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Turning a Successful Start to a Success Story: Greek Offshore Exploration 2014

Πηγή: Natural Gas Europe
By: Dr. Angelos Gkanoutas-Leventis, Vice-Chairman, Greek Energy Forum
Aug 26 2014

The Greek authorities officially announced the 2014 offshore exploration bidding round for 20 offshore blocks in the Ionian Sea and on the South of Crete in a conference that took place in London earlier this summer, with the support of the Greek Energy Forum. As expected, this event was received with great levels of excitement. The various publications in the aftermath of this event however did not highlight the display of commitment from the Greek authorities in on this endeavour, which has been also an achievement in itself for a country looking to re-enter the international hydrocarbon exploration arena. The clarity of the structure of the announced bidding round, along with the announcement of a well-defined timeline and coupled with an authoritative delivery to the audience, set the ground for a successful bidding round.

The developments following this event have not failed to maintain this momentum. Demonstrating commitment to the announced targets, the hydrocarbon exploration tenders have been signed for publication within August 2014, following the announced timeline to the letter, thus gaining credibility points in the market. Nevertheless, we still have a long way to go before this bidding round can be branded as a success, but such developments build trust.

This is not to say that oil companies are not familiar with delays in such complex processes. But, at any given point, a number of countries with potential hydrocarbon reserves compete for attracting exploration investments, and this case is no different. Provided Greece’s geographic location, its membership in the EU and the single currency, any potential hydrocarbon exploration investment will likely be viewed as a long-term strategic position. This implies that the existence of a robust commercial environment, or in its absence, a credible plan for achieving it, will be a central value differentiator in securing such investments over any competing opportunities.

This is a challenge but also a great opportunity for Greece. The first steps have been taken very successfully, but as we are getting closer to the point where the success of this bidding round will be out of the hands of the Greek authorities and into those of the industry, the next steps become equally important and should not be overlooked.

Cross-Ministerial collaboration will now become critical in constructing the picture of the next day. The potential investors will have to be persuaded of the existence of a well thought and structured long term plan for supporting their commercial operations, promoting public and private investments in infrastructure and services wherever needed, and encouraging the alignment of the higher education with the requirements of the industry. Injecting this way confidence in their long term economic projections, while building a structure which will also support the growth of peripheral industries such as those of shipping, manufacture, energy as well as research and development.

Arab Nations Strike in Libya, Surprising U.S.

Islamist fighters in the Libya Dawn coalition guarded the main airport in Tripoli, Libya, after its capture on Sunday. 
Πηγή: New York Times
Aug 25 2014

CAIRO — Twice in the last seven days, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have secretly launched airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli, Libya, four senior American officials said, in a major escalation of a regional power struggle set off by Arab Spring revolts.

The United States, the officials said, was caught by surprise: Egypt and the Emirates, both close allies and military partners, acted without informing Washington, leaving the Obama administration on the sidelines. Egyptian officials explicitly denied to American diplomats that their military played any role in the operation, the officials said, in what appeared a new blow to already strained relations between Washington and 
The strikes in Tripoli are another salvo in a power struggle defined by Arab autocrats battling Islamist movements seeking to overturn the old order. Since the military ouster of the Islamist president in Egypt last year, the new government and its backers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have launched a campaign across the region — in the news media, in politics and diplomacy, and by arming local proxies — to roll back what they see as an existential threat to their authority posed by Islamist groups like the Muslim

Arrayed against them and backing the Islamists are the rival states of Turkey and Qatar.

American officials said the Egyptians and the Emiratis had teamed up against an Islamist target inside Libya at least once before. In recent months, the officials said, teams of “special forces” operating out of Egypt but possibly composed primarily of Emiratis had also successfully destroyed an Islamist camp near the eastern Libyan city of Derna, an extremist stronghold.

Several officials said in recent days that United States diplomats were fuming about the airstrikes, believing the intervention could further inflame the Libyan conflict as the United Nations and Western powers are seeking to broker a peaceful resolution. Officials said the government of Qatar has already provided weapons and support to the Islamist-aligned forces inside Libya, so the new strikes represent a shift from a battle of proxies to direct involvement. It could also set off an arms race.

“We don’t see this as constructive at all,” said one senior American official.

The strikes have also, so far, proved counterproductive. Islamist-aligned militias fighting for control of Tripoli successfully seized its main airport just hours after they were hit with the second round of strikes.

“In every arena — in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Libya, even what happened in Egypt — this regional polarization, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, or U.A.E., on one side and Qatar and Turkey on the other, has proved to be a gigantic impediment to international efforts to resolve any of these crisis,” said Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former Middle East specialist at the State Department.
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Egypt’s role, the American officials said, was to provide bases for the launch of the strikes. The Egyptian president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, and other officials have issued vigorous-sounding but carefully worded public statements denying any direct action by Egyptian forces in Libya.
While isolationism is a fool's errand, so is the perpetual U.S. Cavalry riding to rescue those who so far have lifted nothing heavier than money.

“There are no Egyptian aircraft or forces in Libya, and no Egyptian aircraft participated in military action inside Libya,” Mr. Sisi said on Sunday, the state news agency reported.

In private, the officials said, the Egyptian denials had been more sweeping.

The officials said the U.A.E. — which boasts one of the most effective air forces in the Arab world, thanks to American equipment and training — provided the pilots, warplanes and aerial refueling planes necessary for the fighters to bomb Tripoli out of bases in Egypt. It was unclear if the planes or munitions were American-made.

The U.A.E. has not commented directly on the strikes but came close to denying a role. On Monday, an Emirati state newspaper printed a statement from Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs, calling any claims about an Emirati role in the attacks “a diversion” from the Libyans’ desire for “stability” and rejection of the Islamists. The allegations, he said, came from a group that “wanted to use the cloak of religion to achieve its political objectives” and “the people discovered its lies and failures.”

The U.A.E. was once considered a sidekick to Saudi Arabia, a regional heavyweight and the dominant power among the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf. The Saudi rulers, who draw their own legitimacy from a puritanical understanding of Islam, have long feared the threat of other religious political movements, especially the well-organized and widespread Muslim Brotherhood.Continue reading the main story

Sites controlled by Islamist-allied militias in Tripoli were hit.

But Western diplomats in the region say the U.A.E. is now far more assertive and aggressive than even the Saudis about the need to eradicate Islamist movements around the region, perhaps because the Emirati rulers perceive a greater domestic threat.

The issue has caused a rare schism among the Arab monarchies of the gulf because Qatar has taken the opposite tack. In contrast to its neighbors, it has welcomed Islamist expatriates to its capital, Doha, and supported their factions around the region, including in Libya.

During the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya three years ago, Qatar and the U.A.E. both played active roles, but each favored different clients among the rebels. While Qatar backed certain Islamists, the U.A.E. favored certain tribal or regional militias, including the militias from the Western mountain town of Zintan, said Frederic Wehrey, another associate at the Carnegie Endowment who specializes in Libya and the Persian Gulf.

The “proxy competition” between the two gulf states in Libya, he said, goes back to 2011.

Now it has extended to backing different sides in what threatens to become a civil war between rival coalitions of Libyan cities, tribes and militias. Although the ideological lines are blurry, the U.A.E. has backed its Zintani clients in what they describe as a battle against Islamist extremists. Qatar, its Islamist clients and loosely allied regional or tribal groups from the coastal city of Misurata have squared off from the other side; most insist that their fight has nothing to do with political Islam and seek to prevent an Egyptian-style “counterrevolution.”

The first strikes occurred before dawn a week ago, hitting positions in Tripoli controlled by militias on the side of the Islamists. The bombs blew up a small weapons depot, among other targets, and local authorities said they killed six people.

A second set of airstrikes took place south of Tripoli in the early hours on Saturday. The Islamist-allied militias were posed to capture the airport from Zintani militias allied with the U.A.E. who had controlled it since 2011, and the strikes may have been intended to slow the advance.

Striking again before dawn, jets bombed rocket launchers, military vehicles and a warehouse all controlled by Islamist-allied militia. At least a dozen people were killed, local authorities said. But within hours the Islamist-aligned forces had nonetheless taken the airport.

Responsibility for the airstrikes was initially a mystery. In both cases, anti-Islamist forces based in eastern Libya under a renegade former general, Khalifa Heftir, sought to claim responsibility. But the strikes, at night and from a long distance, were beyond the known capabilities of General Heftir’s forces.

The Islamist-allied militias, allied under the banner Libya Dawn, were quick to suspect Egypt and the U.A.E. But they offered no evidence or details.

