A Truce In The Holy Oil War?

Yves here. This development, of Qatar potentially falling in line with Saudi Arabia, would represent a meaningful shift in Middle Eastern dynamics. But whether this is the beginning of the end of ISIS, or of the “holy oil war,” is another matter. ISIS started out as Prince Bandar’s private army, and it is not hard to imagine that the Saudis wield considerable influence. Among other things, the Saudis remain mighty unhappy over the fact that the US did not escalate in Syria in 2013, and has refused (in a rare show of wisdom) to attack Iran.

By Claude Salhani, a journalist, author and political analyst based in Beirut, specializing in the Middle East, politicized Islam and terrorism He is the former editor of the Middle East Times and a long-time contributor to the Commentary pages of the Washington Times and Beirut’s Executive Magazine. He is the former International Editor with United Press International and also ran UPI’s Terrorism & Security Desks. Originally published at OilPrice

Could this be the first step in defeating the Islamic State? In an unexpected move Sunday, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain agreed to return their ambassadors to Qatar, signaling an end to an eight-month rift over Doha’s support for Islamist groups, according to a statement made by the Gulf Cooperation Council.

If all sides respect the agreement this could well put to rest the holy oil war that has been going on behind the scenes as the oil-rich countries in the Gulf were opposed not only politically, but also on religious grounds with Qatar. When it was not buying up the latest European soccer team, or Swiss bank, it was meddling in the affairs of other Arab states.

The news came after an emergency meeting held in the Saudi capital Riyadh to discuss the dispute that erupted following Qatar’s support of Islamist groups that were seen as supporting or engaging in terrorist activity. Qatar’s foreign policy was seen as interfering in the affairs of other countries, calling on the other rich Gulf States to rally their resources, including their oil and gas generated richness to combat the rising threat of extremist Islamists.

In an unprecedented move, the three Gulf countries withdrew their ambassadors from fellow GCC member Qatar in March, accusing it of undermining their domestic security through its support of the Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood.

The GCC statement said that Sunday’s meeting had reached what it described as an “understanding,” meant to turn over a new leaf in relations between the six members of the Gulf organization, which also includes Kuwait and Oman.

“Based on that, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Bahrain decided to return their ambassadors to the state of Qatar,” the statement said.

This marks an important step in the region’s fight against the so-called Islamic State, which is perceived as a real threat by the other GCC countries. This agreement also marks an important political victory for Saudi Arabian influence in the region.

Qatar, much like fellow GCC countries Saudi Arabia and the UAE have used their oil and gas revenues to influence events in other Middle Eastern countries by supporting one or more sides in the many conflicts that are currently unfolding in the region.

Indeed Qatar has been active in Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Qatar is often seen as somewhat of a maverick and an enigma in the region. It is one of the smallest of Arab states, but has one of the largest egos in the region and beyond. With a population of only about 500,000 people (and 1.5 million expatriate workers) it tried to drive policy in several countries in the region. It supports (or at least did so until Sunday night) the radical Islamists, yet has sort of diplomatic relations with Israel. It provided funds to the IS, yet continues to host the largest US military base in the Gulf region.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have both listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and look upon political Islam as a challenge to their own systems of dynastic rule.

Qatar is seen to have been supportive of the Brotherhood in Egypt and the UAE, and more recently in Libya. Doha has allowed several Muslim Brotherhood members to set up residence in Qatar, including the highly controversial preacher, Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, to whom they have granted citizenship.

Qatar has established one of the more controversial international television channels –al-Jazeera – whom many Arab countries accuse of being far too supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. Many analysts say that the three al-Jazeera journalists who are currently detained in Egypt was a move by Egypt to impose its stamp on the region.

Riyadh and the United Arab Emirates also see the Doha-based Al Jazeera news channel as being a Muslim Brotherhood mouthpiece — Qatar denies these accusations, saying it hosts all political and religious tendencies.

Reuters reports that diplomats in Doha said that Qatar promised the UAE that the Brotherhood would not be allowed to operate from the country. There was no immediate confirmation of this.

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  1. Fiver

    Qatar was doing just fine so far as the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and others were concerned, right up to the defeat of their collective effort to topple Assad. The political need for blame to land elsewhere, when the choice is among friends, has been known to require a public humbling of much stronger weaker players than Qatar in order to vitiate a real public discussion concerning a policy debacle – in this case, the wanton total destruction of a country, a member of the United Nations, named Syria.

