– Deep beneath “
Damascus volcano” and
“the battle of ”,
the tectonic plates of the global energy chessboard keep on rumbling. Beyond
the tragedy and grief of civil war, Syria is also a Pipelineistan power
play.More than a year ago, a $10 billion Pipelineistan deal was clinched
between Iran, Iraq and Syria for a natural gas pipeline to be built by 2016
from Iran’s giant South Pars field, traversing Iraq and Syria, with a possible
extension to Lebanon. Key export target market: Aleppo Europe.
During the past 12 months, with
plunged into civil war, there was no pipeline talk. Up until now. The European
Union’s supreme paranoia is to become a hostage of Syria ’s Gazprom. The
Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline would be essential to diversify Europe’s energy
supplies away from Russia . Russia
It gets more complicated.
to be Gazprom’s second-largest customer. The whole Turkish energy security
architecture depends on gas from Turkey Russia
– and .
Iran Turkey dreams of becoming
the new China, configuring
Anatolia as the ultimate Pipelineistan strategic crossroads for the export of
Russian, Caspian-Central Asian, Iraqi and Iranian oil and gas to Europe.
Try to bypass
in this game, and you’re in trouble. Until virtually yesterday, Ankara Ankara was advising
to reform – and fast. Damascus Turkey
did not want chaos in .
Now Syria Turkey is feeding chaos
Let’s examine one of the key possible reasons. Syria
I went down to the crossroads
Damascus and Ankara soon got down to business – integrating their gas grids, linking them with the AGP and, crucially, planning the AGP’s extension from Aleppo to Kilis in Turkey; this could later link to the perennial Pipelineistan opera, the Nabucco, assuming this fat lady ever sings (and that’s far from given).
Aye, there’s the rub. What is sometimes referred to as the Islamic Gas Pipeline bypasses
. The verdict is open on
whether this complex Pipelineistan gambit qualifies as a casus belli for Turkey
and NATO to go all-out after Assad; but it should be remembered that
Washington’s strategy in south-west Asia since the Clinton administration has
been to bypass, isolate and hurt Iran by all means necessary. Turkey
The oil and gas will have to come from
Iraq anyway (plus more gas from Iran); but the final destination of Syria
Pipelineistan could be Turkey,
Lebanon or even Syria itself – exporting directly to Europe out
of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Syria-Iraq relations involve two separate strands that seem a world apart; with Baghdad and with Iraqi Kurdistan.Imagine a SNC-FSA Syrian government; it would definitely be antagonistic towards Baghdad, mostly on sectarian terms; moreover, the Shia-majority al-Maliki government is on good strategic terms with Tehran, and recently, also with Assad.The Alawite mountains command the Syrian Pipelineistan routes towards the Eastern Mediterranean ports of Banyas, Latakia and Tartus. There’s also much gas to be discovered – following the recent exploits in
Assuming the Assad regime is toppled but beats a strategic retreat towards the
mountains, the possibilities for guerrilla sabotage of pipelines multiply. Israel
As it stands, no one knows how a post-Assad
Damascus will reconfigure its relations with Ankara, Baghdad and Iraqi
Kurdistan – not to mention .
though, will keep playing the Pipelineistan game. Syria
The Kurdish enigma
oil reserves are in the Kurdish northeast – which geographically lies between Iraq and Turkey;
the rest is along the Euphrates, down south.
Syrian Kurds make up nine per cent of the population – some 1.6 million people. Even if they’re not a sizable minority, Syrian Kurds are already considering that whatever happens in a post-Assad environment,they will be very well positioned in Pipelineistan, offering a direct route for oil exports from Iraqi Kurdistan, in theory bypassing both Baghdad and Ankara. It’s as if the whole region is playing a Bypassing Lotto. As much as the Islamic Gas Pipeline may be interpreted as bypassing
a direct deal between Ankara and Iraqi Kurdistan
for two strategic oil and gas pipelines from Kirkuk
to Ceyhan may be seen as bypassing . Baghdad
So the absolute majority of Syrian Kurds have been neutral; no support for Turkish (or Saudi) puppets, all power to the pan-Kurdish cause. PYD leader Salih Muslim Muhammad has summed it all up: “What is important is that we Kurds assert our existence.”
This means, essentially, more autonomy. And that’s exactly what they got from that July 11 deal signed in Erbil, under the auspices of Iraqi Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani; the co-administration of Syrian Kurdistan by the PYD and the KNC. That was the direct consequence of a wily strategic retreat by the Assad regime. No wonder Ankara is freaking out – it sees not only the PKK finding a safe haven in Syria, hosted by their cousins of the PYD, but also two Kurdish de facto statelets, sending a powerful signal to Kurds in Anatolia.
could do to minimise its nightmare is to discreetly help the Syrian Kurds
economically – ranging from aid to investments in infrastructure – via its good
relations with Iraqi Kurdistan. Ankara
worldview, nothing can stand in the way of its dream of becoming the ultimate
energy bridge between East and West. That implies an extremely complex
relationship with no fewer than nine countries; Ankara Russia,
Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia,
Iran, Iraq, Syria,
Lebanon and . As for
the wider Arab world, even before the Arab Spring, an Arab Pipelineistan that
could link Egypt Cairo, Amman,
being seriously discussed. That would do more to unify and develop a new Baghdad Middle East than any “peace process”, “regime change” or
peaceful or militarised uprising. Into this delicate equation, the dream of a
Greater Kurdistan is now back in play. And the Kurds may have a reason to
appears to be silently backing them – a very quiet strategic alliance. Washington
motives are not exactly altruistic. Iraqi Kurdistan under Barzani is a very
valuable tool for the Washington US to
keep a military footprint in .
The Pentagon will never admit it on the record – but advanced plans already
exist for a new Iraq
base in Iraqi Kurdistan, or for the transfer to Iraqi Kurdistan of NATO’s base
in Incirlik. US
This has got to be one of the most fascinating subplots of the Arab Spring; the Kurds fitting perfectly into
game in the whole arc from the Caucasus to the
Gulf.Many an executive from Chevron and BP may be now salivating over the open
possibilities of Iraq-Syria-Turkey Pipelineistan triangulations. Meanwhile,
many a Kurd may be now salivating over Pipelineistan opening the doors to a