When OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, imposed an oil embargo on the West for its support of Israel in the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the French came out with a series of public service announcements on how to save oil. The 30-second ads gave consumers advice on various ways to economize gas and oil consumption. And the announcements would end with a voice saying: “In France we don’t have oil, but we have ideas.”
Today, much the same can be said about Jordan. The country is the only one in the region not producing oil. Its neighbors – Iraq, Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia, all produce oil to varying degrees, except for Jordan and Palestine.
And in the turbulent world that is the Middle East today, Jordan’s lack of oil may well be a blessing in disguise, rendering it financially uninteresting to groups such as the so-called Islamic State that has occupied large swaths of land from Syria and Iraq, where incidentally, oil is found. But that does not mean that Jordan is altogether off the Islamist’s radar. The country counts large numbers of sympathizers of the Islamic State and its “lighter” version, the Muslim Brotherhood. Many among them would very much like to see the Hashemite kingdom replaced by an Islamic state.
During his visit to Washington last week the King of Jordan said that the events unfolding in the region today were nothing less than the start of World War III.
“We have to stand up and say, ‘This is the line that is drawn in the sand,’” the king said in an interview that was broadcast on CBS’s This Morning.
“It’s clearly a fight between good and evil.”
Coming from one of the rare voices of reason in the Arab world this is certainly cause for concern.
“This is a Muslim problem,” said the king. The importance of this statement cannot be stressed enough. Until now, many in the Middle East saw the conflict as one opposing the United States and its Western allies to Islamist groups. The king’s statement in Washington sheds a whole new light on the problem and how to approach it.
“We need to take ownership of this. We need to stand up and say what is right and what is wrong,” Abdullah told CBS News’ Charlie Rose.
This is probably the most important declaration by an Arab leader; admitting that there is indeed a problem within the House of Islam.
Although the Western countries today are far less dependent on Arab oil than they were in the 1970s, nevertheless a serious disruption to oil markets from the Middle East – Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait – would be greatly felt in the West, despite the fact that other sources today are available, such as Russia, the Central Asia republics and Azerbaijan amongst others.
Abdullah II of Jordan, much like his late father King Hussein, is well placed to know what’s going on in his corner of the world, situated in what is today the most volatile piece of real estate on the planet. Jordan is wedged between Syria, Iraq and a hard place; the hard place being his own home-grown jihadi movements in Jordan who would like to see the establishment of an Islamist state in place of the Hashemite Kingdom. Jordan has a considerable number of Muslim Brotherhood adherents, and the intelligence service is doing a pretty decent job of keeping a very close eye on them.
Jordan may not have oil but as its king pointed out, it does have a number of very good ideas, such as the ones mentioned by Abdullah in Washington. Those and others were discussed with President Barack Obama, who could certainly use the Jordanian monarch’s wise council.
Jordan’ s lack of oil does not make it any less important strategically. It is one of the staunchest pro-American countries in the Middle East. And recent history shows that being an ally of the United States in this part of the world comes with certain risks.
In the past some Arab leaders tended to be more discreet in their relationship with Washington, often holding a two-tone dialogue. One for internal consumption, and the other for the benefit of the West. That, as we have just seen by Abdullah’s declarations is changing. Leaders in the Arab world have now come to realize that they can no longer continue to sit on the fence, or continue to appear undecided. This is a time of grave concern, and part of the danger lies in failing to recognize it as such. Now that would be a bad idea.
By Claude Salhani of Oilprice.com
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