two islands, and will for the first time connect the Arabian Peninsula with the Sinai Peninsula. Moreover Sudan recently changed sides and from an Iranian ally it became a Saudi ally. Eritrea and Djibouti also pledged their support to Saudi Arabia.Iran is claiming Yemen through the current war, in order to connect to Africa, and also to be able to block the Saudi exports to Asia. The Saudis have constructed the Petropipeline to export from the Red Sea their oil, which is located near the Persian Gulf. Iran threatens to block the Straits of Hormuz in case of a war with Saudi Arabia.
Another issue related with all the above is that if there is a Saudi-Iranian agreement, in order to send gas and oil to Europe through Turkey, they will deeply “hurt” the Russian economic exports to Europe. And if the Iranians and the Saudis hurt the Russian interests, and at the same time they have very good relations with China, there will be problems between China and Russia. And there are already big problems between Russia and China. See “Russia VS China”.
Also remember that the Iranian Islamists supported the rise of the Turkish Islamists to power, because they thought the Tukish Kemalists were too pro-American and too pro-West. The Iranian Islamists believed that the rise of the Turkish Islamists would enhance the Iranian-Turkish cooperation. However we saw that the rise of the Islamists in Turkey led to the Turkish-Iranian war in Syria. Because the priority of the Turkish Kemalist was to keep the Kurdistan of Turkey quiet, and they were willing to sacrifice Turkish influence in the Middle East. The current doctrine of Neo-Ottomanism promoted by Erdogan and Davutoglu is hurting the Russian and Iranian interests, and if these two countries are not happy with the Turkish energy policy they will support the PKK in Turkey.
The terrorists of the PKK were traditionally supported by Syria, due to the problematic Syrian-Turkish relations, but Syria is one thing, and Russia and Iran are another.
Also remember that in the 70s the socialists of Iraq and Syria were both Russian allies, and they wanted to become one country, in order to export Iraqi oil to the Mediterranean Sea. That was at a time the Soviets were not exporting oil and gas to NATO members. But in the end the Syrian and Iraqi socialists became bitter rivals, and after the rise of the Iranian Islamists in power, the Syrians became Iranian allies.
What I am trying to say is that the Turks might want to see a Saudi-Iranian détente, in order to export their oil and gas to Europe, but forming alliances is not a simple task. On the other hand a civil war in Saudi Arabia would be perfect for Iran. Actually I think that for Iran a civil war in Saudi Arabia would be much better than a détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Also remember that the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea and West Siberia hold approximately 2/3 of the global oil and gas reserves, and the toughest international terrorists are running these countries i.e. see “the resource curse”, and “American Politics in the Age of Oil”.
Map 3 Persian Gulf-Caspian Sea-West Siberia
Also remember that Saudi Arabia has other options too. Saudi Arabia has the option to make a deal with Russia against Iran. Saudi Arabia consumes internally her natural gas production, and she is not as rich in natural gas as Iran and Qatar. Therefore Saudi Arabia is much less interested in the Qatar-Iran-Turkey gas pipeline, and a lot more interested for her oil exports.
Therefore the Saudis have the option to make a deal with Russia, in order for Russia to block Iran in Syria. Then Saudi Arabia and Russia can cooperate as an oil cartel in order to increase oil prices. Therefore it is much easier for the Saudis and the Jordanians to negotiate with the Russians in Syria, than it is for Turkey and Qatar. See “Russia, Saudi Arabia reach consensus on oil output freeze – Ifax cites diplomatic source”, April 2016
Also see “Vladimir Putin asked Bashar al-Assad to step down”, January 2016
A Saudi-Russian agreement except of decreasing output and increasing prices would also mean that the Saudis would focus on their exports in Asia, and the Russians would focus in Europe. It would also mean that Russia would protect Saudi Arabia from Iran. Russia could even provide nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia, now that Pakistan is becoming a bit neutral between Iran and Saudi Arabia, due to the Iran-Pakistan-China economic corridor. Pakistan is the only Muslim country that is a nuclear power. Russia is already cooperating with Saudi Arabia on nuclear energy. See Reuters “Saudi Arabia, Russia sign nuclear power cooperation deal”, June 2015
See also BBC “Saudi nuclear weapons ‘on order’ from Pakistan”, November 2013
See also the Financial Times “Saudi Arabia and Russia ministers agree oil production freeze”, February 2016.
