Anwar Hamid Al-Dulaimi *
The conflict in Syria can not be understood without talking about Syrian natural gas. One of the most important factors of the Syrian crisis, which is often not mentioned, is the hidden conflict between the East and the West over natural gas pipelines and recent discoveries on the Syrian coast in the eastern Mediterranean. It is worth to be noted that the provision of energy and search for it is the origin of the survival of any country, which leads us to say that most of the conflict are conflicts of economic origin. For example, Syria’s strategic position plays a prominent role. This global geopolitical situation has enabled it to play a major role in the conflict in Syria and it has become a bet for everyone to control it.
So the energy struggle in Syria may be the key to ending Syria’s most dangerous conflicts and internal conflicts in which Syria is experiencing it today.
Circles of regional and international conflict in Syria
Syria has become a battleground for global and regional powers – including the United States, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Israel – who are using it as a place to pursue their own interests and control on areas of natural gas reserves in it, particularly those on the eastern Mediterranean coast, which are rich in natural gas. Some information about the gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has been disclosed by sea and land, not only in Syria but also in Lebanon and Palestine, and after being to the forefront ahead of other sources of energy in the world , as the oil depletion of some areas approaches and the decline in prices, this region which is rich of gas to become a scene of the conflict of international interests .
The base of this resource is vast when compared to current and future levels of demand for gas in the region, through its growing potential as a major regional and global factor that has become increasingly apparent.
Despite the fact that the Syrian war, with all its inputs and outputs, has become a major chaos and confusing but the hidden battle over gas pipelines has fueled the most conflict in Syria. Russia sees Syria’s strategic importance as the main point in the new geopolitical game so it seeks not only for the insurance of a permanent survival and a new center for Russian expansion in the region, but not to give way to Western influence to penetrate there, which makes them consider the game of international competition on Syrian natural gas as a zero game where it is a gain for Russia and a loss to the West and vice versa.
In this sense, Russia believes that the improved management of the supply of natural gas to the European Union makes the latter under its economic influence, especially as more than 75% of the natural gas produced by the Russian company Gazprom controlled by the state sold to the European Union, so maintaining this vital market is important for Russia, on the other hand, the EU’s strategic goal does not adopt its ambitions by relying on Russia for gas, but to break this dependency by gradually reducing its dependence, a step supported by the new US strategy because it would weaken Russian influence on Europe.
Although the policy of diversifying the supply base for natural gas and the non-realization of Russian export projects has become a strategic goal for the West by cutting off the Russian gas lines to Europe, and by looking at the conflict in Syria from that angle as well, we find that the Russian adherence to the Assad regime makes strategic gains that can be summarize by the following : The first is to prevent the passage of Qatari gas to the European markets through Syrian territory, especially as Qatar seeks to break the monopoly of Russia to export gas to Europe, and to strengthen its declining position in the European countries and America and secondly, to prevent Turkey from obtaining any economic benefits from the passage of Qatari gas through Its territory to Europe.
Assad’s survival also allows the arrival of Iranian gas to the Syrian ports on the Mediterranean Sea, as Russia seeks to conclude with Iran long-term contracts , through which Russia can export Iranian gas to Europe, similar to contracts with Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan to obtain gas production at prices Cheaply, re-export it with world prices to European countries, we understand that Russia uses natural gas as a convenient playing card to a large extent , and can be used in political games.
It can be seen from that Russia’s strongest weapon in dialogue with the West is gas pipelines, because oil can be compensated and can be transported with oil tankers, but the monopoly of Russia for gas pipelines passing from east to west can be used as a tool to pass political interests and solid positions in case of challenge. , Or in the event of circumventing Russia and providing new sources of European gas, and here Syria’s role becomes more important to both sides.
The role of “natural gas” in igniting the background of the conflict in Syria
All of what is being done in the Syrian war of a bloody episode and a turbulent internal event requires a deeper and farther view from the current scene. When we realize the value of economic interests in a given conflict, we will understand all the dimensions and backgrounds of what is going on. Money is the core of wars. The pace of accelerated and turbulent events which are escalated in Syria is essentially for the wealth and vital interests of major and regional states.
And the basic dynamics that made the Syrian natural gas the main engine of the Syrian crisis:
The entry of the Russian Federation on the first confrontation line to the side of the Syrian state and in response to its request in September 2015, where Moscow believes that its national security passes from Damascus, and must eliminate terrorism in Syria and maintain it and not allow the Atlantic to expand to the east of the Mediterranean, along with control of gas lines in Syria In defense of its oil claws in Europe.
The Qatari gas pipeline that was supposed to pass through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey to Europe, which was not approved by the Syrian government, was one of the main reasons that led to the outbreak of war in Syria eight years ago.
The US military presence in eastern Syria, east of the Euphrates, up from Abu Kamal to the Iraqi border, through the military bases of Tal Hagar in Rumailan and the Al-Tanf west of Anbar, is not a fight against ISIS ” but to control Economic assets in Syria », that confirms « the survival of America in Syria is conditional on the success of the project of division and control of oil and gas fields ».
Turkey has announced for the first time that it has conducted surveys of its maritime areas in the Mediterranean Sea as part of preliminary steps to start launching these areas for gas exploration. It is trying to end its reliance on Russia, which has become a political competitor to it and it is trying to make itself as a center for the transport of Asian gas to European markets.
Russia’s great advantage of Syrian gas and its supply lines
There is no doubt that Syria, through its unique geographical location, is a mediator for the exports of oil and gas between producing and consuming countries, which enables it to take positions based on direct geopolitical and economic interests, especially with countries with close ties such as Russia and Iran.
For Russia, it is keen that other parties do not increase their supplies in a way that competes with Russia in Syria. “The Russian oil companies, aware of the value of Syria as a center for the transfer of oil and gas rather than a state supplied , it sought to find a way to participate in Syrian energy projects and not compete with them, and in the light of Syria’s call in 2016 , this opportunity comes to Russia, and if the Russian energy companies accepted Syria’s demand, they would gain considerable control over the Syrian energy sector, as it would demand the largest share of the venture capital investments it supplies with manpower and required supplies , and by this way, the Russian oil and gas sector ensures that any country considering the possibility of shipping its oil products through Syrian ports and pipelines will be forced to seek Russia’s satisfaction if it is not forced to negotiate directly with it. As a result, Russian oil companies will reduce competition from Iran, Iraq, Qatar or Saudi Arabia, and the control of similar projects means that Russia will at least partially be able to control about 50.5 billion cubic meters / year of natural gas exports, equivalent to 5.5 times more than Syria’s full reserves and about 27 percent of annual Russian LNG exports.
A major Russian investment in Syrian energy projects would justify a continued military presence in the region, given that the Russian navy and air force do not intend to leave Syria in the near future. In January 2017, Russia and Syria signed a 49-year agreement allowing Russia to keep its navy fleet in Tartus port in order to expand it to include 11 warships as well as nuclear submarines. At a time when the Russian State Assembly of the Duma ratified in July a bill to establish a new Russian air base in Syria, it should be noted that Russian control on large portions of Syria’s basic energy infrastructure, which is essential to the country’s economy, not only enables Russia to justify its military presence as a defense of its economic interests, but also gives it the ability to exercise greater influence over the Syrian government to ensure that the regime supports any preferential policies .
Thus, the reality of the conflict in Syria is a conflict based on influence, hegemony, economic interests, energy sources and the means of supplying them. The parties involved in the conflict on Syria are moving only through their interests. The victor in the Syrian war will be the biggest gas exporter in Europe.
Economic Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies