20 Aug 2021
There has been much talk about the economic integration in the Near East and the tussle over oil, trade routes, reconstruction and geopolitical realignments in the region. The heart of which has been Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Jordan and US of course as new economic agreements look set to reshape Arab countries. BiBis’ promise of economic prosperity in exchange for peace is losing track. As Jordan, Iraq and Egypt look set to consolidate an economic and industrial corridor to act as counter-weight to the UAE-Saudi-Israel axis.
Jordan has lost some of its currency with the Gulf Arab states – especially since the UAE and Bahrain normalized relations with Israel – and its importance as a strategic partner to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also diminished over time. Therefore, stronger relations with Egypt and Iraq serves as a hedge against waning support from the UAE and increasing Israeli hostility on the one hand, while on the other it helps Amman position itself favorably with Riyadh, which is itself looking to grow its relationship with Baghdad but faces many hurdles in doing so.1
With the last 20 years heralding the collapse of Syria and Iraq, neighboring Arab states are forced to tackle major issues, from absorbing refugees, to securing borders, to the breakdown of trade routes and the destruction of industrial hubs of Aleppo and Mosul2 which had sustained both Jordan and Lebanon especially.
Construction has been ongoing since 2014 on an oil pipeline feeding both Jordan and Egypt with cheap Iraqi oil and shipping out of Egypt through its Mediterranean coast to Europe, thus circumventing the straits of Hormuz and the Haifa port in Israel. While also providing for Iraq a deep-water port for its energy exports. In exchange Egypt provides electricity and gas to Jordan and Iraq.
the alliance brings together three nearly contiguous states that between them have considerable energy resources (Iraq), human capital (Jordan), market opportunities, portable construction labourers and significant military capabilities (Egypt). While they do not possess the wealth of their Gulf Arab neighbors, they have a combined population of 150 million people, indigenous industrial capacity and strong agricultural traditions. If they are able to capitalize on their complementarities, it could be a formidable alliance.
For example, Jordanian and Egyptian human capital could support Iraq’s reconstruction efforts, Jordan could serve as a transit point for Iraqi natural gas to Aqaba and Egypt’s LNG network, and Egyptian refineries could process Basra Light and other oil grades for domestic consumption and export.
Egypt is eager to regain its position as the leading Arab state and allying itself with Jordan and Iraq – in theory, at least – allows it to place itself at the centre of a new Arab alliance. Importantly for Egypt, it is not an alliance purchased by oil money, but one based on the nuts and bolts of old-fashioned diplomacy where it can draw on its long experience to help forge the relationship. By doing so, it’s not only decreasing its economic dependence on the Gulf Arab states but also setting in motion a process of bringing Iraq back into the Arab fold, something Saudi Arabia, in particular, and others have longed for.3
Haifa-Mosul pipeline: Israel energy independence
Let’s wind back the clock to a century ago. Back in January 1935 and spanning about 590 miles, the pipeline, which connected the Mosul oil fields and the Mediterranean Sea, began in Kirkuk, Iraq and ended in Haifa was inaugurated. The pipeline was operational until Israel’s independence in 1948. The diameter of the actual pipe was roughly 12” and it took about 10 days for oil to travel from Kirkuk to Haifa. Once the crude oil reached Haifa, it was processed in oil refineries, held in tanks and then shipped to Europe.
The pipeline was built by the Iraq Petroleum Company between 1932 and 1934, during that period most of the land through which the pipeline passed were under the British Mandate authorized by the League of Nations. The pipeline was one of two carrying oil from the Baba Gurgur oil field, Kirkuk to the Mediterranean coast. The dual pipeline was split at Haditha (pumping station K3) with a second line carrying oil to Tripoli, Lebanon, then under French mandate. The latter line was originally built to meet the needs of the French partner in the Iraq Petroleum Company, Compagnie Française des Pétroles, for a separate line to be built through French Mandated territory.
The pipeline was the target of a number of attacks by Palestinian revolutionaries during the Arab Revolt of Palestine in 1936–39 against British and Jewish forces, as a result of which one of the main tasks of the joint Anglo-Jewish special night squadrons led by Captain Ord Wingate was to protect the pipeline from similar attacks. Later, the pipeline was the target of attacks by the Zionist Irgun gang.
In 1948, with the outbreak of the 1948 Palestine War, the official operation of the pipeline ended when the Iraqi government refused to pump any oil through it. There were attempts to get the pipeline operational immediately following the invasion of Iraq in 2003.4
Now, its resurrection would transform economic power in the region, bringing revenue to the new US-dominated Iraq, cutting out Syria and solving Israel's energy crisis at a stroke.
James Akins, a former US ambassador to the region and one of America's leading Arabists, said: 'There would be a fee for transit rights through Jordan, just as there would be fees for Israel from those using what would be the Haifa terminal.
'After all, this is a new world order now. This is what things look like particularly if we wipe out Syria. It just goes to show that it is all about oil, for the United States and its ally.'
Akins was ambassador to Saudi Arabia before he was fired after a series of conflicts with then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, father of the vision to pipe oil west from Iraq. In 1975, Kissinger signed what forms the basis for the Haifa project: a Memorandum of Understanding whereby the US would guarantee Israel's oil reserves and energy supply in times of crisis.
The memorandum has been quietly renewed every five years, with special legislation attached whereby the US stocks a strategic oil reserve for Israel even if it entailed domestic shortages - at a cost of $3 billion (£1.9bn) in 2002 to US taxpayers5
Iraq oil storage tanks in Haifa
The other energy pipeline that links Egypt to the Levant is known as the Arab Gas Pipeline. It is a natural gas pipeline which originates near Arish in the Sinai Peninsula and was built to export Egyptian natural gas to Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, with branch underwater and overland pipelines to and from Israel. It has a total length of 1,200 kilometers (750 mi), constructed at a cost of US$1.2 billion.6
The pipeline has been used intermittently since its inauguration. Egyptian gas exports were reduced dramatically in 2011 – initially due to sabotage (mostly to its feeder pipeline in Sinai), followed by natural gas shortages in Egypt which forced it to discontinue gas exports by the mid-2010s.
Sections of the pipeline continued to operate in Jordan to facilitate domestic transport of gas. The pipeline was reversed to flow gas from Jordan to Egypt from 2015 to 2018 (fed by imported LNG through Jordan's Aqaba LNG reception terminal). The recovery in Egyptian gas production has enabled gas to flow to Jordan through the link from 2018. In 2020 the pipeline also began distributing gas from Israel inside Jordan, while the underwater branch to Israel was reversed to allow gas from Israel to flow to Egypt.
There is reasonable speculation that posits, that that Iraqi-Jordan-Egypt corridor is merely a way in which Israel sells its gas under the cover of an Egyptian flag7, especially post 2011 and the chaos that’s reigned in Sinai. This would concern the linkage in the pipeline between Arish–Ashkelon segment. In which case it would be Arabs footing the bill for the occupation, or part of it, instead of the US.
A group of private customers in Egypt has agreed to buy at least $1.2 billion of natural gas from Israel’s offshore Tamar field via an old pipeline built to send gas to Israel.
The Tamar partners said on Wednesday they signed a seven-year deal with Dolphinus Holdings, a firm that represents non-governmental, industrial and commercial consumers in Egypt, that calls for a minimum 5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas to be sold in the first three years.
Recent offshore discoveries such as Tamar, with an estimated 280 bcm of gas, and Leviathan, which is more than twice as big, have turned previously import-dependent Israel into a potential energy exporter. Egypt has been slow in developing its own sizable gas resources and is seeking numerous import options.
Texas-based Noble Energy is the field’s operator.
The chairman of Delek Drilling, Yossi Abu, said the deal shows that Israel can be “an energy anchor for countries in the region” and that, along with a pipeline of export agreements under negotiation, it will “radically change Israel’s geopolitical status.”8
The line was also disrupted during the last Gaza war, in May of this year. Although the damages would not have significantly hampered its operation for than a week, maximum.9
[In Syria] Ghanem, the oil minister, said the pipeline was attacked in this same desert area six times in recent years. He said it pumps some 7 million cubic meters of natural gas to power stations that supply much of Syria with electricity.
U.S. Syria envoy James Jeffrey said the attack was “almost certainly a strike” by the Islamic State group. The extremists were driven from the last bit of territory under their control in Syria last year, but sleeper cells continue to carry out sporadic attacks.
Jeffrey said there has been an upsurge in IS activities in desert areas in eastern and southeastern Syria near the border with Jordan and Iraq.
The U.S. envoy was in Geneva for the start of U.N.-mediated talks involving the Syrian government, opposition and civil society. They had planned to discuss a possible new constitution; part of a process has produced few concrete results so far.10
It would be an awkward admission by the Syrian and Iraqi governments that they are essentially subsidizing Israel’s energy industry; that it could be Israel’s is fair speculation at this point.
T.E Lawrence believed that Baghdad would be THE power horse and driver in the Arab world. Both culturally and politically. Historically Baghdad was the center of learning. And in the industrial age, it had an educated and industrious population, the southern marshlands and Northern Nineveh plains were its food basket and energy resources in the form of oil. Thus, Iraq was primed to enter the 20th century, having finally removed the Turkish yoke.
Mesopotamia will be the master of the Middle East, and the power controlling its destinies11
There were sound reasons put forward by a number of Pentagon generals not to invade Iraq, chief among them that that would only empower Iran and extend its influence further west12. Having invaded the Pentagon wanted to keep the spine of the Iraqi military and police. However, Paul Bremer won the argument and sacked what was essentially the sinews of governance, public services and security.13
Demobilizing the Iraqi army instead of depoliticizing it set the most capable group of men in the country on an adversarial course against the political process.
Fast forward two decades, Iraq and Syria are in ruins. The only significant Arab state left in the Near East is Egypt. The GCC countries have neither the discipline nor the domestic capabilities to project power. They will move towards Russia and China globally, and Israel regionally to help secure their realms. Which would explain why the US pushed so hard to undermine and destroy Egypt, Iraq and Syria. It is far easier to manage and nudge the desert kingdoms than the urban and educated classes of the Near East.
Like Franklin D.Roosevelt before him, Ike hoped that the Saudi king might become the “spiritual leader” of the Arab world, a man who might one day achieve peace with Israel and thereby resolve America’s great Middle Eastern problem – that her two best allies in the region hated one another.14
Current developments in the region indicate that Syria will be re-admitted into the Arab league, normalizing relations. Already countries like the UAE15 and Oman16 have reopened their embassies and resumed economic relations with Syria.
Relations with Egypt have always been opaque ever since 2011. Security cooperation went ahead even when Muslim Brotherhood Pres. Morsi was in office17. While Egypt and Jordan are not keen on the US policy of dividing and suffocating Syria politically and economically.
At the moment US policy is encouraging Turkey to stay in the North. As well as the installation of a ticking bomb in the North East, i.e handing the oil and wheat fields of Syria to the Kurds. King Abdullah II of Jordan needs to jump start the regional economy, which means re-engaging with Syria, and connecting with Iraq and Egypt. Which includes winning back Iraq to the Arab fold.
The Jordanian monarch urged Biden to back Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who will visit the White House next week. Kadhimi told me last week in Baghdad that he would ask Biden to withdraw U.S. combat troops but continue U.S. military training, intelligence support and other aid.
“If anyone can help us control the Iranian militias in Iraq, it’s this guy,” the king told Biden, according to the source. He argued that Kadhimi has broad Arab backing — from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as well as Jordan. The Biden team said it intends to support Kadhimi, the source said.
Abdullah also urged Biden to join a task force to help stabilize Syria, following its catastrophic civil war. The approach Abdullah advocates would bring together the United States, Russia, Israel, Jordan and other nations to agree on a road map for restoring Syrian sovereignty and unity.
Biden hasn’t yet committed to that proposal, which would mean controversial decisions to cooperate with both Russia and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Work on this task force might begin as early as this fall, if the United States agrees, the source said.18
Iraq’s close economic ties to Egypt and Jordan date to the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq War. Jordan became Iraq’s economic lifeline at that time, serving as a conduit for imports and oil exports through the port of Aqaba. Jordan also received most of its own oil, highly subsidized, from Iraq.
King Hussein was Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s closest ally at the time, visiting Baghdad often during the Iraq-Iran war. Egypt, meanwhile, saw more than one million of its citizens relocate to Iraq during the 1980s to fill jobs made vacant by the mass conscription of Iraqi men into the armed forces — so many that Iraq constituted Egypt’s largest source of remittances.
Soon after the end of the war, the three countries, joined by North Yemen, formed the ACC. Each had a political motive to forge the pact. All wanted allies to balance against the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Saudi-led alliance of the six Gulf monarchies created during the war. Saddam owed the Saudis billions of dollars in loans from the war, while Amman and Sana’a had longstanding concerns about Saudi expansionism and interference in their internal affairs.