    Qatar’s elite hosts a gigantic US naval presence, and demonstrates via its flagship image-projection device (Al-J) its evident desire to be perceived as smart, modern, urbane, Western, and with the program – and is quite incapable of fostering anything far more powerful regional players and the US didn’t or don’t want fostered.

    The trajectory of US shale oil production, the best numbers on falling global demand, knowledge of the ability of Libya to very quickly boost production, and the inside track vis a vis the end or not of QE would’ve all been known to a finite number of people. Was there no planning whatever in the oil world vis a vis accommodating the flood of US shale oil into a visibly slowing global economy? Who was supposed to accommodate Libya’s returning production? Iraqi oil production is safe (if ever really threatened) – just maybe because Western majors are there. There’s always Iran, of course….or Nigeria.

  2. Working Class Nero

    The author doesn’t even bother trying to connect the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to ISIS. While everything he is saying about the Gulf States attitude towards the MB is true, surely he owes us at least a sentence or two about why he thinks this impacts ISIS.

    I’ll try a quick compare and contrast. Both the MB and ISIS are based on universalist (Islamic) where they claim sovereignty over at least the entire Islamic world, including parts of Europe (Spain and the Balkans) that used to be Islamic back in the day. The House of Saud would be an example of a particularism, in which power is claimed over a fixed territory (similar to nationalism). Church of England is particularist, the Catholic Church universalist. Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution was universalist, Stalin’s Socialism in One Country is particularist.

    In great power politics, universalists are great for undermining the unity of your enemy. But much like the problem of biological weapons, the danger is in blowback where the universalist strains start infecting your own particular power base. This is what happened to Saudi Arabia (KSA), they allowed the MB into the kingdom because of the social programs (education in particular) they offered but after a while they started getting all uppity and started threatening the power of the House of Saud.

    In Israel for example they used a similar tactic against the Palestinians. After the 1967 conquests, they decided to split the Palestinian opposition between the secular nationalist Fatah and the MB inspired and backed Hamas. In hindsight this could be read as a case of over-meddling – Fatah have always been a complete collaborationist joke and Israel is now facing a slightly more competent Hamas instead on some fronts (although Fatah still leads the collaboration in the West Bank which is far more important to Israel than the dump called Gaza).

    The US has been pushing neoliberal globalization and so universalists like the MB are very welcome into the US power fold at the expense of secular nationalists. In addition, there is discussion that the MB leadership is totally infiltrated by Western powers. And so from the US / Israeli point of view, the MB were a set of safe hands to weaken Egypt with during the Arab Spring. The Saudis on the other hand, were not the least bit impressed and took steps to overthrow the new MB regime. Apparently since the new regime was certainly not a threat to US/Israeli interests, the Saudis were allowed to get away with this bit of imprudence.

    So the Saudis surely still want to undermine their neighbors with universalist movements but they cannot trust the MB so there is plenty of evidence they have created the ISIS instead. The key is, for the time being, the Saudis have reason to believe that they can quarantine the ISIS virus and not face an epidemic of universalism within their own borders. Of course publicly they deny this relationship but until I see the ISIS taking steps that directly threaten KSA, I’m inclined to believe that the relationship between ISIS and KSA is just as cosy as Democratic and Republican oligarchs — once they are out of earshot of the public, that is.

    1. susan the other

      Thank you Nero. This was very clear and made sense. I was skeptical from the first paragraph of the post because Qatar has always been in our pocket, even more than the Saudis. But it is hard to parse it all out. I like using “particularists v. universalists” because it makes more sense. The obvious contradiction being that the Gulf Particularists are cooperating as if they were Universalists but if their oil monopoly makes a wrong move the real Universalists will gladly destroy them. It is funny how self interest can be so easily manipulated to defeat self interest. I’m not sure what this all means for the supply and price of oil and the global decisions to “keep it in the ground” but obviously demand is at rock bottom so, imo, the global depression is probably being managed to rein in the use (burning) of oil.

    2. Fiver

      There is no daylight between Saudi, Israeli and US goals, policies, tactics or anything else. The oil price thing had to happen sooner or later. Sooner, with Libya cut in, QE allowed to expire and the craven failure to seal a deal with Iran that will spare that country endless grief. Expect the violence in Syria to ratchet up accordingly by year’s end.

  3. pgrommit

    George Friedman of Stratfor has a different take on the House of Saud and ISIS.

    “There has been speculation that the Islamic State is being funded by Arabian powers, but it would be irrational for Riyadh to be funding the group. The stronger the Islamic State is, the firmer the ties between the United States and Iran become. Washington cannot live with a transnational caliphate that might become regionally powerful someday. The more of a threat the Islamic State becomes, the more Iran and the United States need each other, which runs completely counter to the Saudis’ security interests. Riyadh needs the tensions between the United States and Iran. Regardless of religious or ideological impulse, Tehran’s alliance with Washington forms an overwhelming force that threatens the Saudi regime’s survival. And the Islamic State has no love for the Saudi royal family. The caliphate can expand in Saudi Arabia’s direction, too, and we’ve already seen grassroots activity related to the Islamic State taking place inside the kingdom. Riyadh has been engaged in Iraq, and it must now try to strengthen Sunni forces other than the Islamic State quickly, so that the forces pushing Washington and Tehran together subside.”

    1. Gaianne


      Perhaps it is rude to say, but Stratfor’s analyses always seem to lack depth. So it is here. In the snippet you quote the superficial assumptions actually contradict what we already know, without need to speculate.

      The putative US-Iranian strategic alliance against the Saudis is laughable and fantastic given the inability of the US to form a simple tactical alliance with Iran to oppose ISIS. The Saudis have nothing to fear on that front.

      Also, we know that ISIS was initially funded and supplied by the Saudis and the US among others, and is still openly supported by Turkey and still well funded by somebody–probably the Saudis. In addition, the process by which the US arms “moderate” and “friendly” guerrilla organizations which promptly abandon their weapons to ISIS looks less like counter-insurgency war and more like a re-supply channel.

      The strange inability of the US to support its putative allies–the Kurds and Iraq–in this small but desperate war should give one pause. There is an infinite gap between US pronouncements and US actions. There are different possible reasons for this, so I will restrict myself to saying that the gap itself is the key fact to ponder. Lacking correct explanations at least we can confidently brush aside the more inane propaganda.

      For the US. the goal is still the destruction of Syria and Iran–the neocons, who now control the US State Department are pretty open about this and in that context the sensible guess is that they welcome ISIS as a tool. That ISIS can be used to terrify the folks back home is just a bonus. The “realists” in the US Government are less confident that the US can control ISIS and are very worried about what ISIS means for Iraq (specifically, its dismemberment and permanent partition), but at the moment the “realists” are sidelined.

      Stratfor’s reading is skew–a bit of bedazzlement.


      1. Jackrabbit

        Great comment.

        You write:

        “The “realists” in the US Government are less confident that the US can control ISIS”

        I think ‘control’ (whatever that means) of ISIS would be a joint effort of several countries, and is greatly aided by the ISIS’s stringent hierarchy.

        It seems strange that Turkey would be allowed to support ISIS when – if you believe MSM – ISIS threatens virtually every other country in the region and beyond.

      2. Fiver

        Thank you, Gaianne, for the much-needed corrective. The layering and intensity of propaganda is as completely over-the-top re any serious US/Iran ‘alliance’ as it is for any meaningful US/Saudi split. Similarly, all this blather about ISIS and a ‘Caliphate’ – they are no more an “Islamic fundamentalist” group than I am the Prophet. They are a weapon the final use of which has yet to be precisely determined, though it’s handy for the US/Saudis to have already on the ground an army of poor, illiterate, uneducated, angry young men brutalized by decades of extreme US violence they need only wind up and let loose. The idea that the US/Saudi/Israeli power axis that has dominated the region for over 40 years has suddenly come undone is just plain silly. ISIS is all about pursuing a new Plan when the first Plan failed, and even more about garnering the required amount of fear and bigotry via US politicians and media to clinch popular support for much deeper US direct involvement in the region. Worked like a charm, didn’t it?

    2. Working Class Nero

      Stratfor is obviously a mouthpiece for US/Israeli intelligence. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read them – I even go so far as read Debka (when it is up) – but after finishing an article, you should always be asking yourself, “what are these guys trying to sell me?”

      And so Stratfor using such twisted reasoning, to me at least, tends to show they are covering up for the Saudis. But they will only do this if the US/Israeli side are benefiting.

      So there will eventually be a deal between the US/Israel and Iran, and the Saudis are well aware of this. It wasn’t all that long ago, 35 years or so (shit I am getting old) that US/Israel and Iran were BFF. So an eventual make-up is not that big a deal for KSA. But in the meantime, the ISIS is creating facts on the ground that will eventually determine the frontier between the Sunni and Shia spheres of influence, and that is of vital importance to the Saudis (not so much to the US/Israel side who only hope the frontier is unstable so that they can exploit it). That line used to be the border between Iran and Iraq. The Bush II invasion basically handed Iraq to the Iranians, who were then expected to get with the program and respect US/Israeli authority. Some moves have been made in the right direction but Iran has not totally submitted yet. So now the ISIS is there taking portions of Iraq that were before under at least nominal Iranian-puppet control, but are now falling under Sunni control. Not to mention the pressure the ISIS is putting on Iran’s ally Syria. So the eventual frontier is already moving in a way the Saudis like and Syria may fall into the Sunni sphere of influence as well. And this threatens the Saudis how exactly?

