How Safe Are Turkey’s Oil And Gas Pipelines?

by Claude Salhani –

 

Bashar Assad is a man of his word. In 2011, when the civil war began in Syria, President Assad delivered a promise to the international community and a threat to his neighbors: the violence will spread.

Today, Iraq is partially occupied by the Islamic State — which can trace its beginning to the chaos of war-torn Syria — Lebanon has been repeatedly hit by Syria-related violence, and border towns and villages along the Turkish-Syrian border have come under attack from various forces fighting in the country. Even Jordan is suffering under the weight of more than a million Syrian refugees who have created the country’s second-largest city, population-wise.

For its part, Turkey badly miscalculated, believing Assad would be gone within months, a victim of the same fate of other Arab Spring leaders.

But those who assumed Assad would fall failed to factor in Syria’s complicated internal politics. During the more than 40 years that the Assad clan has ruled Syria, they and their fellow members of the Alawite minority have so infuriated other ethnic and religious sects in the country that there can be no peaceful end to their rule. Assad cannot retire quietly to the countryside. He knows that losing power means not only losing his life, but that his entire extended family would be killed, as would all his close and even distant collaborators.

Unlike other Arab leaders who fled their country, slipping away in the dead of the night, Assad would very likely be prevented from leaving by those he would leave behind.

Besides the occasional shelling and car bombs going off in border villages, Turkey is feeling the heat from the Syrian conflict in other ways. The country that not too long ago had high hopes of becoming a full member of the European Union has had that longtime dream shattered. The manner in which Turkey is allowing IS combatants to unleash havoc on the border town of Kobani has cost Ankara heavily in the public relations domain.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is, in a manner of speaking, holding the Kurds who are defending the besieged town hostage to his foreign and domestic policies. You can rest assured that the Turkish president is not winning hearts and minds anywhere west of the Dardanelles. And Turkey’s actions, or rather its inaction where Kobani is concerned, is starting to anger other members of NATO.

At the same time, Erdogan has angered the country’s own Kurdish minority — which constitutes roughly 18 percent of the country’s nearly 90 million citizens – by allowing the Islamic State to continue its siege and bombardment of Kobani, despite the Turkish army being deployed just a few hundred yards away.

It didn’t help matters when he called the Kurds who were defending Kobani “terrorists” just as NATO war planes were bombing IS positions to help them. He further infuriated Kurds in the southeast of the country when he ordered the air force to attack positions of the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization.

Turkey has also painted itself in somewhat of a corner, diplomatically speaking, because in the past, it allowed IS fighters to transit its territory, during which time they set up cells that could be easily activated. It is almost certain that if Turkey makes a “wrong move,” IS or Syrian agents inside the country will take action.

There is indeed much at stake, not only for Turkey, but for Europe, which gets much of its oil through Turkey via a network of pipelines from Qatar, Azerbaijan, and Iraqi Kurdistan — any of which would make an easy target for a group wishing to cause trouble. And we know there is no shortage of those.

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Are Turkey’s oil and gas pipelines safe?

by Claude Salhani

There is little doubt that the conflict which began in Syria in the spring of 2011 and is now spread into Iraq, slowly creeping into Lebanon like a malignant cancer oozing into Turkey.
The Syrian president has been accused of many ills and frequently reneging on promises he makes. But Bashar Assad is a man of his word in at least one respect.
When the civil war first began in Syria, in 2011, Assad made a promise to the international community and a threat to his neighbors. The threat and the promise were one and the same.

Assad threatened that the violence in Syria would spread to its neighbors who gave support to his opposition.

In that he has kept his word as the violence which began in Syria has since spreads to Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey.

Iraq is partially occupied by the so-called Islamic State, Lebanon has seen violence related to the Syrian civil war and border towns and villages along the Turkish-Syrian border has come under attack from various forces fighting in Syria. And even Jordan is suffering, feeling the weight of more than a million refugees who have created the country’s second-largest city in terms of population.

Those who erroneously believed Assad would fall did not know Syria and the system under which Syrians today survive. During the more than 40 years that the Assad clan has ruled Syria, the Alawites minority to which Assad belongs have so infuriated the other groups that there is no going away peacefully. Assad cannot retire quietly to the countryside. He knows that losing power means not only losing his life, but that his entire extended family would be killed as would all his close and even distant collaborators.