American officials said after the first strike that signs pointed to the Emiratis. But some American officials found it hard to believe that the U.A.E. would risk a regional backlash. It was unclear how U.A.E. fighters could reach Tripoli without a base in the region, and Egypt denied any role.

On Monday, however, American officials said the second set of strikes over the weekend had provided enough evidence to conclude that the Emirates had carried out the strikes and even supplied the refueling ships necessary for fighters to reach Tripoli from Egypt.

Asked about an earlier version of this report posted on The New York Times website, a State Department spokesman declined to comment. “I’m not in a position to provide any additional information on these strikes,” the spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, told reporters at a State Department briefing.

US prepares military options in Syria against Islamic State

US is said to be preparing surveillance to identify Isil targets
Πηγή: The Telegraph
By Reuters
Aug 26 2014

As Islamic State militants continue to tighten their grip on Syria, senior US officials say the White House is now actively weighing options for expanding airstrikes into Syria

The United States is preparing military options, including surveillance flights, to pressure Islamic State in Syria, US officials said last night, but they cautioned no decision had been made to expand US action beyond the limited airstrikes under way in Iraq.

President Barack Obama has so far sought a limited military campaign in Iraq focused on protecting American diplomats and civilians under direct threat. Still, officials have not ruled out escalating military action against the Islamic State militant group, which has increased its overt threats against the United States.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that Islamic State would eventually need to be addressed on "both sides of what is essentially at this point a non-existent border" between Syria and Iraq.

Gen Dempsey's spokesman confirmed on Monday that options against Islamic State were under review and stressed the need to form "a coalition of capable regional and European partners."

"With Central Command, (Gen. Dempsey) is preparing options to address ISIS both in Iraq and Syria with a variety of military tools including airstrikes," Colonel Ed Thomas said, using a different name for the Sunni Muslim group that has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria.

"The bottom line is that our forces are well postured to partner with regional allies against ISIS."

A US official said Washington was also preparing to launch intelligence and surveillance flights, including drones, over Syria.

Two other US officials also acknowledged the preparation of strike options against Islamic State in Syria, with one saying planning had been under way for weeks. Still, neither official suggested U.S. military action there was imminent.

"We're just not there yet," said a senior US defense official, speaking on condition of the anonymity.

Republicans called on Sunday for more aggressive U.S. action to defeat Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, accusing President Barack Obama of policies that have failed to thwart potential new threats on U.S. soil.

At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest said Mr Obama would consult Congress on whatever he decided on Syria, but would not necessarily seek congressional approval. He said Mr Obama had not made any decisions on whether to use airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria.

Mr Earnest said the Islamic State threat was a different situation from a year ago when Obama said he wanted Congress to approve the use of airstrikes to stop Syrian President Bashir al-Assad from using chemical weapons on his own people.

Mr Obama met on Monday with his defense secretary Chuck Hagel.

Gen Dempsey, Col Thomas added, believed that Islamic State needed to be pressured in Iraq and Syria and that defeating the group would require a sustained effort over an extended period of time "and much more than military action."

Although the U.S. air campaign launched this month has caused some setbacks for Islamic State, they do not address the deeper problem of sectarian warfare that the group has fueled with its attacks on Shi'ites.

In retaliation for the airstrikes, Islamic State released a video showing one of its black-clad fighters beheading James Foley, an American journalist.

Syria said Monday it was ready to help confront the rising threat from the Islamic State group, but warned the United States against carrying out airstrikes without Damascus' consent, saying any such attack would be considered an aggression.

In seeking to portray itself as a partner for the international community, Syria seemed intent on capitalising on the growing clamor among some U.S. officials, including military leaders, to expand the current American air campaign against the Islamic extremists in Iraq and to hit them in Syria as well.

President Barack Obama has long been wary of getting dragged into the bloody and complex Syrian civil war that the United Nations says has killed more than 190,000 people. He has resisted intervening militarily in the conflict, even after a deadly chemical weapons attack a year ago that Washington blamed on President Bashar Assad's government.

But the extremist group's rampage across wide swaths of Iraq, declaration of a state governed by their harsh interpretation of Islamic law in territory spanning the Iraq-Syria border, and grisly beheading of Mr Foley, have injected a new dynamic into those calculations.