In Rebel Territory (III)


DAMASCUS/BERLIN (Own report) - The German government is reinforcing its insistence that state structures be rapidly established in the rebel-controlled regions of Syria. The "moderate forces" of these regions must be strengthened and the "reconstruction" advanced with determination, the Foreign Ministry declared. This is particularly in response to the growing influence of the fanatical Islamist militias, such as Jabhat al Nusra, an alliance with ties to al Qaeda in Iraq. The close ties to that neighboring country facilitate Jabhat al Nusra's control over a majority of Syria's oil reserves, which, to a large extent, are located near the border with Iraq. According to reports, this fanatical Islamist militia is financing itself to a growing extent through the exploitation of oil deposits, which other militia groups of Syrian insurgents are now also trying to gain control. The EU's recent decision to lift the embargo on Syrian oil from the non-Islamist, "moderate" insurgent groups is designed to strengthen the standing of these factions in their opposition to Jabhat al Nusra and similar alliances. However, this will further fuel the civil war between the rebel groups.

One of the Largest Donors

With the renewed commitment of millions of Euros for the insurgents, Germany - along with its western allies - is continuing its interference in Syria's civil war. Washington, alone, has agreed to double its support to the insurgents to a quarter billion dollars. Communications equipment, as well as - officially admitted for the first time - so-called non-lethal military equipment will be provided along with humanitarian services. Germany has also agreed to increase the means it has been providing, which currently is said to amount to 145 million Euros. Berlin insists that no weapons be bought with this money - an allegation that should be considered within the framework of the western division of labor in the conflict. For example, by rendering service to refugees, Germany is relieving other countries to focus more heavily on paying insurgent militias. The Foreign Ministry boasts of Germany being one of the "largest donors."[1] Politically, Berlin is in complete accord with the support provided the insurgents. ( reported.[2])

Humanitarian Aid as Instrument

The West is confronted, to a growing extent, with the fact that fanatically anti-western Islamists have taken over areas no longer under government control. According to reports, the population often tolerates them, out of fear that this civil war society could disintegrate into complete chaos without the - even sometimes extremely brutal - domination of militant Islamists, reflecting a reasoning heard for years from regions of Afghanistan and Somalia. EU diplomats have begun to openly admit that the West is comprehensively using its so-called humanitarian aid "for political ends." Aid is systematically supplied to pro-western insurgents, to "win the hearts and minds" of the local population. Despite its notoriously fractious leadership - this buys "legitimacy" for the insurgents in their bid to establish an alternative government. The means expended for this purpose, so far, is said to be 790 million Euros.[3]

Oil as Insurgent Financing

Just last week, as a means of relieving the financial burden on western national budgets as soon as possible, the EU - with German agreement - agreed to partially lift the oil embargo, imposed one and a half years ago on Syria. The embargo remains intact for the government, but, from now on, the insurgents will be allowed to export oil to Europe. The returns from these oil sales could help finance "reconstruction" measures in regions under their control, according to the explanatory memorandum attached to the bill. Still, a significant amount of scepticism prevails over whether this will actually be possible.

Exports and Pipelines

This scepticism is not so much due to the specifics of the Syrian oil industry. Numerous oil fields are already under insurgent control - reports speak of up to 90 percent of the resources. The fact that the two Syrian refineries - in Homs and Banyas - still remain under government control should also not hamper the export of crude oil. Although the importance of the Syrian oil, according to the Federal Agency for Geological Studies and Natural Resources (BGR), should not be overestimated, this should not hinder the export of at least smaller amounts. As the BGR reported in September 2011, Germany was still the most important recipient of Syrian oil, while the embargo on Syria was in preparation. But, it was already being reported, at the time, that its extraction had been significantly reduced. Syria only ranks 33rd on the global scale of oil reserves and its own consumption needs is growing. An end to Syrian oil imports is foreseeable.[4] However, Damascus' plans to become an "oil and gas hub" with the construction of pipelines, for example, connecting Egypt and Iraq to Europe, could on the other hand, be of long-term importance, considered the BGR, at the time. The implementation of these plans, which could be highly beneficial for the EU, can only be envisaged after the civil war has ended.

Model Iraq

More problematic than the expected limited quantity of future Syrian oil exports is the fact that the struggle to take control of the oil wells is leading the insurgents' already splintered fractions into new armed conflicts. Syria's oil wells are located in the East of the country, mostly in the Deir al-Zour Province, bordering Iraq. Many are currently under the control of the fanatic Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra, which is cooperating with Al Qaeda in Iraq. “They have the Syrian economy in their hands, and they are very strong," one hears in the region, in reference to Jabhat al-Nusra, which allegedly has already begun to sell oil for its own financing.[5] Eastern Syrian tribal militia, seeking to take control over the oil fields, themselves, are beginning to revolt against al-Nusra. Bloody battles between Jabhat al Nusra and other insurgents are becoming more numerous. The forces operating under the name "Free Syrian Army" (FSA) near the oil fields are seeking special assistance from the West. As FSA General Salim Idris remarked, they would like to take over this source of income from the militant Islamists.[6] Because of the strength of the Jabhat al Nusra, the formation of an armed movement comprised of tribal militias, to systemically destroy the al Qaeda structures - along the lines of the US operations initiated in Iraq a few years ago, is currently under consideration. The long-term success can be seen by the dozens of new corpses found daily in the Iraqi civil war.

Other reports and background information on Germany's policy toward Syria can be found here: War Threats against Syria, Iran's Achilles Heel, War Scenarios for Syria, War Scenarios for Syria (II), With the UN toward Escalation, Market Economy for Syria, The Yemenite Solution, Smuggle Supervisors, The Day After, The Day After (II), The Day After (IV), The Islamization of the Rebellion, Air Defense for the Exile Leadership, A Proxy War and In Rebel Territory (II).

[1] Syrien: moderate Kräfte stärken; 22.04.2013
[2] see also The Day After, Verdeckte Kriegspartei, Im Rebellengebiet and In Rebel Territory (II)
[3] Syria: Britain funds rebels overseeing aid inside occupied areas; 14.04.2013
[4] DERA informiert: Erdöl und Erdgas in Syrien; 05.09.2011
[5] In Syria, some brace for the next war; 09.04.2013
[6] Syrian rebels seek control over oil fields; 22.04.2013