Russia is fast emerging as a major power broker in the Middle East.
The world reeled from shock after two successive missile attacks targeted the Abqaiq oil facility and the Khurais oilfield in the Saudi desert last month. The real drama unfolded the morning after – thick smoke billowed from the wreckage, blotting out the early morning sun, and with it perhaps any hopes of restoring some amount of normality to Iranian-Saudi relations, at least for the foreseeable future. Over half of all the crude oil excavated in the Saudi kingdom is processed at Abqaiq. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that crude oil prices surged by 20 percent as global markets grappled with the biggest oil supply shock in decades. The Kingdom’s oil production is already running a historic low as its natural reserves face depletion, and the attacks at Abqaiq and Khurais managed to cut down global oil supply by a further 6 percent. Saudi Arabia called the September 14 attacks an act of war, and Iran stands accused of masterminding the offensive, a charge it vehemently denies.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned what he called Saudi attempts to provoke Iran into a full-blown military confrontation. The country remains economically besieged; heavily sanctioned by the US, with inflation in the country hitting new highs every week under the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy. Zarif holds the Houthi rebels responsible for the attack, based on a statement released by the rebel faction in Yemen. Nonetheless, Tehran has not been able to produce any concrete evidence apropos of the claim. The Saudis, meanwhile, have alleged Iranian involvement after examining misfired missiles that they claim were sourced from Iran. Less than a month after the attacks on the Aramco facilities, an Iranian oil tanker, the Sabiti, was attacked while cruising the Red Sea, just off the coast of Jeddah, causing oil prices in London to surge to 60 US dollars a barrel. Continue reading
Trump represents the height of dysfunction in the US and the negative consequences of blindly pandering to a pro-Israel lobby and the military-industrial complex’s interests.
While the US and Saudi Arabia continue to accuse Iran of creating instability in the region, it would benefit Trump greatly if he turned his gaze inwards to demonstrate some degree of reflection. When one considers the current crisis and its motivations, it is fairly reasonable to reach the conclusion that Trump instigated a crisis in order to carry out his “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran. Trump incorrectly predicted that his move would be successful in causing the Iranians to capitulate to US demands for Iran to stop funding proxy wars and discontinue its ballistic missiles program. A victory of this nature would have boosted Trump’s credibility in the upcoming US elections while showing that a mediation-oriented leftist approach is wrong. However, Trump’s simple-minded plan has clearly failed as Iran has not backed down and continues to challenge the US on an almost equal footing.
Iran has retaliated in response to the earlier seizure of Grace I (by the UK on the directions of the US) by attempting to halt a UK ship and then by towing the Panamanian-flagged tanker, Riah, to its port for technical repairs in response to a distress signal issued by the tanker. While it is likely that the Riah did not have technical issues, Iran is coating its retaliatory efforts in strategic statements in a similar vein to those of the British who claimed that the reason for the seizure of Grace I was due to EU sanctions against Syria. It is worth noting that the EU sanctions have been placed on Syria since 2014 yet it is only now in the midst of tension that they seem to be remembered in the case of Iran exporting its oil. Continue reading
Pakistan’s position in this dilemma is unique; it enjoys ties with Qatar, as well as with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
On 22 June 2019, Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani arrived in Pakistan on the invitation of Prime Minister Imran Khan for a two-day state visit. The state visit was specifically aimed at strengthening bilateral ties and improving cooperation in diverse fields between Qatar and Pakistan. In addition to the one-on-one talks between the Emir, Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Arif Alvi respectively, delegation-level meetings were also conducted between representatives of both countries. Notably, one of the most important results of this visit was the subsequent pledge for mutual cooperation with regard to gas exploration and the energy sector. The sheer competitiveness of the energy market is a stark reality. In a bid to secure a pivotal multi-billion-dollar supply contract, the Qataris reduced prices of liquefied natural gas (LNG) for Pakistan in May 2019.
With Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates both offering enticing offers concerning deferred oil and LNG payments for Pakistan, Qatar sought to modify LNG prices in order to successfully secure the deal. It is reported that presently, Qatar exports ‘500 mmcfd [million cubic feet per day] to Pakistan under a 15-year agreement struck at 13.37% of Brent crude price.’[i] Pakistan has been negotiating with a number of countries including Russia, Turkey, Malaysia, Azerbaijan and Italy with regard to attaining long-term gas deals. Saudi Arabia (and state-owned petroleum and natural gas company Aramco) has also shown interest in securing a gas deal with Pakistan. Continue reading
No crisis today remains regional. There is no such thing as isolated or insulated regions … watch video
The fragmentation of the Middle East into a collection of interest groups has become a defining feature of the region’s political economy. “Palestine is essentially an Arab country, and must remain so,” was the uncompromising response given by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947 to requests made by Albert Einstein, at the behest of Zionist leaders, to support the creation of the state of Israel. Seven decades later the atmosphere is rather different and Modi has comprehensively cemented ties with Israel by becoming the first Indian prime minister to make an official visit to Israel, a premier supplier of arms and military technology to New Delhi. The passage of seventy years has resulted in the rise of new power brokers such as the Saudis who are accused of being the primary supporters of state sponsored terrorism in an official report, the publication of which is deliberately being withheld by the British government as it does not want to damage booming arms sales to Riyadh: bombs used to kill innocent civilians in Yemen. All this squares up poorly with Trump’s claim that Iran is the foremost pariah state.
The ongoing ostracism of Qatar shows that the Saudis want to call the shots on everything on their terms. In a session chaired by Dr Masuma Hasan, Javed Jabbar gave an insightful talk on the mechanics underpinning Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia’s relations with the US. The event was widely reported in the media and extracts of the reportage are available below. Jabbar bemoaned Saudi hegemony and recalled that the 13 sweeping demands that Saudi Arabia had made of Qatar sounded frightfully similar to a power point presentation conjured up by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company – a favourite of King Salman bin Abdulaziz. According to Jabbar, one cannot ignore the fact that only six years ago, Saudi Arabia and Qatar jointly invested in an Israeli company called IDA Holdings. Continue reading
Filed under Discussion, Events, Human Rights, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, Palestine, The Middle East, Trump, UK, United States
This post relates to coverage in the Dawn regarding our recent event on the crisis in Yemen … “Pakistan has no business in the Arab world”
Ever since King Salman ascended to power, there’s been a gung-ho feeling in Riyadh. Yemen’s is not a sectarian issue rather the Saudis are trying to make the country into Saudi Yemenia, said Raza Naeem, assistant professor at the School of Governance and Society in the University of Management and Technology, Lahore, during his talk at The Pakistan Institute of International Relations (PIIA) on Thursday 23 April 2015. The round-table conference held in PIIA was entitled The Crisis in Yemen and Pakistan’s Response. Before giving an historical account of Yemen, Prof Naeem said it was not a country talked about much in our part of the world and he was disappointed with the mainstream commentary dominated by security analysts and ex-ambassadors. He explained Yemen was a water-scarce country that imported 90 per cent of its foodstuffs. Ever since Saudi Arabia started bombing the country, a humanitarian crisis with electricity and food shortages had enveloped Yemen, he said. In the future, he added, there was a chance of water wars in the Middle East.
He termed ironic the name ‘Restore Hope’ that the Saudis had given to their operation because it was the same name that the American gave to their operation when they attacked Somalia and destroyed it. Shattering the myth that Yemen was the birthplace of Al Qaeda, he said it was an attempt to whitewash the region’s past. Yemen was the only republican country in the peninsula and the Saudis had never liked that, he explained. Prof Naeem said Yemen used to be two countries, divided into north and south parts.