The Humanitarian Case for Another Arab Oil Embargo

Yves here. The idea of using the threat of an oil embargo to pressure the US to lean harder on Israel to let more humanitarian in has merit. But the Biden Administration seems to have no will to tell Israel to do much of anything and instead appears eager to escalate to get Hezbollah on a more aggressive footing to justify going after Iran.

By Andrew Korybko, a Moscow-based American political analyst who specializes in the global systemic transition to multipolarity in the New Cold War. He has a PhD from MGIMO, which is under the umbrella of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Originally published at his website

Anything less than threatening an oil embargo against Israel and its Western allies will likely fail to get the former to open up a humanitarian corridor, but this requires a degree of political will, trust, and coordination between the participating countries that can’t be taken for granted.

Many observers considered last weekend’s Cairo Summit to be a failure after the lack of any joint statement, but nobody should have ever expected one since this event wasn’t actually intended to achieve that purpose. To be sure, each of the three camps that were represented there – the pro-Palestinian, pro-Israeli, and neutral ones – lamented this outcome and opportunistically blamed others for it, but none of their diplomats realistically expected an agreement to be reached.

Rather, the whole point of that get-together was for every party to candidly express their positions on this issue, after which they’d have a clearer idea of where everyone stands and could then initiate potentially more productive diplomatic engagements either on the sidelines of the event or outside of it. In this sense, the Cairo Summit was a success since there’s no longer any doubt about where each of the participating countries stand. Their diplomats can now formulate more effective policies as a result.

There are objective limits to what each of the previously described three camps are capable of doing. The pro-Israeli one led by the US is against the formal involvement of any third parties in the latest war, hence the redeployment of their naval assets to the region in order to deter this scenario. Accordingly, the pro-Palestinian camp represented most relevantly by Egypt, Jordan, and Turkiye – all of which officially recognize Israel – are unlikely to risk the hegemon’s wrath by going to war in support of Hamas.

As for the neutral one led by Russia, the aforesaid dynamics disappointingly suggest that there’s no credible chance for a ceasefire anytime soon since US-backed Israel is hellbent on destroying Hamas out of vengeance, which will require a ground operation in Gaza unless it unexpectedly walks back its plans. That being the case, everything is only going to get worse before it gets better, but that doesn’t mean that the pro-Palestinian and neutral camps can’t help make a positive difference in some respect.

The humanitarian consequences of Israel’s disproportionate response to Hamas’ infamous terrorist attack have turned most of the international community, including many Westerners, against the self-professed Jewish State. If it’s impossible to prevent the conflict’s escalation by convincing Israel to abandon its planned ground operation, then the most pragmatic policy that these two camps can pursue is trying to relieve some of the Gazans’ suffering through the creation of humanitarian corridors.

Two challenges stand in the way of this noble goal: 1) Egypt is against allowing Palestinian refugees to enter its territory since it fears that Israel will never let them return; and 2) Israel is also against sheltering these refugees on the grounds that public opinion wouldn’t support it after Hamas’ attacks. Additionally, both claim that each scenario entails unconventional threats to their countries, with each of them prioritizing their own national security over the personal security of Gaza’s over 2 million people.

The end result is that these refugees continue dying as “collateral damage” of the incessant strikes that Israel carries out on anti-terrorist pretexts, which infuriates the global masses and especially those in majority-Muslim countries, who feel powerless to stop the Gazans’ suffering. Without the creation of humanitarian corridors and amidst the spike in violence that’s expected to follow the onset of Israel’s planned ground operation, there’s a very real risk of riots breaking out across the world.

Western countries could either brutally suppress them like they did those that occurred during the height of the pandemic or stand aside due to their elites’ self-interested political reasons like they did during the Antifa-BLM riots all across the US over summer 2020. In either case, their national stability wouldn’t seriously be threatened even if some extremists carry out terrorist attacks against those who participate in this unrest, but the same can’t be said for many majority-Muslim countries.