Unlike other Arab leaders who fled their country, slipping away in the dead of the night, Assad would very likely be prevented from leaving by those he would leave behind.
Besides the occasional shelling and car bombs going off in border villages, Turkey is feeling the heat from the Syrian conflict in other ways. The country that not too |long ago had high hopes of joining the European Union now stands about as much chance as a snowball in hell to join the Brussels club.

Turkey allowing IS combatants to unleash havoc on the border town of Kobani, has cost Ankara heavy in the public relations domain.

Erdogan is in a manner of speaking holding the Kurds defending the besieged town hostage to his foreign and domestic policies and you can rest assured that the Turkish president is not winning hearts and minds anywhere west of the Dardanelles. Turkey’s actions, or rather its inaction where Kobani is concerned is starting to anger other NATO members, of which Turkey is a member.

At the same time Turkey’s president has angered the country’s own Kurdish minority, numbering roughly 18 percent of the country’s close to 90 million population.
By allowing the Islamic State to continue it siege and bombardment of Kobani, although the Turkish army is deployed just a few hundred yards away is upsetting the Kurds of Turkey.
Further angering the Kurds was Erdogan calling the Kurds defending Kobani “terrorists and that the town would fall,” just as NATO war planes were bombing IS positions in support of the Kurds defending Kobani.

Adding oil to the fire, Turkey further infuriated the Kurds in the south east of the country when its air force attacked positions of the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party, considered to be a terrorist organization by Ankara.

Turkey has painted itself in somewhat of a diplomatic corner by allowing IS to transit through its territory and to set up cells in Turkey that could be easily activated. And it is almost a certainty that if Turkey is seen as crossing the line, IS or Syrian agents or both could disrupt the serenity that Turkey has known, despite a few road bumps along way.
That serenity is lost forever as Turkey has moved from being almost in fortress Europe to jumping into the fire and turbulence of the Middle East.

There is indeed much at stake here not only for Turkey but for Europe who gets much of its oil through Turkey via a network of pipelines such as pipelines coming from Qatar, Azerbaijan, and Iraqi Kurdistan. Any of which would make an easy target for any party wishing to cause trouble. And we know there are no shortage of those.

Claude Salhani is a specialist on Middle East and terrorism affairs. You can follow Claude on Twitter @claudesalhani.

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31 years ago, Beirut, 31 years later, Ottawa

By Claude Salhani–

On the morning of October 23, 1983 a man driving a pick-up truck packed with explosives rammed his way past the U.S. Marine sentry guarding the perimeter where the Marines serving with the multinational peacekeeping force in Lebanon were bivouacked, right next to Beirut International Airport.

By the time the sentry inserted his clip into his M16 rifle, the suicide bomber was several meters past the sentry and well on his way into the building where several hundreds Marines were still sleeping this early Sunday morning.

Counter to all logic and particularly when deployed in a hostile environment and on direct orders from Washington the Marines in Beirut – including the sentries on guard duty – were not allowed to have the magazine inserted in their weapons. This was a “peacekeeping mission,” the Marines were told, and that despite the fact that there had been an absence of peace in the country since 1975 and that the Marines had been taking mortar and cannon fire from hostile forces in the hills above Beirut Airport.

The Marines, much like the French, the Italians and the much smaller British contingents serving with the MNF had come in peace, as the inscription on the memorial erected at Camp Lejeune, in Jacksonville, NC, in memory of those who died, attests.

Two-hundred and forty-one U.S. servicemen, most of them Marines, lost their lives on that Sunday morning in Beirut, as did 58 French paratroopers when just a few seconds later a second suicide bomber blew up the building housing the French headquarters, a few miles from the Marine base.

A report from the FBI later found that the attack against the Marine base was the largest non-nuclear explosion in history.

The twin attacks had their desired effect: they forced the U.S. to fold and abandon the mission. President Ronald Reagan promised revenge, retaliation, justice and so on, but in truth, the American president simply abandoned the fight and walked away.

In the typical style that is Washington politics, the White House passed the blame down to the Marines, and more specifically to the Marine commander in Beirut, Col. Timothy Geraghty.

Geraghty’s requests for changes in the manner in which his Marines were deployed were ignored, or turned down. The United States wanted to counter Iran’s rising influence over the Lebanese Muslims, particularly in regards to Hezbollah, the Lebanese proxy militia Iran had formed, trained and armed. But they went about it the wrong way, arming and training the Lebanese Army, which at that time was seen as being an extension of the Lebanese Christian militias. In essence, and as far as the Lebanese Muslims were concerned, the Marines had become another militia in the Lebanese civil war.

The two terrorists who attacked the U.S. and French contingents were believed to have been members of Hezbollah. The operation according to U.S. intelligence sources was believed to have been planned by Hezbollah’s boy wonder of terrorist activities, Imad Mughniyeh.

The failure of the Beirut mission was not the fault of the Marines. They sailed bravely into troubled waters, as they were asked to do, they showed the flag and nearly 240 Marines paid the ultimate price for the ignorance that the civilian leadership had of the area where the Marines were deployed. Had President Reagan reacted more firmly and stood his ground and instead of ordering the Marines out of Lebanon and in doing so giving forces opposed to democracy a free hand to operate in the Middle East, chances are the course of history would have been very different from what we are seeing unfold today in Syria and Iraq.

The current occupant of the White House should take a moment and reflect on the events that unfolded in Lebanon 31 years ago this Thursday and not repeat the same mistakes.

The mistake made in the past should at least serve as a lesson and not be repeated with the so-called Islamic State unless the next time we face an existentialist threat it will not emanate from forces straddling the Syrian-Turkish border, but more likely straddling Pennsylvania Avenue and 16th Street, in Northwest Washington, DC, or on an intersection in Toronto.

Think this is farfetched? Perhaps, but then again had anyone told me 30 years ago that the Islamic state would be operating in the two most stable countries in the Arab world, Syria and Iraq, or that a group of Saudis could fly civilian planes into the World Trade Center, I would have found it just as farfetched. Or for that matter had someone told me only yesterday that fanatic Islamists would strike in the Canadian capital… Stay tuned this is by no means the end of the story.

Claude Salhani is a specialist on Middle East and terrorism affairs. You can follow Claude on Twitter @claudesalhani.

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Kurds are the last line of defense for the West

By Claude Salhani  —

While still a predominant factor in the war being waged by the so-called Islamic State, oil is taking a back seat as the full brunt of Middle Eastern styled politics is unleashed on and around the small Syrian border town of Kobani. It is oil that is extracted from this region that in a large part helps the IS finance the war.

The battle for control of Kobani has indeed witnessed some of the heaviest fighting to date as fighters loyal to the Islamic State, IS or ISIS, have launched renewed attacks on Kurdish Peshmerga defenders, hitting them with mortars and car bombs, according to wire agencies quoting sources in the besieged town.

The Kurds, who are autochthonous to the region where the heavy fighting is unfolding in a manner are representative of the West’s last line of defense in the region. If the Kurds fail they have nowhere to fall back. The next line of conflict between ISIS and the Western-led powers will be fought inside Turkey, a NATO country.

Already Turkish border towns and villages have suffered much from the ongoing violence that is carving up Syria and Iraq. One report spoke of 44 mortars being fired at Kurdish positions, however some of the shells fell inside Turkey.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that four more mortars were fired on Sunday.

The town has become strategic as both sides now look at it as a point of significant psychological importance and a symbol for their cause. Suddenly oil and business sense take a back seat to “saving face,” a characteristic of the region that has claimed more lives than the faces it has saved.

For the fighters of the Islamic State, Kobani represents remaining steadfast in the face of the far superior military onslaught, the aerial bombardment being waged by the United States and its European and Arab allies.

For the Western-led alliance, allowing Kobani to fall would give the enemy a public relation edge in the war, allowing it to recruit more volunteers into their ranks and would be a terrible blow for the Kurds and other groups engaged in fighting the radical Islamists. Since U.S. President Barack Obama launched a campaign aimed at defeating the IS fighters, bombing raids against the terrorists have been carried out with renewed vigor. But will it be enough or will the United States be forced to eventually put reluctant boots on the ground?

Indeed, the fate of the beleaguered town will reflect much on the level of the Obama administration’s resolve of dealing with the threat posed by the Islamists. Amidst the confusion of war, there is further opaqueness over the role of Turkey, a NATO member country who seems to be playing both sides of the fence; Turkey, has its armed forces – the most powerful military force in the Middle East — deployed along its border with Syria, yet Turkish authorities have been reluctant to intervene.

 

Turkey is ruled by a moderate Islamist party — the Justice and Development Party – known by its Turkish acronym, AKP. Yet, Turkey is also a member of NATO and as such needs to comply by certain directives issued from NATO HQ in Brussels. But Turkey, who has long had its own share of problems with the Kurds is reluctant to offer too much help to the Kurdish fighters in Kobani, lest it encourages its own Kurds to get any funny ideas. At the same time the country’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has a personal vendetta against Syrian President Bashar Assad, and as such has been trying to connect any cooperation by Turkey in the fight against ISIS to stepping up efforts to oust Bashar. Given the geography of the region, Turkey’s participation on the fight against ISIS remains vital to the success of the campaign.

Don’t be fooled; oil remains very much at the center of the conflict, even though it comes camouflaged by religious and/or political overtones.

 

 

 

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The cost of running a caliphate

By Claude Salhani –

Running a country costs a lot of money. Running a country at war with all its neighbors and most of the civilized world costs even more.

There are enormous expenses incurred that range from paying fighters, to purchasing food to feed those fighters, to buying arms and munitions needed for the war, to providing health care for the casualties of that war, to paying the families of those fighters who were killed, to stashing “money away for a rainy day”. And this day may not be too far away for the supposed Islamic State, IS, a.k.a. ISIL or ISIS.

Running a caliphate costs money. So the people behind the current attempt to take control of Iraq’s oil, who collectively call themselves the Islamic State, decided they wound not mess around the way other terrorists have tended to do. Rather than going after the money in a petty manner or having to threaten and harass individual leaders for a few million dollars here, or a few million dollars there, and, since a few kidnappings, collectively worth a few million is considered chicken feed, They went directly to the mother lode: the oil wells.

In essence, what the leadership of IS are doing is very similar to what the Iraqi leadership under Saddam Hussein did in 1990 when they ran out of money after fighting Iran for eight long, bloody years: they raided the closest bank, the country of Kuwait, which Saddam simply declared was Iraq’s 19th province. He then helped himself to the oil, the monetary reserves, and all the cash and goods he and his goons could get their hands on. They literally ransacked the entire country of Kuwait. What they could not loot, they trashed, broke, burned or destroyed. That included setting fire to about 550 Kuwaiti oil wells.

Today the IS leadership is following in the footsteps of Saddam, by going after ‘the goose with the golden egg’: the oil fields of Syria and Iraq. And although IS is selling the oil at $18 per barrel, a price far below the going market rate of $93.45. Obviously IS did not incur any investment in developing the infrastructure, so any monies they may make from selling stolen oil is pure profit.

Refined crude, when available, will sell between $50 and $60 per barrel. This is a crucial part of how the terrorist group Islamic State fills its coffers.

U.S. intelligence officials stated last week that they believe the terror group calling themselves the Islamic State has become one of the wealthiest groups in history. As reported by American intelligence sources, the IS is said to be netting between $2 million and $ 3 million per day.

Most of the trade carried out by ISIS is through illegal trade of Syrian oil, from fields in eastern Syria, like Shahada and others, and more recently from fields captured since June in Iraq. The Islamist terror group is creating its own economy through a series of pragmatic trades, according to a report in Turkey’s Zaman newspaper.

The U.S., along with coalition of mostly Gulf Cooperation Council states and Jordan have started to target some of the Syrian field as the U.S. is trying to sever the group’s sources of revenue.

IS has been able to get the wells in areas it control to function at only 60 percent of full capacity.

Before the outbreak of violence, Syria produced between 385,000- 400,000 barrels per day. Still running at 60 percent has provided the IS with some 200,000 bpd from the Syrian wells alone. However, due to the fact that they are operated below par, some intelligence reports place the number of barrels being produced closer to 50,000 bpd.

Zaman quotes an unnamed Western oil executive who used to work in Syria as saying that “the Islamic State makes not less than $2 million daily,” off-loading this cargo.

In the meantime the IS has managed to deprive Damascus of some serious revenue stream. The Syrian government reports that its production fell to an average of 28,000 bpd in 2013 from 164,000 bpd in 2012. Oil sales made up nearly a quarter of state revenues before the war. The government says it has lost $3.8 billion in stolen oil revenue because of the conflict.

Syria’s pre-war production, estimated at around 380,000 bpd, a 2001 estimate, suffered heavily when Kurdish forces took control of some of the fields located in Hasaka province. The IS has taken fields in Shadad, al Omar, Tenak and Ward that were operated by international oil companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, Total, and Petro Canada.

A number of wells were shut down as foreign firms withdrew, equipment was looted by rebels, rendering exploitation of the wells all the more difficult, and few people with technical expertise remain in the so-called caliphate.

Meanwhile in Iraq the same script is being played out. IS has taken control of fields that produced around 80,000 bpd. Again production has been reduced dramatically. But even with joint efforts from the U.S., its allies and the Kurdish forces IS continues to rake in millions everyday.

Claude Salhani is a senior editor with Trend Agency.
You can follow Claude on Twitter @claudesalhani.

 

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Azerbaijan’s Geopolitical Importance Goes Beyond Oil and Gas

by Claude Salhani –

(This article was first published in OilPrice.com)

The Middle East is being consumed by some of the worst violence in its history, caused by Arabs themselves amidst unprecedented cruelty and destruction. At the rate the fighting is progressing, it is only a matter of time – and not much time – before we start to see tactics involving the bombing of oil and gas fields.

It would not require very much for the infrastructures of the states involved in the conflict to collapse and crumble. Without crucial revenues from oil and gas, what would be left behind would be fractured countries with little more than the memories of what could have been. Think Gaza on a larger scale.

The oil industries in Syria and Iraq, in particular, are in great danger as fierce fighting continues for control of areas held by the Islamic State. Western companies are finding it excessively dangerous to conduct business in Iraq. Syria, with far less oil, was already hurt by years of sanctions imposed by the United States and Western Europe for its support of terrorism.

With that in mind, the oil-rich, South Caucasus country of Azerbaijan could soon find itself playing a very important geopolitical role.

Related: Europe Needs A New Source of Oil and Gas, Fast

Stable Azerbaijan represents more than just a potential secure source of oil and natural gas to keep Europe warm during the cold winter. This former Soviet republic, which is majority Shia Muslim yet highly secular, is taking on more and more importance. It is friendly with the West, but understands the problems of the East.

With the exception of some oil- and gas-producing countries of the Arabian Gulf that seem to be weathering the storm so far, the rest of the Middle East is in dire straits. The sort of civil wars being fought today in Syria and Iraq — as well as in Yemen and Libya — are the kind of conflicts that take decades for countries to recover from.

This is where Azerbaijan, sitting on the fringes of the Arab world, can play a major role. It can help stabilize the region even while selling its oil and gas via some of the most sophisticated network of pipelines ever built. Indeed, Azerbaijan may well end up playing the role that was meant initially for Turkey a decade or two ago. But Turkey got distracted: first, by the near- obsession of former prime minister and now president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in joining the European Union. When that failed, he turned his attention to becoming a regional power player in the Middle East. And when that failed, he shifted his focus to Central Asia, where Turkey has cultural and linguistic roots.

Azerbaijan could help bridge East and West by bringing moderate Muslims into the fold of emerging democracies. It is the role that Turkey should have carried out but never did; instead, out of frustration, it moved eastwards, closer to the countries of the former Ottoman Empire and away from Europe.

Azerbaijan is one of the few Muslim countries to have not just relations with Israel, but cordial relations, and cooperation agreements in several fields, including the military. Azerbaijan has decent relations with its southern neighbor, Iran, though periodically the security services uncover a terrorist plot aimed at Israel and proceed to make numerous arrests. Inevitably, most, if not all the suspects are Iranians.

Baku maintains excellent relations with the United States and Americans are genuinely well received here. At the same time, Baku is able to walk the delicate tightrope required to remain on good terms with both Washington and Moscow. Not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination.

Yet so far, President Ilham Aliyev has demonstrated incredible ability to find the middle ground and remain friendly with the Arab world, Turkey, Iran, Israel, the United States and Russia. He might soon find himself in high demand.

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ISIS’s Ultimate Goal: Saudi Arabia’s Oil Wells

World energy

ISIS’s Ultimate Goal: Saudi Arabia’s Oil Wells

Saudi Arabia oil
Saudi Arabia has the richest reserves of oil on the planet
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