If Syria Is All About a Qatari Pipeline, Why Are the Saudis Trying to Overthrow Assad?

The latest conspiracy theory regarding Syria is that this is all a Qatari plot designed to open up a route for a natural gas pipeline.  (Google Qatar Syria Gas Pipeline and you get about 1.3 million hits, virtually all of the first several hundred are about this theory.)

Several comments.

First, consider the source. This is has been a Syrian propaganda line since very early on.

Second, consider who is flogging this theory, notably Alex Jones and Zerohedge, both of whom are reliable Putin pilot fish, with the former being a notorious propagator of outlandish conspiracy theories involving the US government, including 911 Truther type conspiracies.

Third, and by far most importantly, the theory doesn’t explain one crucial fact: Saudi support for Assad’s overthrow.  Indeed, if this reductionist conspiracy theory were correct, the Saudis would be throwing everything behind Assad, not trying to oust him.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have had a testy relationship for decades, and since the Arab Spring and the ascent of the new Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamid Al-Thani especially, that relationship has degenerated into a shadow war fought through proxies throughout the Middle East.  This is most evident in Egypt, where Qatar backed the Muslim Brotherhood Morsi government, and the Saudis backed the military, and bankrolled its overthrow of that government.

The KSA-Qatar battle centers on the latter’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the former’s hatred of that organization.  (H/T @libertylynx)

With respect to gas specifically, Saudi Arabia has consistently blocked, or attempted to block, Qatari pipeline plans.  KSA scuppered a Qatar-Kuwait pipeline and vetoed another pipeline that would have traversed Saudi Arabia.  It tried and failed to stop a Qatar-UAE pipeline.

Saudi Arabia does everything it can to stop Qatari pipelines.  It doesn’t bankroll rebellions or importune the US to facilitate them.

It should also be noted that the main discussion of a pipeline from Qatar that would traverse Syria dates from 2009, when Turkey and Qatar announced that they would study the idea.  The concept at the time was that this pipeline would supply gas for the Nabucco pipeline into Europe.  But Nabucco’s prospects were never good, and it was formally killed earlier this year.  Remember that there are far more pipeline ideas announced, often to much fanfare, than actual pipelines actually built.  Spending billions to fund a war to build a pipeline with bleak economic prospects doesn’t seem like all that great a project for cagey investors like the Qataris.

For religious, political, and economic reasons, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are foes not friends.  So if it was all about gas, perhaps Qatar would be trying to overthrow Assad, but Saudi Arabia would be trying to stymie Qatar.  Perhaps if it was all about gas, a bloody stalemate would be in the KSA’s best interest.  Or perhaps, KSA would even support Assad.  But if it’s all about gas, there is no way the KSA would be backing Assad’s overthrow, funding rebels, and lobbying the US to intervene.  It is even rumored that the Saudis would participate in an air campaign against Assad.  They wouldn’t do that if the ultimate outcome would be to empower the Qataris and allow them to achieve objectives the Saudis have tried to stymie for years.  The KSA isn’t going to fight Qatar’s wars.

So the conspiracy story doesn’t explain a vital fact: if you squint really hard it might-might-explain what Qatar is doing, but it doesn’t explain what Saudi Arabia is doing. And it’s even worse than that: the explanation of the Qatari action would lead you to predict the Saudis would do the exact opposite of what they are doing.  That’s a pretty big fail.

Truth be told, I have no idea what is really motivating the Saudis and the Qataris.  In the murky world of the Middle East, it is an act of extreme confidence to predict what these countries are really up to.  There are circles within circles, personal feuds, dynastic and family dynamics, and on and on.

Which means that the US should look to its interests, and to its ability to mitigate humanitarian catastrophe, when contemplating intervention.  Trying to unravel the games the Saudis and Qataris are playing is a mug’s game.  Define an objective, determine what means are necessary to achieve that objective, and determine whether the cost of achieving it is worthwhile.  Don’t get distracted by conspiracy theories, especially those that don’t fit a very important fact.

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About Craig Pirrong 238 Articles

Affiliation: University of Houston

Dr Pirrong is Professor of Finance, and Energy Markets Director for the Global Energy Management Institute at the Bauer College of Business of the University of Houston. He was previously Watson Family Professor of Commodity and Financial Risk Management at Oklahoma State University, and a faculty member at the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and Washington University.

Professor Pirrong's research focuses on the organization of financial exchanges, derivatives clearing, competition between exchanges, commodity markets, derivatives market manipulation, the relation between market fundamentals and commodity price dynamics, and the implications of this relation for the pricing of commodity derivatives. He has published 30 articles in professional publications, is the author of three books, and has consulted widely, primarily on commodity and market manipulation-related issues.

He holds a Ph.D. in business economics from the University of Chicago.

Visit: Streetwise Professor

6 Comments on If Syria Is All About a Qatari Pipeline, Why Are the Saudis Trying to Overthrow Assad?

  1. First, you cite FT, a known shill for big banks and govt (not that there’s a difference). Second, you attack Alex Jones and Zerohedge – an ad hominem fallacy. Finally, you’re confused as to why the Saudis do not support Assad? Really? After Assad has sided with Russia and shut the Saudis out?

    The Saudis want Assad out and they’re forcing the US to do their dirty work because they control the petrodollar paradigm. It’s really that simple. Does that sound like a crazy conspiracy theory? Sounds like a simple concept to me.

  2. Don’t know about Alex Jones or Zero Hedge. I read a rather informative article in the UK Gardian on this issue. And yes, the Russians are backing Asad and have shut out the Saudi’s from the European market. The Russian company Gazprom has had more or less a monopoly on the European market for years. Remember, oil is traded by the US dollar. We keep that paradigm in check by use of force. It’s the American way. In regardds to chemical weapons, no one seems to remember who supplied Sadam with his chemical weapon supply.

  3. Saudi Arabia is ALL IN DUDES… from 2009 The National AE … rom 2009 “For this aim, I think a gas pipeline between Turkey and Qatar would solve the issue once and for all,” Mr Erdogan added, according to reports in several newspapers. The reports said two different routes for such a pipeline were possible. One would lead from Qatar through Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq to Turkey. The other would go through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey. It was not clear whether the second option would be connected to the Pan-Arab pipeline, carrying Egyptian gas through Jordan to Syria. That pipeline, which is due to be extended to Turkey, has also been proposed as a source of gas for Nabucco.

    • PS .. Based on production from the massive North Field in the Gulf, Qatar has established a commanding position as the world’s leading LNG exporter. It is consolidating that through a construction programme aimed at increasing its annual LNG production capacity to 77 million tonnes by the end of next year, from 31 million tonnes last year. However, in 2005, the emirate placed a moratorium on plans for further development of the North Field in order to conduct a reservoir study. It recently extended the ban for two years to 2013.””

  4. KSA trying to overthrow Assad because of the Irani- Iraqi_ Syrian gas pipeline that the three countries agreed to construct starting from South Pars gas field throw Iran- Iraq- Syria aimed to end at Tartoos on the mediterranean, and may be to EU throw the sea.

  5. @CraigPirrong(author of article): Saudis are pushing trying to topple Assad because they want to install their own puppet regime, and not the one which Qatar is pushing for. Most of the time there’s more than one available to take over.
    Saudis don’t want to get marginalized by Qatar, so they are trying to bring their own lobbied regime.

    – India

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