Remember Bill Clinton’s catchy slogan “it’s all about the economy, stupid?" Well when it comes to the Middle East, it’s all about the oil. The wars, the disputes, the bickering, it all boils down to one thing: oil.
To better understand the geopolitics of oil let’s take a good look at a map of the Middle East. Notice Iran’s position? Iran is a major oil producer and the country lies on the eastern edge of the region. Iran has always been worried by its Arab neighbors, and vice-versa.
Throughout history the two sides have often been at odds. For now Iran controls the situation, (sort of) in Iraq, but that has not always been the case, and nor will it forever be the case. Right across the water is Saudi Arabia, the other powerhouse in the region, and Iran’s nemesis. The first are Sunni (Wahabbi) and the second are Shiites, which has contributed to the schism.
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If Iran wants to guarantee an uninterrupted flow of its product to the West, it currently needs to ship its oil via super tankers down the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, and then on to whatever port the ships are heading for. There are two major disadvantages with the way this setup operates.
First and foremost, this places Iran’s oil under the potential tutelage of the United States, who in case of conflict, can easily close the strategic Straits, thus placing an embargo on Iran’s oil and thus affecting Iran’s economy, (it is indeed, as some have been speculating, all about the economy, stupid!).
And second, it means that Iran is already at a disadvantage when it comes to facing off the US because of the precariousness of getting its oil to market in case of conflict.
Enter Syria into the game. What makes Syria so important to the game being played out in the Middle East today? As they say in real estate, location, location, location. Look at that map again and look at Syria. It sits on the crossroads of the Levant and the Gulf, the Mediterranean and the Near East. Location, location, location.
If the rumor mill is at least partially correct, and it often is, then, it is safe to assume that at least part of the civil war in Syria has to do with oil, or more precisely, with pipeline routes, some that will be laid, others that will never see the day. If Iraq was attractive to the USA because of its oil and gas reserves, Syria is attractive due to the location where the projected oil pipelines were to transit. And ergo the root of the crisis.
Some of the fiercest fighting was in and around the city of Homs. It’s just coincidence that in 2011, a promising gas field was discovered in Homs. Syrian Oil Minister Sufian Allawi told the state-run SANA news agency that the first wells “were in the Homs governorate and the flow rate is 400,000 cubic meters per day.”
By. Claude Salhani
Claude Salhani is senior editor of the English language service of Trend News Agency in Baku, Azerbaijan. He tweets at @claudesalhani.com