On the other hand, Turkey too has the option to cooperate with Russia with the Turk Stream (Russia-Black Sea-Turkey-Europe), and block Iran, in order to become for Russia an new Ukraine and earn transit fees. But the Turks want to buy the Russian gas in low prices and negotiate it themselves with the potential buyers, while the Russians want to make the negotiations themselves, and simply allow Turkey to earn transit fees, like they were doing with Ukraine.
But let me go back to the Al Monitor article. The article also says that at the summit of the Organization of the Islamic Council Erdogan attacked the West, and said that the Muslim World must cooperate in order to promote its interests, because the Westerners only care about the oil of the Muslim World. He also said that the Europeans and the Americans make a big fuss about the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris, but they don’t care about the terrorist attacks in Turkey. He was referring to the support of the West to the Kurds of Syria, because the Kurds of Syria cooperate with the Kurds of the PKK in Turkey. See also “Erdogan and Syria”.
At the end the Al Monitor articles says that it is not very easy for the Muslim World to cooperate, and it says it is doubtful whether the leaders of the Muslim World will accept Erdogan as their leader.
Picture Turkish Imports of Natural Gas
Picture Turkish Imports of Crude Oil
For the Al Monitor article see
“Will Islamic world accept Turkey’s leadership?”, April 2016
“Turkey is deliberately ‘unleashing’ Isis terrorists into Europe, says Jordan’s King Abdullah”, March 2016
“Are Amman-Ankara ties in crisis”?, April 2016
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Although Erdogan has been criticized for launching verbal tirades against regional leaders, it has been Jordan’s monarch who has repeatedly attacked the Turkish president. According to a leak reported March 25 in Middle East Eye, Abdullah told US congressional officials during a January visit to Washington, “The fact that terrorists are going to Europe is part of Turkish policy and Turkey keeps on getting a slap on the hand, but they are let off the hook.” Asked whether the Islamic State (IS) was exporting oil to Ankara, Abdullah responded, “Absolutely.” Abdullah’s accusation that Ankara is working with IS likely does not sit well with Erdogan, as Turkey has suffered several horrific attacks by IS of late.
An informed source, who requested anonymity for lack of authorization to speak with the press, told Al-Monitor that ties between Amman and Ankara had reached a “crisis.” Given that the king’s quotes were published right before Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was scheduled to visit Jordan on March 27, the source wondered whether the timing of the leak had been intentional, to try to sabotage the visit, which had required weeks of planning.
“Turkey: Muslim Brothers’ Protector”, June 2015
“Saudi Arabia extends hand to Muslim Brotherhood”, March 2016
“Saudi Arabia and Russia ministers agree oil production freeze”, February 2016
“Why Saudi Arabia decided to reclaim its islands from Egypt now”
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A lot of shock and disgruntlement has been expressed regarding the deal reached between Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi following the king’s visit to Egypt.
King Salman’s visit ended with him cashing in on years of Saudi funding for the Egyptian state and economy, as well as energy subsidies, and leaving with his father’s old Red Sea islands back under the authority of the Saudi state as well as a final agreement to build the long-discussed but never constructed Saudi-Egypt bridge.
Many Egyptian opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have complained that Sisi has unconstitutionally ceded Egyptian territory and done so in exchange for a “fistful of dollars”. Undoubtedly Sisi is acting in his own interests and survival as his country plunges further into chaos and economic hardship. But the fact remains that the islands are historically Saudi, and all that King Salman has done is take back direct control over islands his father already possessed and were a part of his dominion during a time that is still within the king’s own memory.
However, the question remains what the Saudis gain by reclaiming the islands now. To answer that, we must look back to why did Saudi Arabia agreed to the leasing of the Tiran and Sanafir islands to the Egyptians in the 1950s. This was likely in a bid to detach itself from direct responsibility for the Palestinian cause.
