By Nauman Sadiq for VT
Is this not one of international politics most significant ‘coincidences’ that the Balfour declaration for the creation of Israel was adopted in the same fateful year, November 1917, in which the February and October 1917 communist revolutions were taking place in Russia?
No informed person can deny the importance of energy for industrial economies, but it is generally assumed in the foreign policy circles that oil took the center stage in international politics after the collective Arab oil embargo of 1973 against the West, when the price of oil quadrupled within a short span of time.
It is a fact that Washington became so paranoid after the 1973 oil embargo that it put in place a ban on the export of crude oil outside the US borders — which is still in place — and began keeping 60 days stock of reserve fuel for strategic and military needs.
More to the point, the view that oil took the center stage in global politics after the 1973 oil embargo is a mistaken assumption. Direct and indirect control of energy resources played a critical role in international politics since the early 20th century.
The great powers of yore first realized the importance of oil during the First World War when Germany’s military capabilities were severely handicapped due to the shortage of fuel for its aircrafts, ships and mechanized ground forces, such as heavy artillery and armored corps.
Notwithstanding, here is a list of a few sources which will serve as irrefutable evidence to bring home the point that the critical importance of the Middle East’s oil predates the 1917 Balfour declaration for the creation of Israel:
First: The Anglo-Persian Oil Company was founded in 1908: Volume production of Persian oil products began in 1913 from a refinery built at Abadan, Iran; for its first 50 years, it was the largest oil refinery in the world.
Second: The Standard Oil of United States was established in 1870: the Standard Oil Company and SOCONY Oil Company became partners in providing markets for the oil reserves in the Middle East. In 1906, SOCONY (later Mobil) opened its first fuel terminals in Alexandria, Egypt.
Third: The Burmah Oil was incorporated in 1886: It played a major role in the oil industry in South Asia for about a century through its subsidiaries and was also instrumental in the discovery of oil in the Middle East through its significant influence over British Petroleum (BP).
Fourth: The Iraq Petroleum Company: The forerunner of the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) was the Turkish Petroleum Company (TPC), which grew out of the growing belief, in the late 19th century, that Iraq contained substantial reservoirs of oil.
And lastly: The San Remo Conference: The San Remo Resolution adopted on 25 April 1920 incorporated the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Under the Balfour Declaration, the British government undertook to favor the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Britain received the mandate for Palestine and Iraq; France gained control of Syria, including present-day Lebanon.
After taking a cursory look at this incontrovertible proof, it becomes amply clear that the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine on religious and historical grounds was merely a pretext for creating a settler colony in the energy-rich and Arab-majority Middle East. The location for the creation of Israel was carefully chosen right next to the geo-strategically critical Suez Canal through which most of Persian Gulf’s oil and maritime traffic between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean passes every day.
In the fateful year of 1917, the First World War was nearing its end and the communist revolutions were taking place in Russia. The rise of communism in Russia was a unique phenomenon which threatened the industrialized nations and their control over their colonies and the global political and economic order.
Geographically, the former Soviet Union was right next to the Persian Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Iraq and Iran, which together hold more than half of world’s proven oil reserves — 800 billion barrels out of world’s total proven crude oil reserves of 1500 billion barrels.
In the event of an outbreak of a war between the Western powers and the Soviet Union, the latter clearly had an advantage over the Western powers to seize the Middle East’s oil resources due to its geographical proximity. Apart from such a contingency, another factor which must have played a role in the thinking of Western military strategists is the appeal of egalitarian socialist economic system to the masses of the Third World and particularly the Arabs. The fact that some rudimentary socialism emerged during the Pan-Arab nationalist movements of 1960s lends further credence to this theory.
Here, we must keep in mind the demographics of Palestine in the 1920s: there were approximately 50,000 Jews; 50,000 Christians; and more than 700,000 Arab Muslims in the areas comprising present-day Israel and Palestine. Over the course of next few decades, however, the demographics were changed by shipping hundreds of thousands of East European Jews to Palestine.
Let me clarify here that I am not a Holocaust denier. I do feel sympathy for the European Jews who genuinely were the victims of Nazi atrocities. But by what logic or norm of justice, Roosevelt and Churchill pledged to compensate the victims of the Europeans at the cost of a third party, which had no business in that whole sordid saga? If A commits a crime against B, B is entitled to get compensation from A, but not from C which is an unrelated party.
As I have contended earlier that the case for Israel was predicated on two arguments: historical and religious, but neither of those arguments are plausible. International politics is mostly about inter-state rivalries and the conflict of national interests. The colonial powers wanted to create a settle colony in the middle of Arab-majority Middle East to appropriate its vast energy resources.
With the benefit of hindsight, it appears that the Western powers didn’t need such a settler colony when they have already acquired numerous leased military bases all over the Middle East in which 35,000 US troops are currently stationed to protect Washington’s ‘strategic interests’ which is a euphemism for energy interests.
The value of a land-based colony has been further diminished with the advent of modern navies and naval-airpower, especially aircraft-carriers which are like mobile and floating military bases protecting the trade and energy interests of the corporate empire in the international waters and the Persian Gulf.
But the nuclear-powered Nimitz-class aircraft-carriers were only a subsequent development (developed in 1975); back in 1917, when the colonial powers conceived the idea of market-powered, Zion-class aircraft-carrier: the USS Israel, they had little idea that it will become more of a liability than an asset.
About the author:
Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and Middle East regions, neocolonialism and petro-imperialism.