      The real question will be Baghdad, which is going to end up all divided, a bit like Jerusalem. That’s where the real bargaining will take place (and some future instability!). And the ISIS is only an asset to the Sunni side, and the pressure this puts on Iran is only a huge benefit to the US/Israeli side.

      The danger the Saudis face is this whole ISIS thing geting out of control and turning pandemic. I suppose they are not stupid and have war-gamed ways of dealing with this eventuality. Not that I would mind for one minute if the ISIS did manage to conquer the Saudis as well.

      1. Jackrabbit

        Is it really just a matter of determining the eventual demarcation of Sunni/Shia influence?

        With Russia/China/SCO backing, couldn’t Iran just say “bug off” and never come to terms with US/Israel (as you seem to expect)?

        1. Gaianne

          “Is it really just a matter of determining the eventual demarcation of Sunni/Shia influence?”

          Well put! For the Sunnis and the Shi’ites, yes, for everybody else, no.

          “With Russia/China/SCO backing, couldn’t Iran just say “bug off” and never come to terms with US/Israel (as you seem to expect)?”

          Ummm. Russia and China really, really do not want open war right now. They know global war is inevitable, but the need to delay it is urgent. So “bug off” may be the real message, but they will not make a big thing of it. For the other part, Iran will not be coming to terms, as there are no terms to come to. Unconditional surrender to the US oil interests and Israel? With–as you say–Russian and Chinese backing, the Iranians will certainly avoid that.


        2. Working Class Nero

          It’s all a question of time which is where the ISIS helps create a sense of urgency. The Russia China bloc is not quite up and running and will not be able to assist any time soon in stopping that frontier from moving towards the Iranian border. The US/Israeli bloc also has things to offer. For example the Nabucco pipeline project that would connect Iranian gas fields to European customers is on the agenda, and Iran is very interested in these discussions. So we will see.

  4. Jackrabbit

    This article asks us to believe that Keystone cops-like bungling among nations nurtured ISIS.

    I am not a ME expert but I am skeptical of any narrative that fails to include important issues like the deep-seated concerns of US, KSA, Israel, and others about Iran and ISIS’s decidedly anti-Shia orientation.

    ISIS as a means of applying pressure for a peace deal with Iran seems to answer many questions that are otherwise left unanswered. If a peace deal is not ultimately reached (some believe that it is not possible / kabuki) then it seems likely that Iran is drawn into a costly sectarian conflict that destabilizes an Iranian leadership that can be portrayed as having chosen to fight ISIS without the support of other nations (plus covert ops can be blamed on ISIS). Is that intentional or merely convenient?


    Time will tell. I don’t see how ISIS can survive a world united against it. If they do survive, then they are getting support.

    H O P

    1. Ames Gilbert

      “Iran and ISIS’s decidedly anti-Shia operation”.
      Don’t think so.
      Iran = Shia, ISIS = Sunni.

      Try harder.

      1. Jackrabbit

        You misread what I wrote. It should be parsed as follows:

        1) the deep-seated concerns of US, KSA, Israel, and others about Iran
        2) and ISIS’s decidedly anti-Shia orientation.

        What I wrote afterwards is also consistent with my pointing out the strange coincidence of “deep-seated concerns about Iran” and the rise of ISIS.

  5. MartyH

    Could mean they’ve agreed to support Easter Bunnies and Santa Claus or it could mean they’ve clarified their strategic support of something some of us might consider evil. Not enough information to know. Tea leaves and other forms of indirect divination without actual information are amusing, however.

  6. Fiver

    For anyone interested, here’s a list of oil producers – as is readily apparent, the supposed “oil weapon” is even worse a ‘precision’ tool than drone strikes, which was recently reported to cost the lives of 20 non-targeted individuals for every one that was targeted. These prices virtually ensure greater instability in already unstable regions/nations as well as being extremely painful for sideswiped ‘friends’ of the US – bearing in mind it is the US which is rapidly flooding depressed global markets, not Saudi Arabia, whose crime was not to just roll over and absorb the shock by itself through production cuts.


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