Middle East Weekly Roundup: January 30th, 2016

Energy Sector

Qatar facing decision on drilling ban in North Field

While Qatar has maintained its moratorium on development of the giant 900-plus Tcf North Field since 2005, an ever-growing natural gas export market, notably including the entrance of the resource-rich Iran due to the recent lifting of sanctions, may force the Qataris to lift the ban on drilling in the near future. In addition to Iran’s impending plunge into the natural gas market, the U.S. shale industry as well as Australia’s deep-water drilling threaten to cut into Qatar’s overall market share. As of 2014, Qatar’s natural gas made up over 30% of all global exports. However, there will be concern from Qatar’s standpoint as new sources flood the market and prices stay low. In similar fashion to recent moves by the Saudis in the petroleum market, Qatar may lift the moratorium on the North Field in order to protect its market share.  While Qatar’s Energy Minister stated last year that the nation’s overall energy remained unchanged in the face of U.S. shale gas competition, the possibility that Australia is poised to overtake Qatar as the world’s biggest supplier may spur the small country to lift the ban if they face a loss in export shares.

Natural gas discoveries announced by Israel

An Israeli gas exploration group, headed by Isramco Negev and Modiin Energy, announced earlier this month that their seismic testing had indicated that an estimated 8.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves could lie underneath the Mediterranean. Such a find, which could be as large as Israel’s Tamar field (10 Tcf), could expand Israel’s already growing natural gas reserve. However, it is also likely that if this finding materialized into another large proven reserve, controversy would accompany moves to develop and produce the field, as we’ve seen with Leviathan over the past two years. Regarding Leviathan, it appears a final decision is expected within weeks by the Supreme Court, which could in effect determine Israel’s future as a natural gas exporter.

Countering Violent Extremism

ISIS seeks force for naval attacks in Mediterranean

Islamic State militants hope to build a maritime arm that could carry out attacks in the Mediterranean, a senior NATO Naval officer has warned. The terrorist group’s territorial expansion along Libya’s coast makes such a threat worthy of consideration, especially with large amounts of sophisticated Chinese and Russian arms proliferating in the region.

Video shows Paris attackers in ISIS territory

A video released on Sunday by the terrorist group Islamic State claimed to show the nine Paris attackers in Iraq and Syria, some time before they killed 130 people in the French capital on 13 November 2015. The attackers are shown committing atrocities, including beheading captives, and threatening attacks in European cities.

Cyber Security

ISIS affiliated hacker to be tried in U.S.

Ardit Ferizi, the Kosovar man who allegedly provided ISIS with the personal data of American military members, appeared in U.S. court this week. He stands accused of stealing data from a military database and providing it to Junaid Hussain, the pseudo-celebrity lead-hacker of ISIS, who was killed in an American drone strike last year.

Walking back concerns over ISIS sending encrypted communications

The Android mobile application that sparked rumors of the so-called Islamic State’s capacity for encrypted communication has been shown to be ineffective. Instead of enabling long-range, secure messaging, the application instead appears to operate as Bluetooth file-sharing software, which is incapable of messaging at distances beyond roughly 50 meters. Though third-party software is widely available to provide encrypted communications, this news should allay fears regarding the group’s technological sophistication.

Israel demonstrates growing cybersecurity power

At the 2016 Cybertech conference in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu highlighted his country’s efforts to enhance its regional superiority in cyber security. In addition to praising the recent formation of its National Cyber Authority, Netanyahu also opposed the establishment of universal cyber norms and detailed supposedly pro-business export control laws. In its contrasting themes, the speech was representative of Israel’s challenge of increasing technology investment while also improving national security from increasing online threats.

Countries of Interest

Iran investigates embassy attack; reaches out to Europe

Iran has arrested around 100 people over the attack on Saudi Arabia’s embassy that led to Riyadh cutting diplomatic ties with Tehran.

The four-day visit by Iran’s Rouhani to Italy and France that began on Monday is the first by an Iranian president since a warming of relations between Iran and Western powers following the signing of a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program last year.

Iraq pushes back against Saudi interference

Iraq’s foreign ministry has summoned Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Baghdad over accusations of meddling in Iraq’s domestic affairs. The summons came in response to the Saudi ambassador’s comments about the destabilizing influence of Shi’a militias fighting ISIS.

Syrian talks aim at ceasefire, start slowly

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has said that peace talks on Syria will push for a nationwide ceasefire for all parties other than ISIS and al-Nusra Front armed groups. Talks are off to a slow start, however, with resistance groups refusing to negotiate with the Assad government.

Libyan parliament rejects unity government

Libya’s internationally recognized parliament has rejected a unity government named last week under a UN-brokered deal aimed at uniting the country’s warring factions. The vacuum created by the competing factions has allowed ISIS to gain a foothold in the country, and has led to increasing violence.

Algerian parliament to adopt draft constitution

Algeria’s parliament is set to adopt a draft constitution several years in the making this coming Wednesday. The new constitution will instate Tamazight as the second official language in addition to Arabic, as well as restore the law that limits the number of presidential terms to two.