x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Energy fights anew

Gas finds by Israel and Lebanon in the eastern Mediterranean Sea are steadily affecting the region's geopolitical layout, an analyst observes in an Arabic language comment piece. Other topics in today's roundup:stability in Syria, and Yemen's future.

Gas finds in eastern Mediterranean Sea are steadily affecting the region's geopolitical map

"The undersea gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean Sea are starting to have an effect on the geopolitics of the Middle East," wrote Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, in an opinion article carried by the London-based newspaper Al Hayat yesterday.

"The huge amounts of gas discovered off of Israel's coast - as well as those finds that will probably be uncovered offshore Cyprus and Lebanon - are attracting the attention of world superpowers as well as the influential states of the region."

So, a Middle East that is already caught up in conflicts over land borders and territories will now have to turn its focus to the sea, the writer said. And nations that previously saw no benefit in collaborating with one another will now take time to reconsider.

Take Israel, for instance. It was the first country to exploit its gas fields of Tamar and Leviathan. That came in handy indeed, just in time to alleviate Israel's reliance on gas supplies from Egypt, which were becoming unsteady since the revolution.

"These gas finds carry the promise of making Israel not only self-sufficient in gas, but also an exporter of it." Yet to secure export routes, Israel faces a number of challenges.

"If Israel were in peace with its neighbours," the writer said, "the most cost-effective route for its exports to Europe would be overland, through its northern borders."

Israel is planning to ship its gas through Cyprus. But that also is easier said than done, the writer noted. "From Cyprus, the easier route would be Turkey, but the dented Turkish-Israeli relations make this option a bit of an impossibility for the time being."

Unloading its ships in Greece, instead, and from there to the heart of Europe, will cost Israel more time and money. "Clearly, the degradation of Turkish-Israeli relations was extremely ill-timed for the latter's energy export ambitions," the writer added. Suddenly, Cyprus emerges as a "strategic player", sitting at the crossroads of the region's energy export routes.

Lebanon, for its part, was too slow in acting on its potential gas reserves. "It is only recently that the government and the parliament moved to issue legislation permitting international energy corporations to start prospecting in Lebanon's waters," the writer said.

Now the race is on for American, European, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Brazilian corporations interested in Lebanon's possible energy reserves. "Given the nature of the coalition government in Lebanon … contracts will necessarily go to a variety of companies."

Hizbollah and its allies will lean towards the Russians while the prime minister will defend French and US bids.

It all goes to show how energy will yet again play a key role in the region's geopolitical future.

Arabs must save Syria to save themselves

There is no doubt that the Syrian revolution did not erupt in protest of the regional role of Damascus and its Arab commitments, said Dr Bashir Mousa Nafie in a column for Al Quds Al Arabi.

"The Syrian revolution erupted for domestic factors, political, economic, social factors and the imbalanced relationship between the regime and the people."

Because the Syrian regime, over the years, had taken a commendable stance especially towards the Arab-Israeli conflict and the resistance in Palestine and Lebanon, there has been a tendency to ignore or overlook the current bloody situation.

But this is a misguided approach, the writer added. There is a need for an Arab, popular and official, to put an end to the situation in Syria in favour of the people and its revolution.

Syria has been an arena for conflict and competition due to its location, history and culture, and not because of any economic or military power.

There is a historic opportunity for Arabs to regain, as a nation or cooperating nations, their role on the world's stage; this opportunity has not presented itself since the World War I.

A failing Iraq is still having an impact on the region. As Syria has always been central to any Arab role, the writer said, the emergence of Syria from the current war with minimal losses is vital for any Arab rise.

Yemen needs friends in transition as well

Developments in Yemen are happening so fast these days, and as they do, room for optimism is shrinking just as fast, stated the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan in an editorial yesterday.

"The current standoff between the Yemeni president, Abdrabu Mansour Hadi, and the supporters of his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, threatens to bring the new government to its knees, sending Yemen back to the interim period," the paper argued.

Going back to square one will shake up the Yemeni people's confidence that change is possible at all. President Hadi came into office as a representative of all Yemenis. Trying now to make him act like the lap dog of the outgoing president "in no way helps Yemen get out of the bottleneck", the newspaper noted.

As President Hadi is trying to stamp out the entrenched influence of his predecessor in Yemen's sovereign institutions, Mr Saleh is trying hard to pull the strings - through members of the cabinet still faithful to him - in order to make the crisis in Yemen linger long enough to show President Hadi incompetent.

Yemen's friends - namely the GCC states - who saw the deal for Mr Saleh's departure through must not leave Yemen on its own at this time. Not until the "whole President Saleh file" is definitively closed.

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi