Cover-up: Europe and the Syrian oil embargo

Randa Takieddine

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The European Union has announced that it lifted an embargo on Syrian oil in order to help the Syrian opposition, but this was just talk designed to cover the west’s failure in offering true support to the Syrian uprising. It was a bid to tell the western public that the EU was not standing idly by amid the massacres in Syria, and that it wants to help the Syrian uprising. The announcement of the decision, which was justified as an attempt to ease the suffering of civilians, is just talk, and has nothing to do with the reality of things on the ground.

Those with a good familiarity of the reality of Syria’s oil sector, especially in the Deir al-Zor region which is mostly under rebel control, are surprised by the EU’s decision for several reasons. First of all, the region is in a state of war and there is no possibility of oil company employees reaching the fields. Among those in the oil industry that are generally present in this area (Shell and Total), no one has precise knowledge of the state of the oil facilities there. Likewise, no one knows who exactly is in control of things, and of what. The situation is in constant flux.

Destruction and sabotage

What is certain, however, is that a considerable amount of destruction and sabotage have befallen the facilities; however, the impact and extent of the damage remain unclear. According to an oil industry specialist, “even if we imagine that the situation becomes clear, and the problems end, how can work start on any production without a legal and contractual framework?”

The EU decision appears to be a media stunt to show that European countries are truly helping the uprising, but it has nothing to do with reality

Randa Takieddine

We all know that some wells have been burned in the region, and some are still burning. The Deir al-Zor fields represent more than half of Syria’s total oil production, which oil industry reports prior to the uprising said stood at around 350,000 barrels a day. Deir al-Zor’s fields used to produce around 200,000 barrels a day. As for the facilities, all of the network of pipelines would transport this oil to Banias, where it was either exported or refined. During the current war, this network has either been sabotaged or interrupted. Some sources say that even if we can imagine some primitive means of producing in these fields, there is no machinery for refining the product.

In addition, the EU decision does not specify the legal framework for such activity. There is a claim that this decision was like the “oil for food” measure in Iraq, but this is incorrect. Iraq was producing oil at that time, and the formula allowed the Iraqi government to produce oil in return for revenues that were placed in a fund, which allowed the purchasing of food. The arrangement was very complicated, and despite this, it was violated.

The EU decision appears to be a media stunt to show that European countries are truly helping the uprising, but it has nothing to do with reality. The Syrian uprising is pitted against a brutal regime that is repressing it while the opposition outside the country is divided, and much of it is penetrated by foreign actors. The international community is helpless, while the west is calculating things according to the cost – is it costlier to allow the murder, massacres and killing to continue, or should the west intervene to stop them? It is clear that the west has chosen the least costly option, namely letting the war continue while the regime is helped by those it relies on. These parties appear to be more loyal than the west, unfortunately for the revolution. With no hesitation or debate, Russia and Iran are supporting a regime that is waging war against its own people, whereas the west is good at rhetoric and setting verbal red lines, while allowing people to die and their country to be destroyed.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on April 25, 2013.


Randa Takieddine is a Lebanese writer and the director of Al-Hayat newspaper office in Paris. Her writing focuses on regional Middle Eastern conflicts, with other interests in global energy issues.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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