How 1973’s Spike in Oil Prices Transformed the Middle East

Feb. 16 2018

The year 1979 saw the fall of the shah, Saddam Hussein’s ascent to power in Iraq, the treaty between Israel and Egypt, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; thus, there is good reason to see it as a great turning point in Middle Eastern history. Simon Henderson, however, argues that the real shift took place in 1973:

The current fixation with 1979 results from the fact that Saudi Arabia’s new de-facto ruler, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman . . . sees it as the date when Saudi Islam became extremist. . . . [But] I think 1973 is more significant, not because of the October war when Israel was attacked by Egypt and Syria but because of one of its consequences: a fourfold increase in oil prices.

The flood of revenues was used in part by Saudi Arabia, the largest oil exporter in the world, to burnish its Islamic credentials—as well as to finance multimillion-dollar arms deals and some grand palaces. The Saudi royal family used some of the dollars to placate the kingdom’s religious establishment, which historically has legitimized its rule. Abroad, mosques were built by the dozens, and copies of the Quran distributed by the tens of thousands. But these Islamic endeavors were often not good works, [but a largely successful attempt to export the most radical and intolerant forms of Islam and support the Muslim Brotherhood]. . . .

[Furthermore], the cold war was still raging. Moscow’s influence rivaled Washington’s across great swaths of the Middle East—Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Algeria. Saudi Arabia wanted to replace godless Communism with [radical] Islam. The United States found that useful.

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Read more at The Hill

More about: Cold War, History & Ideas, Middle East, Muslim Brotherhood, Oil, Radical Islam, Saudi Arabia, Yom Kippur War

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine