Turkey and Qatar on course to clash over Levant basin drilling

A Turkish drilling ship sails toward Cyprus in the Mediterranean. (AP/File)
Updated 12 November 2019

Turkey and Qatar on course to clash over Levant basin drilling

ANKARA: After Turkey’s public broadcaster TRT and pro-government Daily Sabah harshly hit back at Qatar-owned Al Jazeera over anti-Turkish coverage, another fault line is emerging between the two countries over their activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Qatar, once a very close ally to Turkey in its regional policies, appears to have pivoted by involving itself in offshore gas drilling in Cyprus — a red line for Ankara.
On Sunday, Qatar Petroleum also announced the successful startup of a refinery venture in Egypt which is expected to reach full production level by the end of the first quarter of next year.
Such increased engagement in the Mediterranean is seen by many as a move to consolidate the country’s footprint, despite risking Turkish relations.
Dr. Michael Tanchum, senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES), said that it was important not to overstate the divergence between Ankara and Doha, but also to recognize that the Turkey-Qatar partnership had its limits.
“Qatar’s refinery venture in Egypt goes back to 2012. As for its share in the drilling operations off the southern coast of Cyprus, Qatar made a strategic business choice to partner with Exxon. Of course, there are political implications,” he told Arab News.
The refinery venture project cost $4.4 billion and will chiefly produce Euro V refined products, such as jet fuel and diesel.
However, for Tanchum, Qatar’s position in the global hydrocarbons market creates business imperatives that Doha must consider in addition to the parameters of its geopolitical partnership with Turkey.
“Qatar’s presence in the waters off the southern coast of Cyprus may turn out in the end to be beneficial to Turkey,” he also added.
According to Tanchum, “Qatar may be able to act as a bridge in the Eastern Mediterranean and help provide Turkey a role in the marketing of Eastern Mediterranean hydrocarbons, providing a mechanism that would allow Turkey to reduce its naval presence south of the island.”
Turkey has its own drilling vessels in the area and two of the seven ships that hold drilling activities in the region are currently Turkish. The country aims to open five new deep-sea wells by next year.

BACKGROUND

In 2017, ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum signed an exploration and production sharing contract with Greek Cyprus, allowing the companies to start drilling in the contested offshore Block 10 area. ExxonMobil has since discovered a huge natural gas reservoir in the disputed maritime zone.

However, the simmering Cypriot conflict is a political and practical hurdle to consider, as the Greek side has awarded international oil and drilling companies — Italy’s Eni and France’s Total — with exploration rights in the area it declared as its own exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
This zone, which mostly clashes with the EEZ declared by Turkish Cyprus, is believed to have rich hydrocarbon reserves, and Turkey’s presence in waters off the south of Cyprus has been heavily criticized by the EU and is considered “illegal” by the US.
Gallia Lindenstrauss, senior research fellow from the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said that the current rift between Turkey and Qatar was surprising, and that although Turkey paid high-profile visits to Qatar recently, it cannot change the country’s foreign policy paradigms.
“Turkey cannot change the basic traits of Qatari foreign policy, which is very active and has close contacts at times with opposing sides to various conflicts in the Middle East. Qatar also uses its vast resources as an insurance policy, to make sure that at any given point there are enough actors that are interested in its survival as an independent entity,” she told Arab News.
In 2017, ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum signed an exploration and production sharing contract with Greek Cyprus, allowing the companies to start drilling in the contested offshore Block 10 area. ExxonMobil has since discovered a huge natural gas reservoir in the disputed maritime zone.


Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

Updated 16 min 17 sec ago

Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

  • The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year

TEHRAN: Iran’s low voter turnout reflects a wider malaise in a country long buckling under sanctions and more recently also hit hard by the coronavirus, spelling “a threat for everyone,” Tehran’s mayor Pirouz Hanachi told AFP.

“The turnout at the ballot box is a sign of people’s satisfaction level,” said Hanachi, mayor of Iran’s political and business center and largest city, with more than 8 million people.

“When there is dissatisfaction with the government or the state, it then reaches everyone and that includes the municipality too,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Iran has suffered the double blow of a sharp economic downturn caused by US economic sanctions over its contested nuclear program, and the region’s most deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

Reformists allied with moderate President Hassan Rouhani lost their parliamentary majority in a landslide conservative victory in February, in a major setback ahead of presidential elections next year.

Voter turnout hit a historic low of less than 43 percent in the February polls after thousands of reformist candidates were barred from running by the Islamic republic’s powerful Guardian Council.

Such voter fatigue “can be a threat for everyone, not just reformists or conservatives,” warned the mayor, a veteran public servant with a background in urban development who is tied to the reformist camp.

The conservative resurgence reflects dissatisfaction with the Rouhani camp that had sought reengagement with the West and the reward of economic benefits — hopes that were dashed when US President Donald Trump in 2018 pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions.

The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year.

“We’re doing our best, but our situation is not a normal one,” Hanachi said. “We are under sanctions and in a tough economic situation.”

As he spoke in his town hall office, the shouts of angry garbage truck drivers echoed from the street outside, complaining they had not received pay or pensions for months.

The mayor downplayed the small rally as the kind of event that could happen in “a municipality in any other country,” adding that the men were employed not by the city itself but by contractors.

Iran’s fragile economy, increasingly cut off from international trade and deprived of crucial oil revenues, took another major blow when the novel coronavirus pandemic hit in late February.

Since then the outbreak has killed more than 12,000 people and infected over 248,000, with daily fatalities reaching a record of 200 early this week, according to official figures.

A temporary shutdown of the economy in recent months and closed borders sharply reduced non-oil exports, Iran’s increasingly important lifeline.

This accelerated the plunge of the Iranian rial against the US dollar, threatening to further stoke an already high inflation rate.

In just one impact, said Hanachi, the Teheran municipality lost 2 trillion rial ($9 million) because of sharply reduced demand for public transport in recent months.

As many Tehran residents got back into their cars to avoid tightly packed subways and buses, this has done nothing to help solve Tehran’s long-standing air pollution issue.

Tehran has had only 15 “clean” air quality days since the March 20 Persian New Year, according to the municipality.

One of Hanachi’s tasks is to fight both the virus and air pollution — a tough juggling act as car travel is safer for individuals but also worsens the smog that often cloaks the capital.

The mayor said he worried that, after restrictions on car travel were reimposed in May to reduce air pollution, subways are once again packed during peak hours, as is the bustling city center.

Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, which is now crowded with shoppers, warned Hanachi, “can become a focal point for the epidemic.”