Marco Polo on his way to China found the black fluid that oozed in the region off the Caspian Sea to be undrinkable, but that it could be rubbed on the wounds of his camels.
It was only later that the Nobels of Sweden, the Rothschilds of France and the Rockefellers of the US fought their first oil wars in this region.
Since then the Great Game has gone on -- Iran and Iraq are the venue -- but the players are different and the competition more lethal.
The Soviets messed up the region quite badly, but now with the oil giants like BP in control, Azerbaijan's fortunes are looking up. The 1,600 km Baku (Azerbaijan)-Tblisi (Georgia)-Ceyhan (Turkey) oil pipeline plans to eventually pump one million barrels of oil per day up to the Mediterranean Sea close to the Syrian coastline.
This bypasses both the Black Sea and the Straits of Bosphorus. This lengthy pipeline avoids Russia, the existing route, and Iran, which would have been the shortest and most economical. Obviously there are strong geo-strategic reasons for this.
The present US thrust against Syria could well have more to do with the fact that the Syrian coastline is too close to where this pipeline ends than with the so-called foreign insurgents in Iraq.
Roosevelt's assurance of security in exchange for oil to the Saudi king in 1945 to CENTCOM'S present zone of responsibility covering the entire energy rich areas of Central and West Asia with increasing military presence indicate the long-standing importance of this area and its resources.
Wars have been fought earlier for this precious commodity. Even the Second World War had quite a bit to do with oil in the region. The several Bush Wars that have been fought since the 1990s were only about control of oil and global dominance, whatever be the ostensible stated reason.
Today the assessment generally is that oil production will peak, though some experts say it has already peaked. There are also new buyers in the market as the Chinese and Indian economies become the big consumers.
Saudi Arabia has become unstable and although the richest in terms of oil reserves, its oil fields are unable to meet the increasing surge in demand. The Iraq adventure has not yielded oil dividends. US domestic production has declined, making the country highly dependent on imports. If the price of oil steadies at above $100 per barrel the US economy will be badly hit. It is therefore necessary that assured cheap oil in plenty is available to the US.
The struggle is about oil, not WMDs, a case similar to that in Iraq. The whole game is about control and dominance. It is about energy and preserving
One does not quite know what or how we are going to gain in all this.
True, Iran has signed the NPT and the Additional Protocol. But the present resolution is far more intrusive and insists that Iran should fulfill more than its legal obligations, an argument which could be made applicable to others later.
The resolution wants access at short notice to individuals but the master proliferator, A Q Khan, sits happily in Pakistani comfort. Iraq got punished for less, but Pakistan has got away with >clandestine nuclear sales, which could not have been done without official connivance.
But a mere referral to the UNSC will not ensure greater, uninterrupted and cheap oil to the US. The idea is to have Iran declared a threat to international peace, and then keep the military option open.
Maybe the US will invoke the Carter Doctrine of 1980 to use military force to ensure continued supply of Middle Eastern oil. Maybe the Iranians will blink, or maybe they have concluded this is bluff and bluster.Maybe they believe that the US presidency is at its weakest internally and externally today, and that after the spectacular failure in Iraq, it is the US that needs more support than others.
Apparently, US Vice President Cheney had asked the Pentagon for a plan that includes conventional and tactical nuclear air assault on Iran. But once the wheels of a military machine are set in motion, the momentum just continues to build and the whole thing gets a life of its own. This is the real danger that the world faces today.
Bathing in the afterglow of a long cherished relationship with the US, we did not read the fine print nor realise that with the US there are no free lunches.
This is not difficult to understand, because it has always been only about America first. When Americans speak of convergence of interests they mean convergence with their interests.
Our loyalties have been put to test weeks after the agreement and we are still not sure if we will get what we want. It will depend on continued good behaviour. It seems our moves were based on hope rather than on strategic realities. We give the impression of surrendering our strategic independence much too easily.
Apart from Iran's own value to India, it lies on strategic routes to Afghanistan, Central Asia and Russia, and sits on the other side of Pakistan. Surely this is value addition.
One wonders if abstaining would not have sent the same message if it had been accompanied by quiet back door diplomacy. This would also have kept the options open for November.
It defies logic to say that a man votes against another to help him.
Vikram Sood is a former chief of the Research & Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency