It’s the oil, stupid!

It’s the oil, stupid!

It seems that Lebanon has been deeply infected by the civil war in Syria. With its extremely complex ethnic and religious structure reflected in its political life, as well as its curse of trying to live alongside two neighbors like Syria and Israel, it was only a matter of days anyway before it all went off.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the bomb attack that killed the Lebanese intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan on Oct. 19. Besides being involved in the investigation into the suicide back in 2005 that took the life of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, a prominent anti-Syrian politician, al-Hassan was a member of the Sunni community there, like Hariri. That is why all fingers are now pointing at Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Hezbollah, the strongest political power in the country, is caught between two fires. On the one side there is the Iranian-Syrian block that is supporting them against other Lebanese factions and against Israel, while on the other there is the unity and integrity of the country they are practically ruling. The army took to the streets under such circumstances.

The latest moves by the Turkish government, thanks to the stubborn stances of the opposition parties and public opinion polls - which one after the other show that Turkish people do not want to get involved in Syrian unrest unless directly attacked - have helped to prevent an infection of that sort in Turkey. Turkey’s size and depth are also in no way comparable with Lebanon’s.

But it also seems that the Syrian unrest has already infected another problem in the region. That is the Kurdish problem, which involves all four countries that have a sizeable Kurdish population in the region: Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey.

There are two main sources of attraction regarding Kurdish politics: One of them is Massoud Barzani, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq. Surviving oppression by Saddam Hussein for decades, he represents the traditionalist and integrationist (integration with the Western world) stream of Kurdish politics. The other is Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned-for-life founding leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which for three decades has been carrying out an armed campaign for an independent Kurdish state carved out of those four countries; a campaign that has claimed more than 40,000 lives.

As the Turkish government tries to find ways and means to cut a deal with Öcalan, his military people in Kandil Mountains in the KRG region are escalating their attacks. They are now supported more than ever by the Syrian government, which has already left a number of Turkish border posts to PKK-affiliated groups. Barzani, on the other hand, backed by the U.S. government and U.S. energy giants like Exxon and Chevron (and French Total), is trying to find ways to export its oil and gas to European markets via Turkey.

Complicated, isn’t it? There are three, not two, dimensions to the Kurdish problem. The first two are the see-saw balance between rights and terrorism, while the third is the oil. Just like a century ago, it’s the oil.