These states could struggle to contain such riots since some of their security personnel might refuse to crack down on the participants if they sympathize with their pro-Palestinian cause, and even if they follow orders, the masses might riot more on the pretext that their governments are “Zionist puppets”. After all, their riots would have begun as protests in support of a noble cause, so it would be seen by the participants as a betrayal of the Palestinians, fellow Muslims, and humanity to violently disperse them.

With a view towards averting that worst-case but nevertheless plausible scenario, it would therefore be a good idea for the pro-Palestinian and neutral camps to collaborate on ways to most compellingly pressure Egypt and/or Israel to open up humanitarian corridors. Since it’s unlikely that majority-Muslim countries will team up against one of their own, these efforts would thus almost certainly be directed against Israel and its Western allies, which could most effectively take the form of an oil embargo.

Many Westerners already sympathize with the Palestinians’ plight so they could be counted on to pressure their governments to accede to these demands via large-scale protests across their bloc if majority-Muslim energy-exporting states and Russia give them an ultimatum. Their decisionmakers might still refuse to do their utmost in forcing Israel to host these refugees or the self-professed Jewish State might defy them in spite of their efforts, but it’s arguably the best way to advance this noble goal.

Anything less than threatening an oil embargo against Israel and its Western allies will likely fail to get the former to open up a humanitarian corridor, but this requires a degree of political will, trust, and coordination between the participating countries that can’t be taken for granted. Seeing as how no indication has yet to emerge suggesting serious interest in this, it therefore remains speculative for now, but that could quickly change if public pressure becomes unbearable in many majority-Muslim countries.

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  1. Amfortas the Hippie

    anybody thrown the chicken bones as to how much oil would go up?
    or natgas?
    or gasoline and diesel?
    and when?

    we’ve already started hoarding(with “stabil”)….because we’re 11 miles from town.

    1. GramSci

      Here in Outer Pentagonia gas prices at the pump fell by 15% on the news that Biden is making nice with Maduro. Then Trump could later reinstall Guaido. So I don’t think Inner Pentagonia is worried. They’ve got this ‘gamed out’…

    2. Candide

      Never hurts to know the terrain in the dark.
      Thanks Amfortas, for this reference to “prepper” tips.
      Seasonal workers and disabled folks with
      emergency backups know the zone.

  2. Vicky Cookies

    From this weeks’ Economist, eleven days and 3 phone calls into the May 2021 bombing of Gaza: “On the fourth call, as Mr. Netanyahu continued insisting the Israeli operation was not done, the president told him time was up. “Hey man, we’re out of runway here,” Mr. Biden said, according to [a presidential biographer]. “It’s over.” Mr. Netanyahu agreed to a ceasefire.”

    If accurate, it suggests Biden could stop this with a phone call and some bad metaphors.

    1. Carolinian

      Of course we could stop it. For all the brave talk about how Israel needs to drop the US connection and go it alone they are totally dependent–at least in their warfare guise–on the US. There have been suggestions that even their great game changing victory, the six day 1967 war, was launched on US approval.

      I have opined here that the world doesn’t run on ideas but perhaps it does unfortunately run on bad ideas and the 19th century’s Zionist movement was one of those as many said at the time. Israel is here now though and it does have a right to exist which is to say, and as our Declaration said, we all have that right. Zionism however–that bad idea–needs to go for the Israelis to prove their bona fides. The recently promoted antisemitism definition that conflates Zionism with Judaism was precisely designed to defeat this possibility.

      I live in the US South which was once run by fanatics committed to their own bad idea and willing to face destruction to defend it. They too tried to suppress competing notions coming down from the North and the threat to their idea was the real reason for secession. We have an analogue now in the Middle East if the world as a whole would just see it.

      1. Candide

        Agreed, and remnants of the KKK must be green with envy over Israel’s western world allies embracing its racist extremism. Israel’s “right to exist’ is like the pitch of a state fair huckster or the warranty on your recent purchase, except for the depth of the trap. We’re not supposed to notice language including the “Jewish state” condition which to people who’ve experienced Jewish-only rights to the exclusion of another race’s rights (ha ha both are Semitic) is unacceptable. Jewish-only roads and settlements and military occupation and courts for non-Jews.
        Say “no” to the “Jewish state” and you’re trapped in the “anti-Semitism” gotcha: you’re labeled as favoring violent destruction of Israel. This is particularly significant in disabling the voice of those of us advocating equal rights for all and an end to the current tragedy.

