ISIL forces alternative energy routes

ISIL forces alternative energy routes

Turkey’s dependence on Russian gas and oil has turned into another factor in the Middle East. As the price of oil fell into historic lows, Moscow is suffering financially and Turkey can turn its “dependent customer” role into a bargaining chip.

Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, speaking at the opening session of the Atlantic Council’s Summit in Istanbul, claimed Turkey’s use of renewable sources has reached almost 25-30 percent. Iran is proposing a new deal with a better price for its natural gas. Obviously, Turkey is not without alternatives to the Russian energy sources.

Fatih Birol’s assessment of 2020 energy forecasts was even more surprising. The Chief Economist of International Energy Agency predicted that the calm in the oil markets will not stay forever. He also stressed the need for urgent and significant investment in the Middle East now in order to supply the 2020 demands. Birol says China will eventually leave dirty coal and its economy has already shown signs of slowing down.

Birol’s crystal ball puts Turkey again on the map in the Iraqi energy equilibrium. If such vast oil is to be drilled and sold to the markets, it will have to go through Turkey. As the Kurds of Iraq and Syria are seeking ways to unite, the energy security of the Middle East will again be dependent on Turkey’s stability and its presence as a NATO ally. Turkey can thus negotiate with Russia on the terms of Bashar al-Assad’s slow descent from power.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s visit to Baghdad and Arbil is a sign of these times. Turkey obviously wants to get back in the game in Iraq. While Iran and the U.S. are testing each other on the nuclear negotiation table and cooperating subtly against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Turkey has to make itself relevant again. And that can be done through our northern neighbor. So as Yıldiz prepares to visit Moscow to negotiate a new deal on the gas prices, Russia may actually be ready to create an option for Turkey in Syrian dynamics.

ISIL has changed the energy game in Iraq and Syria considerably. Kurds and the West need Turkey more than ever to secure the pipelines. Turkey and the EU need to cooperate better on alternative sources like renewables. The U.S. would need Turkey to help Iraq and the Syrian opposition groups in a more solid way to fight ISIL. But one should not be delusional about Turkey’s importance as a U.S. ally.

As an increasingly number of reports from Washington lay new groundwork for Syrian politics, the Obama Administration will focus more on the stability of Jordan and a moderate opposition like the Southern Front to take control. Turkey’s attempts to push for the credibility of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has failed miserably so far, and the U.S. sees the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the North as the only credible military and political force.

By the time the dust settles and a new Middle East has taken shape, there will be a free Palestinian State, a possible independent or an autonomous Kurdish State, way too much oil and too much to negotiate on the energy front. The sooner Turkish companies get involved, the better it shall be for the entire region.