Iraq remains the key cover through which Iran transports its oil to the rest of the world, as has been well-documented by OilPrice.com, so the news last week that Iraqi and Egyptian officials have discussed the possibility of extending the Basra-Aqaba pipeline to Egypt as this would be “an important addition and a new outlet for Iraqi oil exports to North Africa” (according to representatives of the two negotiating teams) should be read in this light. It should also be read in terms of the overall strategy for the expansion of influence of Iran – backed by China in the wide-ranging 25-year deal – not just across the Shia crescent of power in the Middle East but into eastern and northern Africa as well. A key to this expansion is the roll out of an integrated network, based around oil, gas, and electricity supplies, that allows for not just the installation of permanent infrastructure linking one country to another but also for the on-site presence of permanent ‘technical and security’ personnel, many of which are already – or will be – Iranian and Chinese. This alliance is also the other option for countries in the region to the U.S.-Israel-led ‘relationship normalisation deals’ currently being touted as a core method by which to stop Iran’s increasing regional influence, subscribed to so far by the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco.
Jordan was always a natural contender to be drawn into the alternative Iran-led alliance, given its strong historical anti-Israeli bias. Jordan’s current king, Abdullah II, is the son of King Hussein, a key leader in the 1967 Six-Day War waged by Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq, against Israel, and then a supporter of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, also again involving Egypt and Syria, principally, fighting Israel, although it also involved expeditionary forces from a wide range of Arab states, including Jordan and Iraq. Egypt, for its part, although flirting with the U.S. over the years for monetary gain primarily and since 2014 for the U.S.’s assistance in shoring up the power of former field marshal and now President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has long regarded itself as being a leader of the Arab world, along with Syria. Slightly shifting this pro-Arab ideology to a point where it coincides in large part with the ideas involved in the Shia crescent is seen as a not insurmountable objective in Tehran. Iran is already either directly (through its foreign intelligence and military organisations) or indirectly (through its proxy paramilitary groups) highly active in the Shia crescent areas of Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon. Softer pressure is being added through financing deals on offer from China (or Russia) for states teetering on the margins of this alliance that are struggling economically from the after-effects of two oil price wars in less than five years and the demand destruction effect of the COVID-19 pandemic or from general economic mismanagement.