        1. Amfortas the Hippie

          like i said to a klansman i was arguing with at a beerjoint in backwater alabama a long time ago…”fine, then i’ll be a n&&ger lover, you pos…have fun with your crosseyed superiority.”.
          if the far right zionist nutters want to be that way…fine…i’ll be against them, and pray for their destruction.
          because ultimately, they do not have the final say on what i believe…i can dig the Jews and hate the Zionists(rhymes with Nazi) without contradiction, whether they like it or not.
          cast them aside as the horrible people that they are.
          they want a reservation for themselves…stick them in the driest part of the Sinai.
          let the odious Hagees of the world join them…and let them subsist on Manna.

          1. caucus99percenter

            Perhaps “AZAB” as universally-understood graffiti shorthand could become a thing, the same way “ACAB” has?

  3. Clonal Antibody

    Ian Welsh also had a similar article.
    One Relatively Bloodless Way To End The Genocide In Gaza

    I’ve mentioned before the possibility of military defeat, but there’s a better way.

    Simply have OPEC do another oil embargo to the West and its enablers until the situation is resolved, with a two-state or one state solution and significant restitution. Yeah, the US and Canada produce a surplus, but it’s not enough of a surplus to support all their allies.

    And if all OPEC members don’t agree, it really doesn’t matter. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and the Gulf States are enough. Since Russia’s already already under various sanctions…

  4. John k

    Early days. Haven’t yet seen riots in Muslim opec. But daily bombs will bring demos in many places, not least eu, and they’ll either be repressed with increasing brutality or allowed to grow. Al Jazeera will report thruout the ME. Doesn’t seem stable.
    Plus Muslim opec is used to working together, and Russia is the + that has joined in… and there’s muscle memory from 70’s. Imo Iran and Russia are ready to turn off the flow and might already be pushing saudi. China is an importer, but an embargo wouldn’t affect them, they might be supportive. Eu is the weak link.
    Biden’s still all in with Ukraine, interesting if he gets real money for that. If he doesn’t war should end soon…actually a good time for Biden to stop as all attention is on ME, but he/blinken/nuland are still living their fantasies.

  5. Samuel Conner

    I think an embargo may be too confrontational. Almost as painful, but less “in your face” would simply be a coordinated price rise orchestrated among a sufficiently large proportion of the oil producers.

    The excess net earnings could be put into a special sovereign wealth fund administered for the benefit of Palestinians. This would provide a source of funds for reconstruction and development in Gaza and the West Bank.

    The West would scream, but they helped a great deal to create the problem; it’s appropriate that they fund repairs.

    1. NYMutza

      Too confrontational? Are you serious? Wiping Palestinians off the face of the earth is confrontational. An oil embargo is hardly confrontational. Perhaps staging nuclear weapons in Syria is confrontational, but an oil embargo most certainly is not when compared to what the Israelis are presently doing in Gaza.

  6. Mikel

    Meanwhile, Jamie Dimon speaking at the Future investment Initiative summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia:
    “Jamie Dimon Criticizes Central Banks for ‘Dead Wrong’ Forecasts” – Bloomberg.

    “…Fiscal spending is more than it’s ever been in peacetime and there’s this omnipotent feeling that central banks and governments can manage through all this stuff,” he said in the discussion moderated by Carlyle Group Inc. co-founder David Rubenstein. “I am cautious about what will happen next year…”

    What is this “peacetime” he speaks of?

  7. Freethinker

    What might move the needle in a oil/gas embargo is the public opinions in major oil exporters. Iran & Russia are effectively in the anti-West embargo by default because existing sanctions, but even Saudi alone forced to join by the fear of their own people could cause Europe to crash economically as the weak link. (Iraq is a protectorate so has no control over its own oil) The fast-becoming-impoverished European continent might then see unrest overthrow the governments that slavishly follow commands to collaborate in Usreali wars that don’t benefit the Europeans having to pay for them…..

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