Saudi Arabia risks destroying Opec and feeding the Isil monster

‘Saudi Arabia is acting directly against the interests of half the cartel and is running Opec over a cliff,’ says RBC

The rumblings of revolt against Saudi Arabia and the Opec Gulf states are growing louder as half a trillion dollars goes up in smoke, and each month that goes by fails to bring about the long-awaited killer blow against the US shale industry.

Algeria’s former energy minister, Nordine Aït-Laoussine, says the time has come to consider suspending his country’s Opec membership if the cartel is unwilling to defend oil prices and merely serves as the tool of a Saudi regime pursuing its own self-interest. “Why remain in an organisation that no longer serves any purpose?” he asked.

Saudi Arabia can, of course, do whatever it wants at the Opec summit in Vienna on December 4. As the cartel hegemon, it can continue to flood the global market with crude oil and hold prices below $50.

It can ignore desperate pleas from Venezuela, Ecuador and Algeria, among others, for concerted cuts in output in order to soak the world glut of 2m barrels a day, and lift prices to around $75. But to do so is to violate the Opec charter safeguarding the welfare of all member states.

“Saudi Arabia is acting directly against the interests of half the cartel and is running Opec over a cliff. There could be a total blow-out in Vienna,” said Helima Croft, a former oil analyst at the US Central Intelligence Agency and now at RBC Capital Markets.

The Saudis need Opec. It is the instrument through which they leverage their global power and influence, much as Germany attains world rank through the amplification effect of the EU.

The 29-year-old deputy crown prince now running Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, has to tread with care. He may have inherited the steel will and vaulting ambitions of his grandfather, the terrifying Ibn Saud, but he has ruffled many feathers and cannot lightly detonate a crisis within Opec just months after entangling his country in a calamitous war in Yemen. “It would fuel discontent in the Kingdom and play to the sense that they don’t know what they are doing,” she said.

Mohammed Bin Hamad Al Rumhy, Oman’s (non-Opec) oil minister, said the Saudi bloc has blundered into a trap of their own making – a view shared by many within Saudi Arabia itself.

“If you have 1m barrels a day extra in the market, you just destroy the market. We are feeling the pain and we’re taking it like a God-driven crisis. Sorry, I don’t buy this, I think we’ve created it ourselves,” he said.

Helima Croft says Isil is now operating close to Iraq’s oil facilities near Basra, detonating a car bomb at a market in Zubayr last month. They clearly have the ability to attack energy targets, and have an incentive to do so since oil production within their Caliphate heartland is their main source of income.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb showed it could launch a devastating surprise when it crossed into the Sahara two years ago and seized the Amenas gas facility in Algeria, killing 39 foreign hostages. Variants of Isil can strike anywhere they find a weak link.

“We remain concerned that they may eventually set their sights on a major oil facility. These are obvious targets of choice, and none of this geopolitical risk is priced into the market,” she said.

Saudi Arabia itself is vulnerable. There have been five Isil-linked terrorist acts on Saudi soil since May. They include an attack on a security facility near the giant oil installation at Abqaiq, where clusters of pipelines offer the most inviting sabotage target in the petroleum world and where the aggrieved Shia minority sit on the Kingdom’s oil reserves.

It would be a macabre irony if Saudi Arabia’s high-risk oil strategy so enflamed a region already in the grip of four civil wars that the Kingdom was hoisted by its own petard. That would certainly clear the global glut of crude oil.

Full article: Saudi Arabia risks destroying Opec and feeding the Isil monster (The Telegraph)

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