Pipelines and energy have an unsettling ability to shift regional geostrategic goal focuses, weakening the old traditional alliances and bringing new political groupings into existence.
Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the trilateral energy relationship between Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan.
Iran, which has been subjected to increasingly punitive U.S. sanctions since the 1979 revolution which overthrew the Shah and established an Islamic republic, has more recently been put under increasing pressure in the form of additional sanctions imposed by the U.S.-dominated UN Security Council over both Washington’s and Tel Aviv’s insistence that its civilian nuclear energy efforts actually mask a covert nuclear weapons program.
But Turkey's reliance on Iran not only for supplies of natural gas but a flourishing bilateral trade as well have served to blunt Washington's goals to isolate the regime in Tehran.
Turkey is currently forced to import 90 percent of its energy needs including from its traditional enemy Russia, with whom in the last three centuries have fought 11 wars, more than any other nation. Energy imports to Turkey have grown by more than 41 percent in the first half of the year. For the past decade, Turkey has imported 93 percent of the oil and 98 percent of the natural gas it consumes.
Despite Washington's stern disapproval of the Islamic regime in power in Iran, Ankara takes a more benign view of its eastern neighbor, as their last war, between the Iranian Safavid and Turkish Ottoman empires ended with the 1639 Treaty of Zuhab.
Today Iran and Turkey cooperate in a wide variety of fields that range from enhanced trade and energy sales to fighting terrorism, drug trafficking, and promoting stability in both Iraq and Central Asia, traditional areas of both common interests and rivalry.
While Turkey's deepening relationship with Iran is a source of unhappiness in Washington, there is little it can do about it, especially as Turkey is an important staging point for the U.S. military presence in Iraq, most notably the Pentagon using Turkey's Incirlik air base in the south of the country, near Adana. So much for sanctions.
The heart of the Turkish-Iranian energy nexus is the Tabriz–Ankara pipeline, a 1,601 mile-long natural gas conduit which runs from Tabriz in northwestern Iran to Turkey’s capital Ankara in central Anatolia. The pipeline was commissioned on 26 July 2001, with the Turkish segment costing $600 million and currently transmits 11 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually. Turkey uses gas to fire half of its power plants. Iran is Turkey's second-biggest supplier of natural gas after Russia.
Since it came online the pipeline has been repeatedly attacked by the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, or PKK, a Marxist Kurdish separatist group battling for an independent Kurdistan to be carved out of southeastern Turkey. Late last month, oil exports to Turkey were briefly halted along the Kirkuk-Yumurtalik pipeline due to a blast, but it was swiftly repaired and flows were resumed a day later.
Early Friday morning the Tabriz–Ankara pipeline was bombed yet again and set on fire in the Alshokri region of Turkey’s eastern A?r? province, in another attack attributed to the PKK. Iran immediately offered assistance. National Iranian Gas Company spokesman Majid Bujarzadeh said, “The blast in the gas pipeline in Turkish territory has disrupted the exports and we have announced our readiness to assist in its immediate repair.”
Turkish Energy Ministry official said the repairs would take a week.
So who stepped into the breach to make up the energy shortfall?
The State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOCAR) said that Azerbaijan has increased has supplies to Turkey from its offshore Caspian Shah-Deniz field from 6 million to 16 million cubic meters per day until the repairs are complete.
So the question that Washington bureaucrats ought to be asking themselves is, is it any wonder that Turkey is increasingly tepid towards supporting Washington's increasingly hawkish attitudes towards both Iran and Russia? If Washington were able to bottle its hot air it might be able to help Turkey solve its energy problems, but at present Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia all seem better bets.
By. John C.K. Daly