Julian Borger writes: The stranglehold that Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies have achieved over Syria’s oilfields signals a decisive moment in the conflict that will shape the rapidly and violently evolving map of the new Middle East.
The impact is immediately visible. With a new independent source of funding, the jihadists holding the oilfields between al-Raqqa and Deir Ezzor are much better equipped than their Sunni rivals, reinforcing the advantage originally provided by Qatari backing. They have been able to provide bread and other essentials to the people in the areas under their control, securing an enduring popular base.
This serves to marginalise the western-backed rebels, the National Coalition and the Supreme Military Council (SMC), even further. The blustering claim by the SMC commander, Salim Idriss, that he was going to muster a 30,000 force to retake the oilfields served only to undermine his credibility.
More importantly, as so often in history, control over hydrocarbons has solidified new lines on the map. The fact that the Syrian army has withdrawn from the heart of the country and that the victorious Salafist groups have not pressed their attack, but instead entered into a revenue-sharing agreement with Damascus over the oil, show that both sides are satisfied with the dividing lines. [Continue reading…]