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Although this is unlikely to happen right now due to Israeli fears, Saudi Arabia has already reopened Iraqi-built pipelines to the Red Sea that it may expand in order to mitigate the threat of the stranglehold Iran has on Hormuz, where a fifth of the world’s energy passes. It is also doing its utmost to prevent Iranian clients such as the Houthis from controlling Yemen and threatening access to the Gulf of Aden to the south. Saudi Arabia’s move should therefore be seen as an insurance policy to diversify its export and trade routes.
Finally, and as a furtherance of King Salman’s repeated statements calling for greater Arab unity in the face of shared threats, the King Salman Causeway, as it will be known, will pass over the islands and connect the Sinai with the Arabian Peninsula, thus bridging Africa and Asia and providing for a land route that bypasses the historical route that traverses the Levant.
Saudi Arabia is not only seeking to increase its economic ties with the Egyptians, a million of whom already live and work in Saudi Arabia, but it also probably sees this bridge as a way of connecting the Arabian Maghreb with the Mashriq. Apart from the obvious benefits of having such a land route for the annual Hajj pilgrims, there will be increased trade and commercial opportunities across both sides of the bridge, the idea being that with increased economic interdependence comes increased cooperation.
“Saudi readies oil line to counter Iran Hormuz threat”, June 2012
Saudi Arabia has reopened an old oil pipeline built by Iraq to bypass Gulf shipping lanes, giving Riyadh scope to export more of its crude from Red Sea terminals should Iran try to block the Strait of Hormuz, industry sources told Reuters.
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The effects of tensions have been diverse, with Saudi Arabia’s decision to widen its export routes the latest evidence of states in the region preparing for difficulties.
The Iraqi Pipeline in Saudi Arabia (IPSA), laid across the kingdom in the 1980s after oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf by both sides during the Iran-Iraq war, has not carried Iraqi crude since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.
Saudi Arabia confiscated the pipeline in 2001 as compensation for debts owed by Baghdad and has used it to transport gas to power plants in the west of the country in the last few years.
Iran threatened in January to block the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for U.S. and European sanctions that target its oil revenues in an attempt to stop the nuclear program.
Alarmed, Saudi Arabia has now quietly reconditioned IPSA to carry crude, test pumping along the line over the last four to five months, several sources with knowledge of the project say.
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More than a third of the world’s seaborne oil exports pass through the narrow Strait of Hormuz from the oilfields of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Qatar’s liquefied natural gas exports are all shipped through Hormuz.
Worried about its reliance on Gulf shipping, Saudi Arabia increased its capacity in 1992 to pump oil from fields predominantly clustered in the east across the country to the Red Sea. Capacity rose to about 5 million barrels a day through two parallel pipelines known as the Petroline.
Saudi crude exports run as high as 8 million bpd but rising demand for its crude in Asia, shipped out of the Gulf, and falling demand from Europe, usually sourced from Red Sea ports, meant Petroline’s pumping capacity was never fully used.
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Until recently the Saudi government had considered the risk of such a disruption in the Gulf too small and its western gas needs too great to switch Petroline fully back to oil. But as tensions over Iran’s nuclear program rose, it decided to put IPSA on standby to transport more crude west in an emergency.
The United Arab Emirates has built its own Hormuz bypass pipeline, which is due to start exporting from the Gulf of Oman next month.
“Iraq seeks to reopen oil pipeline through Saudi Arabia”, December 2015
Iraq is seeking to reopen its crude oil export pipeline through Saudi Arabia, shut in 1990, state newspaper Assababah reported citing an unidentified Iraqi official. “The Iraqi oil ministry started taking steps to revive the Iraq-Saudi Arabia export pipeline, as part of a plan to diversify its export outlets,” said the Baghdad-based daily.An Iraqi oil ministry spokesman declined to comment on the report.Saudi Arabia shut the pipeline in 1990, after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The pipeline used to carry Iraqi crude to the Saudi terminal of Yanbu on the Red Sea.The pipeline was built in the 1980s, during the Iraq-Iran war, to diversify Iraq’s exports routes when the two countries were attacking each other’s tankers in the Gulf.
“Saudi Arabia-Iran Rivalry In Africa: Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia Part Ways WithTehran As Riyadh Influence Grows”, January 2016
“Eritrea Says It Backs Saudi Arabia’s Moves to `Combat Terrorism”, February 2016