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“Trump’s Continued Descent into the Middle East Maelstrom: The Caesar Act’s Impact on Lebanon and Iraq: Egypt Inching To War on Two fronts: Libya and Ethiopia.” Tuesday, June 30, 2020. KGNU: Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues – Segment 2

July 11, 2020

Libya’s oil and natural gas fields

KGNU Hemispheres – June 30, 2020 – Transcript…Part Two (Part One)

(audio at the end of the article)

(Most of this segment explores the growing tensions between Turkey and Egypt over the control of Libyan oil and natural gas resources and Turkey’s plans to build a natural gas pipeline from Libya to Turkey. Turkey could then sell the natural gas directly to Europe thus bypassing Russian natural gas exports to Europe)

Because the Qatar pipeline through Syria plan collapsed, Turkey is now determined to open up a new supply route from Libya to Turkey employing the same plan – weakening the Russian natural gas grip on Europe. Unfortunately for Turkey this plan is more complicated than the previous pipeline “pipe dream” through Syria. In the Syrian pipeline scenario Turkey enjoyed strong Qatar-Muslim Brotherhood support (as well as support from Washington DC). In the Libyan case, Turkey has to deal with an antagonistic counter-force in Egypt, supported by the wealth of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Ibrahim Kazerooni

Rob Prince: Moving on, I wanted to ask you, Ibrahim, about the situation in Libya and how the general crisis there is shaping up.

New alliances seem to be coming together – this is such a fluid moment – the alliances shift some going from one part of the Middle East to another.

Specifically, in terms of what is shaping up in Libya… What is Turkey up to? How is that Russia and Saudi Arabia find themselves on the same side of the fence backing General Khalifa Haftar in Libya? A little bit later we’ll talk about the specific role of Egypt in all of this.

So let’s turn to Libya…

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Well, if you go back to 2011, 2012 and look at the major players in the toppling of Muammar Khadaffi, it was the Europeans (UK, France, Italy) with the green light from the United States and their overall pretext of “plausible deniability” that suggested that Washington was not a part of it – although (Hillary) Clinton admitted on a number of occasions that the United States was in the thick of it – up to its neck – in the crisis in Libya… Even Obama admitted as much.

But strangely enough, from the Middle Eastern viewpoint, it happened during a time in which Mohammed Morsi (deposed President of Egypt) and the Muslim Brotherhood was elected in Egypt. There was a unique alliance that included financial support from Qatar, ideological support from the Muslim Brotherhood and political support from Turkey.

Egypt at that time (of the 2011 NATO invasion of Libya and the overthrow of Khadaffi) did not see anything threatening in Qatar and Turkey’s involvement in the affairs of Libya. Qatar’s bombers used to leave Qatar, bomb Libya and return. In the 1960s and 1970s when Qatar was just a Bedouin emirate and at that time didn’t even have a small plane to fly, it was Muammar Khadaffi who would send his civilian airliners to Qatar to pick up this family of despots and take them for medical treatment somewhere in Beirut or other places.

This is how they repaid Libya.

After the fall of Mohammed Morsi the whole region, including Libya, has become so chaotic, divided between two major parties. Each party is supported by a set of groups. Once Morsi was toppled and General Sisi came to power, the two parties split. Everywhere Turkey is involved supported financially by Qatar. On the other side is Sisi in Egypt supported recently by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

So now we have two factions fighting it out between themselves in Libya – Haftar on the east side of Libya and the other so-called “recognized” (recognition ran out some time ago) on the western side. Each side is supported by their own team, group or camp. Libya’s Western camp, referred to as “the Government of National Accord” (GNA) – recognized by the western powers – Turkey has joined them, tacitly the United States is involved although Washington is playing games, supporting both parties at different moments because it wants the chaos in Libya to continue and the central government to remain as weak as possible.

Rob Prince: Why is that Ibrahim?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Because of oil and gas.

If you go back in time to when Libya had a strong central government under Muammar Khadaffi it was more difficult for the consuming countries, major oil companies to impose their will on Libya when engaged in oil and gas negotiations. Libya was a part of OPEC, supported high prices for crude oil, etc. Now, given the chaotic situation that exists in Libya where for all practical purposes there is no central government, it’s much easier for the European countries or the major oil companies to negotiate deals more favorable to them at the expense of either Libyan party – either Haftar or the GNA.

You wanted to add something Rob?

Rob Prince: Yes I want to take this discussion to another level.

What Turkey is interested in Libya – among other things – is the natural gas fields in eastern Libya and off the coast of Libya’s eastern region in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Yes, I was going to get to this.

To understand Turkey’s role (in Libya) we have to back to the Doha Protocol of 2012 (blue print for partitioning Syria) and develop the connection between Syria and Libya where it concerns oil and gas pipelines to Europe.

One of the aims of literally dismantling Syria into small enclaves – last week I pointed to this – In the Persian Gulf concerning the wells that are shared between Iran and Qatar – the section that has oil is more in Iran, the section that has natural gas in more in Qatar’s territory. In Iran more oil, less gas; in Qatar more gas and less oil.

Qatar untended to use the possible breaking up of Syria to construct a pipeline to go through Syria directly to Turkey and from there to Europe. Turkey would use this gas supply from Qatar to circumvent Russian natural gas going to Europe and thus weaken Russian influence.

Rob Prince: This resembles the Western plans for Libya.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: But the Syrian government remained strong so this particular scheme ran into a dead end – no Qatar-Syria-Turkey-pipeline to Europe.

An alternative route needed to be found, and that is the natural gas from Libya.

Rob Prince: from Libya to Turkey, again, bypassing Russia.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Because the Qatar pipeline through Syria plan collapsed, Turkey is now determined to open up a new supply route from Libya to Turkey employing the same plan – weakening the Russian natural gas grip on Europe. Unfortunately for Turkey this plan is more complicated than the previous pipeline “pipe dream” through Syria. In the Syrian pipeline scenario Turkey enjoyed strong Qatar-Muslim Brotherhood support (as well as support from Washington DC). In the Libyan case, Turkey has to deal with an antagonistic counter-force in Egypt, supported by the wealth of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Understanding Egypt’s dependence upon Libyan oil and its overall relationship with Libya is important. It complicates Turkey’s plans to control if not dominate Libyan oil and gas.

Egypt had an eye on the Libyan natural gas fields even before the disintegration of Libya in 2011. Egypt had made a deal with Israel for the development of natural gas in the Sinai Desert, but at the time Egypt was unable to provide the financing to develop the project. So Hosni Mubarek made a deal with Muammar Khadaffi. According to the deal, cheaper than usual Libyan natural gas would be sold to Egypt who would then turn around and pay the Israels it share of the Sinai deal in cheap gas that it received from Libya.

Rob Prince: So Israel actually had important economic ties with Khadaffi through Mubarek in Egypt. Libya was providing Israel with cheap natural gas with Egypt acting as an intermediary. Incredible.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: It’s even worse.

Keep in mind, Khadaffi was opposed to Israel but he knew full well how the Egyptians were going to turn around and give the gas to the Israelis in payment for promises made on the Sinai natural gas development.

This was during Hosni Mubarek’s time.

Hosni Mubarek needed money. He began selling gas produced within Sinai to the Israelis. It did not entail a huge amount of gas. Some technical support was required to develop it. The Israelis offered to enter into a joint venture agreement with Egypt to develop the gas fields for the joint benefit of both Israel and Egypt.

But the Egyptians had to pay into the arrangement as a part of this joint venture. They didn’t have that money nor was the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the World Bank prepared to pay for it. Khadaffi and Hosni Mubarek came up with this alternative plan that “quietly” Khadaffi would provide Egypt an ample supply of natural gas at a cheap rate so that Egypt could sell it to Israel at a higher price. Thus Egypt could cover its portion of the finances for which it was responsible for in the agreement.

Rob Prince: So what is happening now is that if Turkey manages to strengthen its position in Libya, Egypt is losing its access to Libyan natural gas?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: It’s not that simple Rob

Most of Libya’s natural gas lies in the western section of Libya, controlled by the Tripoli government, Libya’s eastern zones dominated by Haftar has huge concentrations of reserves under his command. The problem is these fields are not as developed as those which exist on Libya’s west. So Egypt needs to secure Libya’s eastern regions, thus its support for General Khalifa Haftar so that it can have some kind of influence where it concerns natural gas development.

Egypt literally finds itself stuck in the midst of two “existential” problems.

It needs a steady supply of natural gas because the natural gas development program in the Sinai Desert that Egypt was supposed to work with the Israelis to develop has fallen through. The Egyptians need natural gas and have to secure it from Libya’s eastern regions. But there is another existential threat to Egyptian security and that is control of water – which you mentioned. Now Egypt is trying to work – with Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates as financiers – and Haftar, a stooge who controls Libya’s eastern regions – as well as Russia.

It is here that “the Russian variable” enters the whole picture.

Russia knows exactly what the Turks are up to. What Russia wants to do is to make it practically impossible for Libya to export large quantities of natural gas to be transported to Turkey; they want the eastern regions of Libya to be completely excluded – out of the control of the country’s western regions controlled by the GNA.

If, as the Russians hope, the GNA does not control eastern Libya and is excluded from its zone of control than Turkey will not have access to large amounts of exportable natural gas and Russia will maintain its dominance supplying Europe with it. Russia got involved, began a dialogue with Haftar so that a deal was reached not to allow Turkey to get involved… or to have access to a significant supply of exportable natural gas.

Egypt wants this gas to support its whole economy because the Sinai Project has fallen through our at least has been stalled.

There is also an ideological issue involved.

Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhoods remain very active in Western Libya. General Haftar is opposed to both the Muslim Brotherhoods and Qatar which the Saudis and Emirates in fact hate because of their theological disagreements. So now there are these two camps within the Arab World divided among themselves. One (the Muslim Brotherhoods, Turkey, Qatar) supports western Libyan factions; the other (Egypt, the Saudis, United Arab Emirates) supports Haftar and the factions in the east of the country.

The United States remains in the middle – encouraging to a certain degree the chaos – so that it benefits from it regardless of how the situation plays out.

Rob Prince: Let’s move on to Egypt’s other problem – Ethiopia and the completion of Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

End Part Two – To Be Continued.

 

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