The apparent rise in oil prices to $100 a barrel is in some ways the markets’ way of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, which triggered the first major energy shock. Today, as then, the term “the markets” must be used with caution: we were then and still are confronted with price manipulation by an oligopoly, the cartel of crude oil producers united in OPEC (not the “bad multinationals”, but rather the states that… control fossil energy). The paradox is that today this cartel has expanded with the OPEC+ formula, which also includes Russia.
It is precisely the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia behind the production cuts that explains the recent price increases. I am talking about a paradox, because while Riyadh agrees with Moscow on economic issues, on another issue it is once again considering offers of military assistance from the United States as an incentive to establish diplomatic relations with Israel for the first time.
Here, half a century after the 1973 war in which Arabs fought Israelis, a seemingly implacable and unresolvable antagonism may truly be coming to an end. Irony of history: It is not pacifism that has brought former enemies together, not even an American president committed to “loving one another” diplomacy (as Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton did). On the contrary, what is putting an end to this Arab-Israeli antagonism is the realpolitik led by a cynical right-wing prime minister (Benjamin Netanyahu) and a brutal autocrat like Prince Mohammed bin Salman (aka MbS). Furthermore, horror of horrors, credit must be given to Donald Trump for paving the way for this thaw with the previous Abraham Accords (2020), which were the precursor: the blossoming of diplomatic (and economic) relations between Israel , the Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan.
Does the story make fun of us by making villains do good things and vice versa? It is still too early to celebrate an event that has been announced but has not yet taken place, such as the embrace between Riyadh and Tel Aviv. We now know and see that the de facto relations between the Saudi monarchy and Israel are already quite flourishing in many areas, even before the official seal arrives with the opening of the respective embassies.
It is therefore a good time to reflect on the half-century that is coming to an end, on what we have learned (or not) from the Yom Kippur War. The Arab-Israeli conflict, which took place from October 6 to 25, 1973, took its name, not coincidentally, from the Jewish holiday on which it began. The armies of the Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria (in which contingents from Arabia, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, Iraq, Sudan and even Cuba took part) initially prevailed thanks also to the element of surprise associated with the party’s religious groups . Israeli forces later managed to recover.
On a purely military level there was no clear victory for either camp, but the war was seen by the Arab world as a relief from the humiliation of 1967. The Middle East confirmed itself as the epicenter and post of cold war is at stake, with tensions at the highest between the United States and the Soviet Union (the latter supported the Arab coalition). Some of the most profound and lasting consequences have been in the energy and economic sectors. OPEC successfully used economic sanctions by rationing crude oil to several Western countries accused of arming Israel.
The rise in fuel prices caused serious difficulties for advanced economies (recall the “walking Sundays” and other austerity measures in Italy). It was the beginning of a significant transfer of financial resources from the old industrialized countries to the emerging countries that have the largest fossil energy reserves. So it is a transfer of wealth from north to south. With results that, in retrospect, were more than disappointing. The flow of petrodollars (the proceeds from the export of oil, a commodity paid for in dollars) enriched the ruling classes of the Arab world, which proved incapable of investing in the modernization of their countries, in education and in prosperity . One of the somewhat less catastrophic cases of this period was Iran’s modernization experiment under the Shah of Persia, Reza Palhevi, which was, however, marked by enormous inequalities, arbitrariness, arbitrariness and abuse of power. In addition, the forced secularization and women’s emancipation in this country triggered obscurantist reactions. Until the overthrow of the Shah and the arrival of a theocratic regime led by a priestly caste even more corrupt than its predecessors.
The easy wealth derived from oil gave rise to hasty and simplistic theorems about the “curse of energy income.” In truth, there is no mechanical connection between a country’s abundant supply of natural resources and its plunder by a predatory elite: otherwise we would have autocracies and oligarchs in power in Norway, Canada and Australia. Six years after the first energy shock, the second came with the Iranian revolution, another rise in oil prices, another transfer of wealth from the north to the south. Fearing the same fate as the Shah of Persia, the Saudi monarchy (who had suffered terrorist attacks in his home) concluded an unholy pact with the Wahhabi clergy. A competition began between Iran and Arabia to see who would be the fiercest harbored hatred towards the West.
Petrodollars funded mosques and madrassas around the world where jihad was preached. Anti-Westernism also spread to redirect the growing frustration of the Muslim population, deprived of the benefits of oil revenues by their rulers, onto external enemies. Some of the hatred toward external enemies was also directed at the Soviet Union, the “atheist superpower” that invaded Afghanistan in 1979. In this case, America helped add fuel to the fire by training the Afghan mujahideen to resist the Red Army: today’s Taliban are the descendants of these Islamic guerrillas.
The majority of the September 11, 2001 hijackers were Saudi citizens; The head of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden (also of Saudi Arabia), had vowed revenge against America ever since US soldiers “desecrated” Islam’s holy lands during the military intervention to expel Sadam Hussein from Kuwait (1991).
Maybe half a century of terrorist massacres and bloodshed is coming to an end before our eyes? The following is also behind the diplomatic thaw between Arabia and Israel: Prince MbS appears to be eager to free himself from the influence of the Wahhabi clergy and is pursuing a cautious secularization of the country along the lines of Dubai. The flow of Saudi petrodollars that funded jihad is tending to dry up. In addition, the reopening of diplomatic channels between Iran and Arabia – in this case through the mediation of China – could calm another outbreak of tension that spread from the Gulf to other parts of the world. In that sense, the fiftieth anniversary of the Yom Kippur War shows us that someone has learned something: after wasting much of this half-century spreading hatred and shedding blood, there is an Arab ruling class that appears determined is to change direction.
The destruction of the State of Israel appears to be consigned to the archives of history. The losers are probably the Palestinians. But they had already lost: they had given themselves an incompetent and corrupt government agency; then they relied on armed militias linked to Shiite Iran; As a result, Arabia had long since lost all enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause. Another assessment of this half century concerns the energy and environmental problems. By the time the Yom Kippur War broke out and then the oil surge began, the West was already under the influence of a gospel of scarcity and degrowth. The first report on the “Limits to Development,” signed by the Club of Rome, a think tank then based in Germany and Switzerland, was published in 1971. This report was not about climate change, the problem of pollution was marginal. His most sensational and, at the time, most discussed prediction concerned the impending depletion of oil and gas reserves.
It is useful to remember this because even today the Limits to Growth Report and the Club of Rome enjoy undeserved prestige. The prediction turned out to be completely unfounded: the planet was not on the verge of extinction of fossil fuels, but technical progress would subsequently significantly increase the mineable reserves. But the issue of “limits to development” has a strong ideological appeal that ignores the facts. The prophecy of the Club of Rome is part of a long chain of apocalyptic visions that maintain or increase their following despite factual denials. The various “demographic bombs” (Chinese, Indian) that exploded one after another must be added to the list; or the Malthusian predictions about the impossibility of feeding all the inhabitants of the earth, which are always contradicted by the progress of agriculture.
In this sense, the half century that has passed since the Yom Kippur War has taught us nothing at all. The failures of apocalyptic prophecies follow in vain: the followers of thousand-year-old religions are increasing, believing that the end of the world is imminent. From a technological and industrial perspective, the Yom Kippur War had positive consequences. Rising oil prices accelerated companies’ energy-saving efforts. This shock gave decisive and positive impetus to progress towards electric cars and solar energy. The market economy has once again demonstrated its vitality and flexibility and responded to the crisis in an innovative way. On the other hand, the Soviet Union and its bloc were much slower and even immobile in revising their “coal socialism.” But the record of this half-century seems, in the reading of some intellectual elites and some marginalized youth, to have taught us only that capitalism is ugly, dirty and bad.