Syria Deeply: Why are old fields such an important target now for ISIS?
Mills: It's a very important priority because it generates income. ISIS's strategy seems to have evolved around generating income. ISIS raises money in several ways, but oil is certainly a part of that. For a long time, they avoided having much direct confrontation with the regime. They generally tended to turn their fire against other rebel groups. They had been selling to the regime, or basically anyone who'd pay for it. But recently it seems like they are taking a more aggressive approach, like with the attack on Shaar. Were they just attacking it to destroy it [to hit the regime], or to take it over and continue selling gas? It's not clear what their intention was.
If ISIS truly has destroyed fields there, it means the [regime's] gas supply will be cut off. It's already down to half of pre-war levels, and this will cause more power cuts and electricity cuts in Damascus. It means the regime will have to use more expensive fuel from Iran. It means more suffering for [civilians], and this perhaps will undercut support there for the regime. And it makes it very hard to have any prospect of the economy recovering.
Karasik: Even before all of this activity began, Syria's oil exports were not a large part of their economy. But having said that, what these nonstate actors can grab provides them with a source of income. We've seen that already with ISIS, which has an illegal oil export scheme that derives revenue. It seems now that [oil in Syria] is up for grabs and ISIS started this trend [of fighting for it]. It is likely that other groups such as Nusra will try to follow.
As the Islamic State is established, it's clear that ISIS wants to have all parts of their government and revenue sources well organized, and that energy exports are part of this scheme. The scheme includes the collection of taxes, but also other black market activities like trade in other illegal goods the group plunders from the land it captures. Given the call by [ISIS leader Abu Bakr] Baghdadi on the first day of Ramadan –asking for consolidation of the state and the recruitment of individuals to help run that state – you have to figure that the energy sector figures into his planning.
This article originally appeared on Syria Deeply.