From the Mediterranean to Europe — the complicated path of natural gas

From the Mediterranean to Europe — the complicated path of natural gas
Above, the platform of the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea pictured from the coastal city of Caesarea in northern Israel on December 19, 2019. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 26 November 2021

From the Mediterranean to Europe — the complicated path of natural gas

From the Mediterranean to Europe — the complicated path of natural gas
  • The Middle East’s gas reserves have been witnessing the fastest growth in the world since 2009
  • For several weeks, the focus has been on restarting the “Arab gas pipeline” from Egypt toward Jordan, Syria and Lebanon

PARIS: As natural gas becomes one of the main energy sources across the world, the Middle East and North Africa region is witnessing a peak in the tensions surrounding this resource.

The decommissioning of the Algeria-Morocco gas pipeline, the repercussions of Turkey’s actions in the Mediterranean and problems related to the delineation of Lebanon’s maritime borders are among the many disputes.

The discovery and exploitation of new resources in the MENA region, like the regional crises, intensifies the tug-of-war surrounding gas. We see a complex interaction between energy and geopolitics, which are usually connected.

The Middle East’s gas reserves have been seeing the fastest growth in the world since 2009. These “proven” gas reserves (the quantity of hydrocarbon resources that can be extracted from a field with a reasonable level of certainty, NDLR) have soared to 40.4 percent in 2020, compared to 31.4 percent in 2000.

In conjunction with the development of natural gas in the region, we are witnessing an increase in the battles and showdowns taking place. This energy resource, which is far from appearing as an element that promotes cooperation, has indeed become a factor causing tensions.

The consequences of the decommissioning of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline

Following the breakdown of diplomatic relations between Algiers and Rabat last August, Algeria continued to retaliate against its neighbor, putting an end to 25 years of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline service — the operations contract ended on Oct. 31, 2021.

However, this decision affecting Morocco is also contributing to disrupting an already unstable regional context (from Libya to Mali, passing through Tunisia). It might also affect Spain, which, like a good portion of Europe, is threatened by a gas crisis attributed to Moscow, especially as this pipeline represents the main source of the country’s natural gas supply.

At first glance, it was a severe blow for Spain because Algeria is its main natural gas provider, supplying half of its yearly natural gas consumption: Madrid would have experienced a significant increase in the prices of gas as well as electricity. To avoid such a scenario, Algiers proposed to “continue to ensure, in a better way, the delivery of gas through Medgaz, according to a well-defined schedule.” The submarine natural gas pipeline Medgaz, which was inaugurated in 2004, directly connects the two countries.

However, some people doubt that this alternative will be sufficient to cover Spain’s needs. The capacity of the Medgaz pipeline is lower than that of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline: It delivers about 8 billion cubic meters a year, while the capacity of the decommissioned gas pipeline was 10 billion cubic meters a year. Algiers is therefore relying on “the recent project to extend the capacity of the Medgaz pipeline.”

Ultimately, Algeria’s decision will greatly affect the economy of Morocco, as the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline supplied the production of electricity in Morocco before reaching its final destination in Spain. Some statistics show that Morocco used to produce almost 17 percent of its electricity through this channel. Morocco will also lose the transit-related taxes (between €50 and 150 million a year).

In addition, it will not be easy for Morocco to find an alternative to supply itself with gas. The options are currently limited and uncertain.

On the other side of the Arab world, the situation seems less tense.

The gas issue in Syria, Turkey’s greed and the commissioning of the Arab gas pipeline

For several weeks now, the focus has been on restarting the “Arab gas pipeline” from Egypt toward Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. This phase is taking place with the initial approval of the US (to make an exception regarding the Caesar Act, which imposes sanctions on Damascus) in conjunction with the arrival of Iranian diesel to Lebanon based on Hezbollah’s initiative. It is also considered an entry point for a partial normalization of ties with the Syrian regime.

Since the multifaceted Syrian conflict started, natural gas has been perceived as an indirect cause of the Russian intervention. After that, there has always been a certain connection between the continuity of the military presence of the US and eastern Syria, which is rich in energy resources.

Consequently, gas will undoubtedly have an impact on the shape of the future map of Syria as well as the maps of the new Middle East.

In a wider context, the contemporary theories of strategic security highlight the importance of energy not only from an economic perspective, but also as a trigger of conflicts and a power elements indicator of the countries of origin, the countries through which the pipelines pass and the downstream countries. In any new process of delineation or demarcation of borders, it is highly probable that the energy resources of gas, oil and water will be taken into account.

Within the wide geographical range of the map of gas fields, markets and passage routes of pipelines, Syria occupies a significant position because it is located at the heart of the Levant, while its seas and coasts, like the rest of the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean basin, are rich in energy resources.

In addition, gas could become an important pillar of the economies of numerous Arab and Mediterranean countries, which could provide Israel with the opportunity to integrate economically into the regional economy. This evolution would naturally become a source of worry for Iran and Qatar when it comes to their role as pioneers of the gas market. It would also have the ability to unsettle Turkey, which could lose its status as a crossroads to ensure exportation; this country is the point of arrival of pipelines and gas pipelines.

In a broader context, we should point to the emergence of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum in 2020, which comprises seven countries: Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Jordan, Palestine and Italy (with the US, the EU and France as observers). This was the culmination of efforts exerted by the forum, which was established in 2015 under the same name. Egypt became a new leader in gas; this was enough for Ankara to see it as an attempt to intimidate it due to the disputes that are either territorial or based on the region’s wealth. This was the case particularly after the signing of several bilateral agreements aimed at delineating the maritime borders, such as the agreements signed between Egypt and Greece or between Greece and Italy.

During this period, litigation and disputes related to the exploration rights in the Eastern Mediterranean basin intensified. These developments were preceded by a Turkish advance in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, which defined the maritime borders with Libya, or through the disputed fields over which it is at odds with Cyprus and Greece.

Last year also saw the resumption of negotiations aimed at delineating the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel. Several gas fields are involved, particularly block 9, which is at the center of a dispute between the two countries.

We can conclude that relaunching the idea of the Arab gas pipeline after two decades would be beneficial for the concerned parties, especially for a country such as Lebanon. However, it cannot take place without a tentative agreement or mutual consent between the major regional actors and a certain American-Russian agreement.

This story originally appeared in French on Arab News en Francais


Calls grow to restore Houthis to US list of terrorist groups

Calls grow to restore Houthis to US list of terrorist groups
Updated 14 sec ago

Calls grow to restore Houthis to US list of terrorist groups

Calls grow to restore Houthis to US list of terrorist groups
  • World must deal with their ‘criminal acts,’ Yemen’s prime minister says

AL-MUKALLA: Demands grew on Wednesday for the US to restore the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen to its list of designated terrorist groups.

The government in Yemen joined calls for the reinstatement by authorities in the UAE after Monday’s Houthi drone attack on Abu Dhabi in which three people died.

“These criminal acts require designating the Houthis as a terrorist organization,” Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed said. “The international community has to deal with this group.

More pressure needs to be applied to stop these terrorist crimes that threaten regional and international peace and stability.”

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated the Houthis a foreign terrorist organization on Jan. 16, 2021, a few hours before the Trump administration handed the White House over to Joe Biden.

The new administration quickly reversed the move, paused a ban on financial transactions in Houthi-controlled areas on Jan. 25, and fully revoked the terrorist designation on Feb. 16.

The revocation was followed by a barrage of drone and missile attacks by the Houthis targeting civilians and energy infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.

On the ground, the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy escalated airstrikes on Houthi military sites and reinforcements on Wednesday as government troops repelled the militia’s attempts to seize control of new areas.

Coalition warplanes destroyed military vehicles carrying Houthi fighters in Marib and struck Houthi gatherings and locations in the province. Thick smoke and large balls of fire billowed over targeted locations in southwestern Sanaa, including Attan Mountain, which hosts a ballistic missile depot.

The coalition said it had carried out 19 airstrikes in Marib that killed 90 Houthis and destroyed 11 of their vehicles.

There was heavy fighting between government troops and the Houthis south of the strategic central city of Marib. Rashad Al-Mekhlafi, a military official at Yemen’s Armed Forces Guidance Department, told Arab News the Houthis had mounted several counterattacks on government troops around Al-Balaq Al-Sharqi mountain range in a bid to break a siege on pockets of their fighters on the strategic mountain.

The Houthis failed to achieve their goal of reaching the mountain and were forced into stopping their attacks after suffering heavy casualties. “They have to either surrender or die,” Al-Mekhlafi said. Loyalist Giants Brigades troops also engaged in heavy fighting with the Houthis south of Marib.

The US special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, began visits on Wednesday to the Gulf states and the UK. “The special envoy and his team will press the parties to deescalate militarily and...participate fully in an inclusive UN-led peace process,” the State Department said.


US envoy to Yemen on GCC tour to reactivate peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen on GCC tour to reactivate peace efforts
Updated 52 min 58 sec ago

US envoy to Yemen on GCC tour to reactivate peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen on GCC tour to reactivate peace efforts

RIYADH: US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking held talks with the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia to discuss efforts to reach a political solution to the Yemeni crisis.
Lenderking is on a tour of Gulf states and the British capital, London, to reinvigorate peace efforts in coordination with the UN, senior regional government officials, and other international partners, the State Department said.
During the meeting, GCC Secretary-General Nayef Al-Hajraf stressed the importance of applying international pressure on the Iran-backed Houthi militia to end its terrorist activities and seriously engage in the Yemen peace process.
The two sides discussed regional and international efforts to reach the political solution sought by the bloc, in accordance with the GCC initiative and its Executive Mechanism, the outcomes of the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference and UN Security Council resolution 2216.
Al-Hajraf praised Washington’s significant role and the efforts of the US envoy to end the Yemeni war, and the humanitarian and development assistance it provides to the Yemeni people.
He also strongly condemned the continued targeting of civilians and civilian targets with missiles and drones in Saudi Arabia, as well as the cowardly terrorist attack that targeted Abu Dhabi International Airport on Monday, killing three people.
Al-Hajraf said it constitutes a terrorist act, a flagrant violation of international law and a threat to regional security and stability.
During his tour, Lenderking “will press the parties to de-escalate militarily and seize the new year to participate fully in an inclusive UN-led peace process,” the State Department said.
He will also call on donors to provide additional funding to mitigate the dire humanitarian and economic crises facing Yemenis, after the UN had said that around $3.9 billion is needed this year to help millions of people in the war-torn country.


Sudan protester shot dead as US envoys visit

Sudan protester shot dead as US envoys visit
Updated 20 January 2022

Sudan protester shot dead as US envoys visit

Sudan protester shot dead as US envoys visit
  • For two days shops have shuttered and protesters have blockaded streets in a civil disobedience campaign
  • The latest killing took place in Omdurman where protesters opposed to the coup had set up barricades

KHARTOUM: Sudanese security forces shot dead an anti-coup protester on Wednesday as American diplomats visited Khartoum seeking to help end a crisis which has claimed dozens of lives and derailed the country’s democratic transition.
For two days shops have shuttered and protesters have blockaded streets in a civil disobedience campaign to protest the killing of seven people during a demonstration on Monday, one of the bloodiest days since the October 25 military coup.
The latest killing took place in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman where protesters opposed to the coup had set up barricades.
Pro-democracy medics from the Doctors’ Committee said the protester was shot in the torso “by live bullets of the (security) forces.”
Witnesses also reported the use of tear gas by security forces in Omdurman and eastern Khartoum.
The death brings to 72 the number of people killed in a security crackdown against protesters who have taken to the streets — sometimes in the tens of thousands — calling for a return to the country’s democratic transition and opposing the latest military putsch.
Protesters have been shot by live rounds and hundreds have been wounded, according to the Doctors’ Committee.
The Forces for Freedom and Change, the leading civilian pro-democracy group, called for more protests on Thursday in Khartoum “in tribute to the martyrs,” and nationwide on Friday.
Before the latest fatality, US Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee and special envoy for the Horn of Africa, David Satterfield, held meetings with the bereaved families of people killed during the protests, the US embassy said.
They also met with members of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella of unions which were instrumental in protests which ousted president Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019, as well as the mainstream faction of the Forces for Freedom and Change.
Its spokesman Wagdy Saleh said they pleaded for “an end to the systematic violence toward civilians” and a “credible political process.”
The diplomats are scheduled to meet with others including military leaders and political figures.
“Their message will be clear: the United States is committed to freedom, peace, and justice for the Sudanese people,” the US State Department said ahead of the visit.
The diplomats held earlier talks in Saudi Arabia with the “Friends of Sudan” — a group of Western and Arab countries favoring transition to civilian rule.
In a statement, the group backed a United Nations initiative announced last week to hold intra-Sudanese consultations to break the political impasse.
“We urge all to engage in good faith and reestablish public trust in the inevitable transition to democracy,” the group said.
“Ideally this political process will be time-bound and culminate in the formation of a civilian-led government which will prepare for democratic elections.”
While the US diplomats visited, coup leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan announced that vice-ministers — some of whom served before the coup and some appointed after — would now become ministers.
A statement from his office called it a “cabinet in charge of current affairs.”
But it has no prime minister, since the civilian premier Abdalla Hamdok resigned in early January after trying to cooperate with the military.
As part of the civil disobedience campaign, judicial workers including prosecutors and judges said they would not work for a state committing “crimes against humanity.”
University professors, corporations and doctors also joined the movement, according to separate statements.
Sudan’s authorities have repeatedly denied using live ammunition against demonstrators, and insist scores of security personnel have been wounded during protests. A police general was stabbed to death last week.


Jailed French tourist to appear in Iran court on spying charges

Jailed French tourist to appear in Iran court on spying charges
Updated 19 January 2022

Jailed French tourist to appear in Iran court on spying charges

Jailed French tourist to appear in Iran court on spying charges
  • Benjamin Briere was arrested while operating a remote-controlled mini helicopter in a desert area near the Turkmenistan-Iran border
  • Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage charges

DUBAI: A jailed French tourist in Iran, Benjamin Briere, will appear before a Revolutionary Court on Thursday on spying charges, his lawyer said on Wednesday, over a year after his arrest while operating a remote-controlled mini helicopter in a desert area.
“Benjamin will attend the court to be tried for spying and acting against national security charges,” one of his lawyers Saeid Dehghan told Reuters.
Briere has been held since May 2020, when he was arrested after flying a helicam — a remote-controlled mini helicopter used to obtain aerial or motion images — in the desert near the Turkmenistan-Iran border. He was charged with espionage and “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”
His trial comes as the United States and parties to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal including France are trying to restore the pact, which was abandoned in 2018 by then-US president Donald Trump. Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage charges.
Rights activists have accused Iran of arresting dual citizens and foreigners to try to win concessions from other countries. Tehran denies holding people for political reasons.


US warns against travel to 3 Arab countries over COVID-19

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel warning against three Arab countries. (Shutterstock)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel warning against three Arab countries. (Shutterstock)
Updated 19 January 2022

US warns against travel to 3 Arab countries over COVID-19

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel warning against three Arab countries. (Shutterstock)
  • Countries have been included in “Level 3: High” category, which advises against unvaccinated and non-essential travel

LONDON: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel warning against three Arab countries due to rising COVID-19 cases. 

Bahrain, Egypt, Qatar and 19 other countries have been included in the “Level 3: High” category, which advises against unvaccinated and non-essential travel.

Other countries added to the highest warning level for the first time include Albania, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Grenada, Guyana, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Sao Tome and Principe, Suriname, the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.