The Middle East resembles a tragic Bond film – the IDF taking out top Hamas, IRGC and Hezbollah leaders; Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipments; the US’s defensive responses to drone strikes on its assets across the region; Israel’s pronouncement of the first ever clear statement of life beyond Hamas in Gaza and their escalating war with Hezbollah; and ISIS (K) claiming responsibility for two bomb blasts in Iran on the day of Qassim Soleimani’s memorial.
Regional power’s reluctance to escalate the war is evident, with Egypt reaching out to Iran, Saudis promising more to Houthis in the Yemen peace process, and a US-led alliance aiming to protect freedom of sea navigation. For now, tit-for-tat attacks are causing supply chain disruptions. With 5.2% global shipping control, COSCO has halted all Israeli operations. Maersk, MSC, CMA CGM, and Hapag-Llyod are seeking alternative routes.
Changing ME dynamics are also raising concerns about religious groups regaining ground. Iranian proxies had been at the forefront of fighting ISIS. But now, US strikes killed a militia leader in Iraq, who had been placed there ostensibly to prevent the rise of ISIS. As Iraq prepares to minimize US forces in its country, will older conflicts re-ignite? Is the IS-perpetrated Kerman attack, a one-off event, or the opening of another front?
In the economic realm – China opened an anti-dumping investigation into the price of brandy imported from the EU in response to the bloc’s probe into cheap Chinese imports of EVs, biofuel, and plastic products. China also imposed sanctions on five US military
manufacturers in retaliation for arms sales to Taiwan. The EU Commission is poised to launch more investigations into Chinese products, and China would no doubt retaliate. France, vocal about Chinese anti-dumping, can be particularly affected.
The 2024 election season began with PM Sheikh Hasina’s controversial 5th term in Bangladesh amid opposition boycotts. Pakistan is also set to witness controversy as Imran Khan is banned from contesting the February elections. Will this lead to increased protests and instability in an already troubled neighborhood?
Is 2024 any better for climate? The host country of COP29, Azerbaijan, has chosen its Ecology and Natural Resource Minister, Mukhtar Babayev, to replace Sultan Al Jaber, both equally controversial appointments due to links to oil conglomerates. Azerbaijan has been clear in its aim to become the majority supplier of the EU’s gas needs by 2027. Amidst continuing sanctions against Russia, this may yet be needed to power their economies.
Green energy isn’t at its best in the West, either. BP and Equinor have cited “changing economic conditions” for cancelling the contract to sell wind power to New York. The US has also emerged as the biggest exporter of LNG, ahead of giants like Qatar, to take the spot of biggest non-green energy exporter. So, green energy and climate change could have a way to go in 2024 before the world “just stops oil”.