Geopolitics: Turkey and the Pipeline War in Syria

Thursday, 09 June 2016 15:28
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by Idrees Mohammed*
EPOS Insights


Supplying Europe with energy is at the heart of the crisis in Syria. The real reason behind the crisis is the possible energy pipelines that will ship regional energy resources to Europe. It is a game similar to the great one played in the Caucasus. Two main camps play it: the first includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and is supported by the United States; the second is supported by Russia and includes Iran, Iraq, and Syria itself. The game is zero-sum.

Syria's geographic position is significant. Its closeness to energy rich and thirsty regions, the seas, and Turkey makes Syria a natural energy resources transit country. Pipeline networks can be built through Syria from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iran to ship energy resources to Europe. Whose pipeline ships whose such resources through where to Europe, however, is the root cause of the game and "the struggle for Syria".

Europe is energy thirsty. Russia is its main supplier. The European energy needs are increasing. Russia uses its monopoly over the European energy market for political purposes. Europe needs to diversify its supply sources in order to decrease its dependence on Russia. The United States supports such a European effort. The Caucasus and Middle East regions are important sources for Europe to meet its diversification goal; and Turkey is pushing for playing the role of transit country.

Qatar is credited for its gas possession. In 2009, a pipeline was proposed to ship Qatari gas to Europe through Syria and Turkey. Syria rejected the proposal. Instead, an alternative pipeline that would ship the Iranian gas through Iraq to the Mediterranean was proposed. Although none of the proposals have been implemented, the Arab Spring in Syria opened the way for the future of the pipelines: Whoever wins the great game over Syria, wins a share in European market to the determent of the other.

The stakes of the players in the great game are high. The United States looks for a decreasing Russian and Iranian role in Europe's energy market and thus supports alternative sources to meet Europe's needs. Conversely, Russia needs to maintain its monopoly over Europe's energy market and works to sabotage any alternatives. The Iranians have ambitious plans to play a leading role in the energy market;in addition to its own, Iran looks for transporting energy resources from Central Asia. Iran has high stakes in constraining plans by its rival. Qatar is known for its huge gas possession and plans to ship gas to Europe. This way it will play a major role in the gas market. Saudi Arabia is engaged in a fierce rivalry with Iran and by shipping the Saudi's cheap energy resources to Europe via Syria, the Iranian power will be significantly affected. Last but not least, Turkey's strategy is to become an energy hub. It backs the Qatari proposed pipeline and stands against the Iranian's as it will bypass Turkey. To that aim, Turkey has improved relations with Qatar and Saudi and supports the removal of Assad.

It becomes clear that the struggle for Syria is largely related to the pipeline politics and gas geopolitics. The United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar have supported the removal of Assad; however, Russia, Iran, and Iraq have supported Assad to remain in power. Both of those who are for and against the removal of Assad have opposite interests that are related to pipelines and gas market. The former group looks for a friendly post-Assad regime that will facilitate their objective; the latter group is just entirely against this scenario.


* Idrees Mohammed is a PhD candidate at University of Erfurt, Germany. He was a former lecturer in International Relations at University of Duhok, Kurdistan Region


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s editorial policy

Last modified on Friday, 10 June 2016 07:41
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