PHILADELPHIA – Is the reported willingness of Arab Gulf states to fund a U.S. military campaign in Syria really about major oil and gas interests that run through the country?
The potential for trillions of dollars of energy revenue in deals that snake through Syrian territory may be a motivating factor for the U.S., Russia, Turkey and Arab states in the current Syria crisis.
Syria is a key energy transit route to Europe. A number of countries appear to be seeking dominance of the energy market that runs through Syria.
In a hearing earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry said Arab counties have offered to pay for any U.S. military intervention in Syria.
“With respect to Arab countries offering to bear costs and to assess, the answer is profoundly yes,” Kerry said. “They have. That offer is on the table.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., asked for an estimated amount the Arabs might contribute. Kerry replied that they offered to pay for a full invasion.
“In fact, some of them have said that if the United States is prepared to go do the whole thing the way we’ve done it previously in other places, they’ll carry that cost,” Kerry said. “That’s how dedicated they are at this. That’s not in the cards, and nobody’s talking about it, but they’re talking in serious ways about getting this done.”
Unmentioned are major gas and oil deals that could impact the economies of Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia enormously.
In 2011, Syria announced it had discovered a promising gas field in the city of Homs, which would later see some of the fiercest battles between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the rebels.
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.”
“The discovery opens new perspectives in the region of Qalamun, and the Syrian company will continue its drilling,” said Allawi.
Beside the prospect of its own gas field, Syria is also one of the most strategic locations for natural gas pipelines to flow to Europe.
Qatar, home to the world’s largest gas field along with Iran, has proposed a gas pipeline from the Gulf to Turkey that would traverse Syria to the Mediterranean, with the gas then being shipped to Europe.
However, Assad in 2009 refused to go along with the plan, instead inking deals with Russia and Iran.
Syria is site of the proposed construction of a massive underground gas pipeline that, if completed, could drastically undercut the strategic energy power of U.S. ally Qatar and also would cut Turkey out of the pipeline flow.
Dubbed the “Islamic pipeline,” the project may ultimately favor Russia and Iran against Western energy interests.
Set to open in 2016, Iran, Iraq and Syria signed a deal in 2010 to construct the 3,480-mile natural gas pipeline connecting Iran’s South Pars field to European customers.
Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Javad Oji announced the pipeline would ultimately have the capacity to pump 3.9 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. He told Iran’s official Mehr News Agency the route would “pass through Iran, Iraq, Syria, the southern Lebanon territories and also through the Mediterranean basin,” with a refinery and infrastructure to be built in Damascus.
A key portion of the Islamic pipeline is concentrated on the Syrian ports, which would export directly to Europe out of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Russia has reportedly built up its naval presence along the major Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartus.
The Islamic pipeline is viewed as a major threat to Turkey, which has long desired to become the main bridge for natural gas and oil between the East and the West.
Turkey, however, is a key player in the Nabucco natural gas pipeline, which is being constructed to transit natural gas to Europe from the Central Asia and Caspian regions. The pipeline is set to traverse Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, and end in Austria. Turkey has been a key supporter of the rebels fighting Assad’s regime, while Qatar has reportedly been supplied arms and training to the rebels.
If Assad can be deposed, Turkey and Qatar would like the Nabucco pipeline to run through Syria.
Perhaps in a bid to wean Russia off of the Islamic pipeline, Saudi Arabia last month presented a plan to Moscow in which Russia would reject Syria’s president in return for a huge arms deal and a pledge to boost Russian influence in the Arab world.
Agence France-Presse reported President Vladimir Putin refused the plan in a meeting with Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
Bandar reportedly proposed that Saudi Arabia buy $15 billion of weapons from Russia and invest “considerably in the country,” according to AFP.
Demonstrating that oil interests are clearly at play, AFP reported: “The Saudi prince also reassured Putin that ‘whatever regime comes after’ Assad, it will be ‘completely’ in the Saudis’ hands and will not sign any agreement allowing any Gulf country to transport its gas across Syria to Europe and compete with Russian gas exports.”
With additional research by Joshua Klein.