When enemies fight
Schadenfreude is a magnificent German word that I am fairly confident ninety-nine percent of Germans have never used in a conversation. It means taking pleasure in your enemy’s discomfort. When two of Israel’s loudest and richest enemies, Iran and Iraq, are at loggerheads, is it good for the Jews?
Should we echo Henry Kissinger and hope they both lose? What does that say about us?
Iran’s hardline Shiites and Saudi Arabia’s hardline (Is there any other kind?) Sunnis, Islam’s two major divisions have been slaughtering each other on and off since the seventh century.
At present they are fighting by proxy. When the Saudis executed Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr they were sending a harsh message to both their own Shiite minority and to Teheran. The war in Yemen, against the Shiite Houthi; the war in Syria – Saudi money to the ‘opposition’ and Iranian fighters AND money to the ‘Shiite’† Assad regime; the war against Daesh – Sunni competitors to the House of Saud and enemies to Muslim heretics, a category in which they without hesitation place Iran and other conflicts fall to greater or lesser degree into the same Sunni-Shiite model.
In case anyone thinks the war in Yemen doesn’t concern Israel look at the banner the Houthi have chosen for themselves. The Houthi are Fiver Shiites while the Iranians are Twelver. Does that matter?
We are seeing a plummet in the price of oil, already 20% of what it was a decade ago. True a dip in China’s economy is a major culprit but as any high school economics student knows increase the supply and price drops.
Wars come expensive. Israel knows that well. So it’s hard not to see both regimes increasing production to compensate. That might mean a drop in financial support for terrorism against Israel.
As a bonus lower prices at source should mean cheaper petrol at Israeli pumps but doesn’t necessarily. Most of the price at Israel’s pumps isn’t the cost of material but taxes anyway. Also given the long term trend away from heavy and medium industry into the materials skimpy area of high tech R&D lower petrol and oil prices, even if passed on, may not be such a factor in the Israeli economy.
Last week I had the opportunity to fly Emirates from Sri Lanka to Singapore. Magnificent airline by the way – new planes, entertainment systems that work properly, better than adequate food and eye-candy stewardesses. What’s not to like except the owners?
It gave me the opportunity to read both the Khaleej and Gulf Times – both eye-openers. One discussed the possibility that income taxes may need to be introduced, for the first time, to offset the drop in revenues. The other made an almost tearful plea to keep oil prices high to protect the jobs of ‘Western’ companies supplying a reduced Arab oil industry.
We hope steep drop in revenues should lead, for the first time, to reduced spending on unprofitable foreign adventures. Pressure from the citizens of the Middle East’s oil producers should, in turn, reduce financial support for terrorism by major backers and bankers.
It would, if those producers were rational actors who cared about their citizens.
Iran allowed its population to suffer decades of sanctions until the sanctioning nations, not Iran, gave up. As they were financing terror under pressure we should expect that part of the $US180 billion gift that Obama gave the Mullahs, for an agreement on nukes that they didn’t even sign, will inevitably flow to Hezbollah and other terrorists, even Sunni Hamas no matter what oil prices do.
The text of the accord that America thinks was agreed upon never even mentioned war efforts with conventional weapons or financing terrorism.
The Saudis, on the other hand, have kept opposition to their regime to a minimum by keeping living standards very high even if personal freedom is kept low. Can that continue?
By repute it is the very restless Shiite minority who work the oilfields and they will face job loss. It will be interesting to see how the inflexible Sunni descendants of Ibn Saud finesse that one.
Another factor is the morale boost of an aggressive Saudi military campaign. The Saudis haven’t seriously gone to war, not even against Israel, since the Ikhwan conquered the Peninsula in the 1920s. Their recent success in killing thousands of Yemenites together with the known efficiency of war against an outside enemy in diverting attention from domestic concerns could encourage bellicosity.
It’s hard to see the Hashemite Jordanians who were booted out of Arabia by the House of Saud quietly accepting incursions on their borders. Will Israel and America aid them? Once I would have said, definitely yes. Today, given the current US administration I am less sure.
I have heard a different scenario (apologies for not naming the source as I don’t recall where it came from and don’t want to guess wrong). Without the expected oil revenue the producers may find it hard to keep paying salaries. When an oil sheik can’t provide the goodies his future becomes shaky.
Using foreign adventures to divert attention from domestic failure wasn’t invented by the Arabs. Is this building a case for artificially raising the price of oil to protect America’s ‘allies’? Isn’t that what ‘friends’ do? Unfortunately it is highly unlikely the sheiks will be replaced by democrats.
In diplomacy as in business there is a bottom line. No one is really sure what that is when the price of oil drops to the floor but we really should be discussing it and making plans.
† A good argument could be made that Assad’s Alawites are not only not Shiite but not really Muslim, either. The Sunni opposition, probably, and the Sunni Daesh, definitely, make that argument.