Nevertheless, economic cooperation formed a central pillar of the formation. The ACC was envisioned as a mechanism to increase trade among member states, as well as to facilitate labor movements, particularly from Egypt and Jordan to Iraq.
The ACC had barely launched before it fell apart due to Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. But even during the 1990s, while Iraq faced an onerous international sanctions regime, trade between it and Egypt and Jordan continued. Iraq continued to be Egypt’s second biggest export market, under the U.N. Oil-for-Food Programme.
Jordan remained dependent on Iraqi oil, which it continued to receive with U.S. acceptance. King Hussein only very reluctantly broke with his long-time friend, Saddam, when Washington agreed to welcome Jordan back as a close ally.
The development of Iraq’s economic relationships with Egypt and Jordan was significantly hindered by its sectarian civil war of the 2000s and the rise of the Islamic State group in the 2010s. But in recent years, the three countries have again taken meaningful steps to rebuild economic ties. In 2017, Egypt began to receive oil from Iraq, after its oil supply was cut off by Saudi Arabia. Jordan began to take delivery of Iraqi oil in 2019. Since at least 2017, the three countries have anticipated undertaking a major joint energy project, linking Iraq’s oilfields in Basra to Aqaba via pipeline, which could be further extended to Egypt. Meanwhile, Iraq has also looked to Egyptian and Jordanian companies for the massive reconstruction projects it will need to undertake to recover from four decades of wars.
There are also plans to connect Iraq to Jordan and Egypt’s electricity grids to reduce its dependence on electricity exported from Iran. At the end of last year, Egypt and Iraq agreed, in effect, to trade Iraqi oil for Egyptian reconstruction assistance.
The New Levant
Economic cooperation is the driving force behind the formation, but as in 1989, each of the three has a political incentive to come together. Iraq wants to diversify its regional relationships beyond Iran. The Iranians, for their part, might actually look favorably on Iraqi economic cooperation with Egypt and Jordan – if, down the line, they will also be able to benefit economically.
Egypt and Jordan, meanwhile, want to reduce their dependence on Saudi Arabia. For Jordan, this is particularly critical following reports of Saudi involvement in a recent conspiracy to destabilize the country and replace King Abdullah with former Crown Prince Hamza19. The new formation would give Jordan, as well as Egypt and Iraq, greater leverage vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries.
But the most significant, if still implicit, political objective may be to provide a means in the longer term to rehabilitate Syria. Leaders from the three countries have begun to call their formation “the new Levant,” or “al-Sham al-Jadid” in Arabic. Sham is a reference to the city of Damascus, and more broadly to Syria and the Levant. By definition, there cannot be a new “Sham” without Syria. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan have let it be known that partnership in their new bloc will be open to other countries in the region, without specifying which. In fact, this aspect of the new formation also has roots in the short-lived ACC experiment.
ACC member states did not view their partnership as exclusive, and there was some anticipation that Syria and Lebanon might have joined at some point.
The Egypt-Iraq-Jordan formation is in many ways the resurrection of the old ACC, which was disrupted for 30 years by instability and war in Iraq. The U.S. has welcomed and should continue to support this growing partnership of three of its close partners in the region. In the longer run, if Syria and Lebanon are invited to join, U.S. support would be complicated by the continuation in power of Bashar al-Assad.
Nevertheless, the “new Levant” project could ultimately serve as a means to undertake the massive reconstruction needed in Syria and to reduce the considerable economic misery of the people there and in Lebanon. After a decade of war in Syria, and four decades of war in Iraq, there has never been greater need for a new vision for the region. The nucleus of a new beginning might just lie in an economic partnership first launched more than 30 years ago.
John Mearsheimer, viewed the competition for hegemony as largely confined to a state's own region, global hegemony as unattainable and the [Iraqi] war therefore as irrational from the point of view of US national interests20.
What it has done is left the region in total destruction, mushroomed Iran’s influence and reach, brought Russia into the region, changed the face of Europe through immigration and the polarization of politics across the West.
Meanwhile the China train rolls on, the Belt and Road initiative unlike the US offers a win-win deal to underdeveloped countries, while the US offers maximum pressure and sanctions, to the detriment of the people they purport to care about and their European allies, all for what?
