Oil Prices and a Changing Middle East
Falling oil prices are having a profound impact on world politics and are reshaping the Middle East.
Monday, August 03, 2015
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The UK Telegraph reports today: "Another Dubai debt crunch is looming as oil slump hits Gulf. Persian Gulf emirate could suffer the most as falling oil prices hit economies across the Middle East”
For decades the West was reliant on Middle East oil and the Gulf States could hold a gun to the head of the West as they did in 1973 during the Arab-Israeli war, by means of an oil embargo, in retaliation for the United States decision to re-supply the Israeli military. This has now dramatically changed.
Back in January of this year the Ynet News website in Israel, ran an opinion piece stating that “The Arab oil ear is over”. The piece begins, "The most dramatic news in 2014 almost went unnoticed: The United States lifted the restrictions on American oil exports, and as of the first day of the new year it has begun exporting oil to the world.
"No one believed this would happen so fast, but the US is already the world's biggest oil manufacturer, bigger than Saudi Arabia, thanks to the oil shale technology which "changed the world of energy."
The opinion piece has some very interesting projections.
"As the Gulf states are left with no money to spend and are experiencing internal shocks, the era of destructive Arab power is coming to an end; the Israeli mind and innovation era, on the other hand, is just beginning.
"This means that oil prices will continue to drop, as the US is already competing against other manufacturers. As a result, Russia will be crushed, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf states will fall flat on their face, the cartel will collapse, and all the dictatorships which were mainly based on oil – like Iran – will face a gloomy future.”
For decades oil has defined the Middle East. The West needed it and the Middle East provided it without much effort and became very rich in the process. Israel and Jordan were the only countries in the Middle East without oil. This of course has now changed. The Tamar and Leviathan gas fields discovered off Israel's coast are seen as an opportunity for Israel to become a major energy player in the Middle East.
While it may have been very nice for Israel to have the easy riches of oil like the Gulf States, it has probably been to Israel's benefit, as their economy is diversified and innovative in contrast to the undeveloped one horse economies of the other Middle East countries that have thrived off the riches of oil.
What about Russia? If they are “crushed” is not this the opposite of what we would expect from Bible Prophecy? The opinion piece continues:
"But as oil prices continue to drop, what will happen to Russia? The country is collapsing and could turn to a European war to save itself.”
The Iranian nuclear deal is also impacting oil prices. Iran holds 9.3 percent of global oil reserves which is easily recoverable. If Iran is able to get this oil to world markets as sanctions are lifted, it will obviously impact prices. Many analysts project that Iran will now try to become the regional strongman in the Middle East. The Stratfor website had an interesting analysis on July 28, entitled, "After the Nuclear Deal, a Region Recalibrates.”
The analysis projects that, "Iran will use its newfound international legitimacy to attempt to realize its ambitions to become the regional hegemon. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and a host of small countries and even smaller religious and ethnic groups will all compete and at times align for influence.” The article continues, “But Iran will have to contend with other regional powers. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the other heavyweights in the balance of power the United States seeks to create in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia hopes to lead a broad Sunni Arab coalition against Iran. Egypt has much in common with Saudi Arabia, but it also has its own ambitions and will bristle at taking a junior role. Saudi Arabia's and Egypt's interests will coincide most of the time, but the partnership will not be without competition. Egypt's domestic concerns, however, will limit how successfully Cairo can play this game.”
"Saudi Arabia hopes to lead a broad Sunni Arab coalition against Iran.” There have been reports noting the convergence of interests between Israel and Saudi Arabia also. This divided Arab world is exactly what we find in the prophecy of Ezekiel 38. I covered this in some depth in the October 5, 2014 Bible in the News.
In the prophecy of Ezekiel 38 there are two groupings of nations laid out; a northern group and a southern group. The northern group is based in the uttermost parts of the north (verse 6, 15 - ASV); we have identified these on Bible in the News many times, as a Russian led latter-day superpower, comprising most of Europe. There is also a grouping of Middle-Eastern nations with them. They are in verse 5 of Ezekiel 38; Persia or Iran, Ethiopia or Cush and Libya. The other grouping of nations is an alliance of merchant powers called the "merchants of Tarshish", with them are two Middle Eastern nations: Sheba and Dedan. The merchants of Tarshish can be identified as Britain, India and the Western powers. A special issue of the Bible Magazine(Volume 20, Issue 3) deals with this subject. When the northern confederacy of nations invades the Middle-East as outlined in Ezekiel 38, they are questioned by the Tarshish merchant powers - see verse 13:
"Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, Art thou come to take a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil?”
Which latter-day nations do Sheba and Dedan refer to? The lexicographer Gesenius identifies Sheba with the Sabaeans, a nation and region of Arabia. He supposes there were two Arabian tribes, Sheba and Dedan, one in southern Arabia and one based in northern Arabia. Smith in his Bible Dictionary identifies Sheba with the great south Arabian kingdom and the peoples which composed it. Werner Keller in "The Bible as History" identifies Sheba with the ancient kingdom of Sheba based in southern Arabia, which was a merchant power who did business with the Kingdom of Israel under Solomon - the queen of Sheba came to visit. him. It is quite certain then that Sheba and Dedan in Ezekiel 38 are the tribes and kingdoms of the the Arabian desert, which is modern day Saudi Arabia, Yemen and we could include the other nations of the Arabian peninsula as well.
As students of Bible prophecy we are then watching for a divided Middle East. At the time of the return of Christ to the earth we expect there to be a grouping of Middle Eastern nations allied with Russia: Iran, Ethiopia and Libya. And a group with the merchant powers: Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
While the low oil prices are not creating a prosperous Russia, they are creating a desperate, hungry Russia. Russia has the largest armed forces in the world after the United States and as the opinion piece stated, "Russia could turn to a European war to save itself.” In any case, Europe has to work with Russia as the bear in on its doorstep and is a definite security threat and their supplier of gas. There are constant reports of NATO or RAF jets intercepting Russian fighters and bombers over Europe, the Baltic and near Great Britain. On July 31 the UK
Telegraph reported that, "RAF Typhoons intercept 10 Russian planes on single patrol”. Another chilling article today on Israel National News demonstrated that Russia’s eyes are looking south as well, the headline is, "Russia Promises Hamas to 'Solve Palestinian Problem’”. The article reports that:
"Lavrov promised that "Russia will work together with other countries, to ensure that all Palestinians can return home and stay there forever."
"He further said to Meshaal that Russia will, together with other countries, "solve the Palestinian problem as soon as possible.”
It has long been recognized that a return of all Palestinian Arab refugees and their descendants would flood the small country and Israel as a Jewish state would cease to exist. This is also a lopsided approach and fails to recognize the equal number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries that fled to Israel after 1948 leaving, lands, homes and goods behind them.
We certainly see the world shaping in an amazing way as described in Ezekiel 38 and other Bible prophecies. The rapidly changing Arab world, Europe and Russia. Come back next week God willing as we once again consider the Bible in the News at www.bibleinthenews.com. This has been David Billington with you.