Petro-Jihadism: The Conspiracy within the Imperishable War in the Arab World
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Issue Vol. 30.4 Oct-Dec 2015 | Date : 22 Dec , 2015

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The solution to counter petro-Jihadism1 has to be multi vectored. It has to be a sagacious blend of military action, economic policies, social rehabilitation and reconciliation and, technological enhancement. There is no country which will not be affected if an all out war breaks out in the Arab world and the world will spiral into more complicated crises and wanton scenarios. Therefore, the resolution should encompass multifaceted and concerted actions of all nations.

Oil was, until recently, the political weapon used by Middle Eastern States, Arab Nationalists and Baathists to stimulate and further fundamentalist Islam…

It is clichéd and yet so surprising that how the world has changed since the events of September 11, 2001. America’s longest war, the campaign in Afghanistan, has not yet come to an end and the world is still shocked and aghast at the upshots of the Iraq War. After almost a decade and half, the freedom is not enduring nor is there a new dawn in sight. The peace in Afghanistan is fragile at its best, with her neighbours, especially India, Pakistan and Iran waiting anxiously albeit for different reasons, to witness how democracy runs its course. Iraq, on the other hand, has descended chaotically into sheer failure. The incapability of the Iraqi Government has led to a severely hegemonic insurgency and that crisis in Iraq has raged out into an already tumultuous Syria and now the Middle East is shrivelling under the heat of threat of the ever burgeoning menace and obscene brutality of jihadist groups such as the Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat-ul-Nasra.

In order to analyse the reasons that has led to this melting down of once prosperous civilisations, one has to clearly comprehend the various obscure and yet fundamental equations of economics and politics coupled with the darkest shadows of religious fundamentalism that swarm the region. Oil was, until recently, the political weapon used by Middle Eastern States, Arab Nationalists and Baathists to stimulate and further fundamentalist Islam. The oil producing countries, on one hand, wrested technology, management and distribution through multinational corporations and on the other, used silah al naft (the oil weapon) against the enemies of the umma and to achieve ideological projects in the region. It cannot be considered that the relation between jihad and oil prices is a sheer coincidence.

Blackmail of War and Oil

The Middle East was once one of the most impoverished regions of the world sustaining itself on agriculture and religious tourism. A British company run by Mr William D’Arcy pioneered the change when it struck oil at Majlis-i-Sulaiman in Persia on May 26, 1908. After the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia in 1938, the region became one of the wealthiest in the world. But rather than exploiting the new found wealth judiciously and transforming the nature of administration to suit the times, the region just became a wealthy but socially regressive tribal colony with customs deeply mired in religious fundamentalism and obscurantism. Rather, the rulers of Saudi Arabia preferred to stick to the old ways in order to assert better administrative control over its businesses and moral control over its citizenry.

Even the oil and gas rich Tarim Basin in China is affected by Islamic extremism with Sunni Uyghurs in the forefront…

The many wars in the Middle East also forced the prices of gas to increase manifold. The pattern of peaking of gas prices is synchronistic with conflicts in the Middle East. The prices rose very high during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, during the Iranian Islamic Revolution and at the onset of the Iran-Iraq War. During the Iraq war which raged on for almost eight years, crude oil prices reached a peak of almost $120 per barrel2. (Fig.1)3

The discovery of shale gas deposits in the US and Canada and the heightening interest of European and South Asian and South East Asian countries in unconventional sources of natural gas led to a drastic decline in the interest in and price of crude oil to almost $60 per barrel in a matter of weeks.4 Though this was foretold, it led to panic among many Middle Eastern countries. The condition was exacerbated with the fact that speculations arose about peaking of oil supply in Saudi Arabia and reports from Energy Information Administration of US which stated that Saudi Arabia had inflated the report of their resources to about 40 per cent of existing and proven reserves.5

What is unnervingly strange is the fact that the rise of ISIS, or the IS/DAESH as it prefers to call itself, into prominence coincides with the aforementioned discovery of shale gas deposits, further exploration and commercially viable extraction of the same. Furthermore, there exists an unambiguous pattern in the relation between oil reserves and jihadism irrespective of region – Kenya, Nigeria, Northern Mali, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Even the oil and gas rich Tarim Basin in China is affected by Islamic extremism with Sunni Uyghurs in the forefront.

In order to comprehend these patterns, two questions need to be asked.

If the Islamic State manages to enter Israel, it will have a massive influx of aspiring jihadi recruits sworn to the obliteration of Israel…

  • How can a Sunni Jihadist organisation survive, establish itself and reach a commanding position in the predominantly Shia country of Iraq and put up a staunch fight against Syria run by the Alawite Shia sect of Islam and capture vast tracts of land, without being patronised by the most powerful Sunni countries?
  • Is it just a Sunni versus Shia battle or is it a battle to reap back the lost profits of the oil markets in order to reassert themselves as a hegemonic state in the region before the wells dry up?

Mercurial Values in Religion and Crude Oil Prices

While the ISIS had unleashed their brutal fury into Syria and Iraq, Saudi Arabia and its other Sunni allies from Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG), except Jordan, went into a state of deafening silence. Former Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki spoke out aloud about Saudi and Qatari support to the IS. There have been very strident accusations of Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s involvement in the rise of ISIS and the Al-Nusra front6. Divergent to the inertia it exhibited while ISIS was ravaging through Syria and Iraq, Saudi Arabia cajoled a coalition of Sunni states to act against Houthi rebels in Yemen who were fighting against forces loyal to President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi on one front and against Islamic State fighters on the other.

The Arab coalition has been carrying out air strikes and limited ground offensive against Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh who are engaged in a land battle against the Islamic State, which in point of fact means that they were providing direct air support to IS. This is an unashamed and blatant depiction of the contradicting stand of Saudi Arabia in the politics in the region and displays how much it has done to support the scourge of barbaric organisations such as the IS.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Maj Lal Ananth

Maj Lal Ananth, serving Officer in Indian Army.

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2 thoughts on “Petro-Jihadism: The Conspiracy within the Imperishable War in the Arab World

  1. Very poorly articulated, overtly decorated with fancy jargons. The words “multivectored” and “sagacious” threw me so far off the article that I skipped most of it and landed straight to the conclusion. Major Lal definitely has indepth knowledge, there is no doubt about that but simplicity and lucidity in language brings in more flavour. Word fondants are not necessary always.

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