Western oil companies have started to pull out of central and southern Iraq and are being replaced by Chinese companies following terrorist attacks against facilities and reports of extortion from tribes, militias and bureaucratic officials in state institutions.21
Another article relates:
Reconstruction has been central to the plans of Syria’s allies Russia and Iran; now China, which had maintained a less involved policy through much of the fighting, sniffs opportunity. China’s inroads in the Middle East have been steady and cautious, extending to taking stakes in Iraq’s oilfields and in the critical infrastructure of the UAE.
As the US departs from Afghanistan, and prepares to leave Iraq – after Donald Trump abruptly abandoned north-eastern Syria 18 months ago – the rest of the country has seemed like a quick win to Chinese diplomats. “They know a vacuum when they see one,” said a former British diplomat with experience in Beijing and the Middle East. “Especially if it involves capitalizing on US mistakes.”22
So that the largest number of Syrians and Iraqis leave their countries, and allow for an easier expansion of Israel? To deny the Syrian and Iraqi states the energy, services and vitality of its more dynamic and intelligent sectors of its youth?
The US must ask itself, was it worth it? Sure, Israel is safer now, Iran and Turkey are deep into Arab territory. Threatening Europe with more refugees in exchange for aid.23
A vast arc of territory from Tehran to Beirut on the Mediterranean is literally living in darkness for much of the time because corrupt governments can’t provide electricity. Water is becoming a problem too. However, greater part of that suffering and desolation is because of the sadistic impact of US sanctions and Dirty Wars the past 30 years, if not more.
And it seems that the "Arc of Dark," unfortunately, is extending beyond the "Shia Crescent." Palestine, Egypt, Libya, and now Tunisia are creeping into the "Arc of Dark"24
As the US looks to set to leave Afghanistan and Iraq25, virtually empty handed, Is the region and/or the US in better standing since 2000?
US can no longer project power in the Near or Middle East, it is losing its grip on Taiwan, Israel is set to realign with the Belt and Road, where is the American century that the Neo-conservatives promised?
To an extent that is striking to the modern-day reader of the transcripts of this and the subsequent meetings, Zhou’s principal goal was to persuade Kissinger to agree to “recognize the PRC as the sole legitimate government in China” and “Taiwan Province” as “an inalienable part of Chinese territory which must be restored to the motherland,” from which the U.S. must “withdraw all its armed forces and dismantle all its military installations.” (Since the Communists’ triumph in the Chinese civil war in 1949, the island of Taiwan had been the last outpost of the nationalist Kuomintang. And since the Korean War, the U.S. had defended its autonomy.)
True, Nixon went to China as planned, Taiwan was booted out of the U.N. and, under President Jimmy Carter, the U.S. abrogated its 1954 mutual defense treaty with Taiwan.26
If we take a realist approach to International relations, then what the US needs to do is allow its Arab allies to come to an understanding, which they are doing quite naturally now, to encourage bilateral trade and cooperation and to allow for a greater Egyptian and Jordanian role to pull both Iraq and Syria out of Chinese and Russian orbits.
The plan would provide Egyptian natural gas to Jordan for generation into additional electricity that can be transmitted to Lebanon via Syria, as well as facilitate the transfer of natural gas to Lebanon.27
If reports are correct about a deal to bring gas to Lebanon involving regional cooperation between Egypt, Jordan, and Syria this is precisely the kind of economic model that Washington ought to be promoting instead of a sanction regime that has little to meet its stated objective.
In exchange, sanctions are loosened and European and American firms are allowed to compete for reconstruction and training contracts. The US must also ignore Israel and its regional allies, from interfering with its Iran deal.
If the US is to retain influence and a higher status with its allies, then it needs to come to a new idea, a new imperialism, it is not just withdrawal and neglect, but involves an active side of allowing for the indigenous peoples of the Near East to take on their own responsibilities. The US will find its best helpers not in its former most obedient or best “allies”, but among those now most active in agitating against its military presence.
For it will be the intellectual leaders of the people who will serve the purpose, and these are not the philosophers nor the rich, but the demagogues and politicians. Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran, if assured of their dominion status, and internal autonomy, would be delighted to affiliate with the US. Perhaps not culturally, but technically and economically.
And it would cost the US no more men or money than Texas or California. The alternative is to hold on to present frontiers with ever-lessening force, till the anarchy is too expensive, ala Afghanistan.
More on the American withdrawl from Central Asia, and the implications that might have on Taiwan and the burgening High Tech sector there, in the next enstallment.
T.E Lawrence, Oriental Assembly, p.88
James Barr, Lords of the Desert, p.213
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