Russia does have a plan for the Middle East as it aims to take over and it attained a further phase of its strategic plan to take over Lebanon and Syria and gradually but surely oust the U.S. After plotting with Iran to convince the U.S. and the E.U., that Iran is at the stage of producing nuclear weapons, Russia used Iran and ISIS to expand in Syria and Lebanon.
Russia’s current plan which is in execution
Grip over the sea in Lebanon – while the U.S. has only access to Israel’s ports (Ashdod, Eilat and Haifa) – Russia is in the final stage of signing a cooperation deal with Lebanon, which grants its civic and military navy to operate from Lebanese sea ports as announced by the Lebanese Ministry of Defense.
The Russian-US maritime recent developments in the Mediterranean leading to the map below which shows how Russia re-positioned in the last years and is pushing out the U.S.
Additionally, the construction of a new sea port in Naqoura is planned. Naqoura is the most Southern village in Lebanon and is at Israel’s borders near Israel’s maritime’s zone which the U.S. uses and from which the U.S. navy had shot its missiles on Syria in 2017. On April, 7, 2017 the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers of USS Porter DDG-78 and USS Ross DDG-71 had shot 190 Tomahawks on Shayrat air base after informing the Russian side. The U.S. sea monopoly will end with this move and will hinder it from even shooting missiles from its location.
Grip over the sea in Syria. Since 1970 and after 37 years of a stalemate unconnected port in Tartous, Russia’s take over of the most strategic sea line extends from Naqoura to Latakia through its grip over seaports in Syria and Lebanon. Syria and Russia signed in January 2017 an agreement which initially grants Russia rights to the port in Latakia for 49 years but can be automatically extended for further 25-year periods if neither side objects. The deal will see Russia keeps 11 warships off Syria’s Mediterranean coast, including nuclear vessels. Thus, after connecting the land from Iran to Lebanon through Syria and Iraq, now the maritime route will be freed. Russia is also currently working on gaining Turkey, Cyprus, Greece thus an open maritime line and even an eventual monopoly.
Grip over oil and gas of Lebanon and establishing Naqoura sea port thus billions of dollars revenues and a strategic sea dominance not only over Syria and Lebanon, but also over Saudi, Jordan, Qatar, Iraq trade routes and pipelines.
The Naqoura port allegedly would provide the Lebanese in the South employment. In reality, the most demographically dense region is Mount Lebanon and the least populated is South Lebanon. Naqoura port is intended to cut the road for U.S. to Syria, help Russia circumvent sanctions, allow smuggling of illegals and other crimes such as money laundry, function as a pressuring tool on Israel regarding Block 9 and its violations of Lebanon’s air, sea and land.
Why did Lebanon agree?
First because of the planned EastMed gas pipeline, which passes from Israel through Cyprus, Crete, Greece, and from there to Italy, thus it does not only exclude Lebanon, but is in direct competition with Lebanon’s exports and Russia’s Novatek, which won the bidding for exploration, while Italy secured its influence on both sides (U.S. and Russian maritime and pipeline influence). France still tends to be on the Russia axis as its economic interests lie on the Iranian-Beirut trade road.
Although the EastMed pipeline, which costs are estimated at $5.7 billion as signed between partners on 30 March 2017, with an annual capacity of 12-16 billion cubic meters, and its length is 1,300 kilometers mostly underwater pipeline will only act as a complementary gas supply, any additional discovery of large scale gas fields in Israel and Cyprus would lead to creation of another parallel pipeline capable of transporting 30 BCM of gas a year. Thus, the pipeline would liberate Europe from being under Russia’s and Turkey’s economic mercy.
Russia and Turkey, beyond their agreement on the Turkish pipeline which was NOT sanctioned despite sanctions will continue to pressure on the U.S. and E.U. – which are also among others checkmated in Afrin, North Syria and in North Cyprus. And to encounter possible pressure by U.S., Lebanon’s Petroleum Company is set to explore gas and oil in Oman’s Block 57, which strategically lies near Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Secondly, the reaction to the precedent was the Israeli declaration that part of Lebanon’s Block 9 lies within Israel’s maritime zone. Block 9 has the highest potential of having gas.
Block 9 lies in Zone 5, thus in the very high potential zone of biogenic and thermogenic gas which means endless resources. The dispute which Israel might win will bring Lebanon for years in courts. Back in 2007, when the possibility of existing oil and gas fields in the maritime zones between Lebanon, Cyprus and Israel emerged, Lebanon agreed in Cyprus on a drawn line which is today to its disadvantage. Thus, today Israel is reminding Lebanon that it signed an agreement in 2007 that the disputed part of the maritime zone is Israeli. In reality, it is Lebanese maritime territory despite the 2007 agreement however Lebanon has to prove it.
Thirdly, the inconsistent U.S. policy and the conflict with Israel, the counter-strategy would be resolving the Palestinian issue under U.S. protectorate and the creation of an economic axis between Israel – Palestine – Jordan – Egypt – Libya. This would marginalize the Sunni economic interests from Iran by bringing the Sunni economically benefiting states and the Palestinians against Hezbollah, Iran and Assad. It would corner Saudi Arabia and Qatar in many aspects to encounter Iran as Qatar’s LNG requires these trade routes to reach the European markets or creating a pipeline from Qatar through Saudi Arabia and Israel. These developments also explain Lebanon’s government stronger position today in checkmating global, regional and national powers along the Silk Road.
The Silk Road’s main and most important shipping lanes are located in the Middle East.
This affects among others the U.S. – Chinese competitive shipping and the economies of both countries, thus also the North Korean question. Alone the Strait of Hormuz and Bab el-Mandeb Strait have around 65,000 cargo ships traveling through them yearly. The major shipping routes include: The Suez Canal: In 2015, 998.7 million tons of cargo transited the canal, averaging 47.9 ships each day. Although the Suez Canal is too narrow for the passage of large vessels, it is also routinely used by the U.S. Navy to move between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.
The Strait of Hormuz which is also too narrow, accounts for 30% of global supply and is the main global passageway for oil tankers linking the Persian Gulf with the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. Russia was granted by Iran 30% of Strait of Hormuz in 2016. Nearly 17 million barrels of oil per day, “about 30% of all seaborne-traded oil,” pass through the strait for an annual total of more than 6 billion barrels of oil. Most of these crude oil exports go to Asian markets, particularly Japan, India, South Korea, and China.
The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is a strategic waterway between the Horn of Africa and Yemen that links the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. Exports from the Persian Gulf and Asia destined for Western markets must pass through the strait en route to the Suez Canal. Oil tankers transport approximately 4.7 million barrels of oil per day through the strait.
This was part I of the report on how Russia is successfully advancing in the Middle East. In Part II the report highlights other economic, political, technological and cultural aspects of the Russian expansion.
Joumana Gebara ~ Senior Middle East Analyst
Disclaimer: This article was first published on February 15, 2018