The relations between Iran and Bahrain have turned chilly again amid the lack of understanding over gas cooperation. Last month Bahrain`s Minister of Foreign Affairs Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa announced in Manama that Bahrain was freezing the gas import agreement with Iran ''because of Tehran`s successive provocative statements''.
In 2008 Bahrain and Iran signed a 25-year deal for imports of as much as 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. Tehran last year said it was expecting Bahraini investments in the South Pars gas field, located in the Persian Gulf. The cooperation was suddenly halted in 2009 when a prominent politician in Tehran allegedly said that Bahrain used to be Iran`s 14th governorate. The relations remained tense until Iran apologized for the remark.
However, the current differences between Bahrain and Iran may have a far more complicated consequences. Bahrain is a small island state (the total size is 750 square km), which over the past two centuries has been thriving on its natural resources. It is ruled by the Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa family. However, three out of four members of the royal court are Shia Muslims, who make up the country`s religious minority. The two Islam denominations have been in constant opposition to one another over the past three decades, and there is no evidence that it may end soon. In the wake of protests in the Arab world (the so-called Arab Spring) this conflict has intensified, with third countries also involved: Saudi Arabia supports Sunnis, while Iran is taking the side of Shia Muslims. Above all this, Bahrain is also home to the US Fifth Fleet, which is tasked securing the Strait of Hormuz.
The wave of protests reached Bahrain in February, 2011. Shia Muslims took to the streets to protest against social and religious inequality. The monarch as well as the Saudi family were very concerned about the situation. Riyadh then sent some troops to Manama to suppress the uprising. Tehran responded by saying it was ready to help its brothers in faith. The moment came when chances for an armed conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran were very high. However, tensions were somehow eased.
Kuwait is the region`s another hot point. It accused Tehran of spying and expelled Iranian diplomats. It also demands reparations from Baghdad for Saddam Hussein`s 1990 invasion.
Here we should remember the reasons for the invasion of Kuwait, once belonged to Iraq. Kuwait urged Hussein to pay off the loan Baghdad had been offered to join the war against Iran, the enemy of all Sunni Muslims. Since he thought he had been fighting Shia Muslims for the sake of all Sunnis, Hussein would not pay back the loan, especially after Saudi Arabia had written off Iraq`s debt. Despite all this, Kuwait insisted that Baghdad pay off the debts. Debt claims have not been removed even now when Iraq remains occupied by the US.
Since then Kuwait has been playing quite a significant role in the region`s geopolitics. Recently it has arrested several Iraqi civilian planes abroad thus pushing Iraq`s national airline to the brink of bankruptcy; it also dispatched its war ships to Bahrain coasts to demonstrate its solidarity with the Saudi Arabia which had sent its troops to suppress a popular uprising among Shia Muslims. Besides, Kuwait backs Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on lower oil tariffs, which is a serious economic blow to both Iraq and Iran.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) report says that in May-August 2011 oil demand will be on the record rise. Having managed to restore ties with Washington after the 9/11 attacks, Riyadh now demonstrates that it is still the leader of OPEC and can set the tone for the global energy agenda. The Saudi family does not want anybody to doubt the institution of monarchy and rejects all fears that the Arab Spring will reach other countries of the region.
Saudi Arabia may raise its daily output and even lower oil prices. Since Iran has been facing strict economic sanctions, to a great extent it depends on oil exports. That is why Riyadh and Tehran have completely different interests there.
The 'liberation' of Libya, which is one of Europe`s main energy suppliers, is yet far from completion. The Libyan leader Gaddafi has proved his strength and does not seem to be ready to face the Hussein`s fate. Thus the US plans for the region`s territorial division are failing. Gaddafi`s resistance has upset the plans of global leaders who now seem more inclined to separate Libya from its eastern territories hit by tribal protests and deprived of oil and gas and turn them into a breakaway territory like Kosovo…
In recent years 80% of Libyan oil went to Europe and the US. However, Libya shared positions with China National Petroleum Corporation (they were building railway roads and some other facilities) and Russia’s “Tatneft”. Not everything went smoothly among the western participants of the energy market as there were companies dissatisfied with the fact that Italian ENI had privileged positions in Libya, its former colony. There is hardly any doubt that the Western invasion of Libya has to do first of all with local energy resources.
There may be another reason for that: Washington has counted all possible outcomes of the Libyan crisis and now is aimed at preventing European countries from accessing Libyan resources.
Oil and gas wars have long become a common thing worldwide, though the countries involved try not to make it evident for the rest of the world. These wars are as fierce as was the one between Catholics and Huguenots in the medieval France. Evidently, social uprising in the Middle East and North Africa has purely economic reasons. Half of the Egypt population lives on $2 a day, isn`t this enough for being furious? In his 800-page history of the global oil industry – “The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power”, Daniel Yergin, Chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associate, says: “Currently the total world oil consumption stands at 40 million barrels per day, by the year 2020 it may reach 67 million barrels. By the time the US will be importing up to 70% of oil it consumes (compared to the present day 58%, adn 33% in 1973). The same thing is likely to happen to China. Mr. Yergin says that the existing of the so-called ‘narrow channels’ like the Strait of Hormuz, and the Suez Canal connecting the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, and Bosphorus Strait which is the main exporting channel from Russia and the Caspian states; Japan and South Korea have 80% of their imported oil delivered via the Strait of Malacca, China receives 50% of oil also thanks to this route. Mr. Yergin concludes that to ensure safe deliveries these channels shoudl be monitored in a far better way than it is now.
It is becoming a tendency when international coalitions proclaim that their major aim is to protect the oil routes, but at the same time they inistigate social protests to justify intervention.