The Wall Street Journal reports: In Syria, George Haswani sees himself as a patriot. In the West, he is a wanted man.
Mr. Haswani acts as a middleman between Islamic State and the Syrian government, the terror group’s largest customer, Western security officials allege. Islamic State controls much of Syria’s energy infrastructure and sells stolen oil and natural gas at a discount—even to the regime it is ostensibly battling.
Emerging from the fog of Syria’s multisided civil war, the businessman, 69 years old, says he is helping keep his country from plunging into the dark ages, given that Syria’s power plants run on fuel controlled largely by Islamic State. To the Syrian nuns he helped free from extremist kidnappers, Mr. Haswani is a hero.
U.S. and European Union officials, meanwhile, have sanctioned Mr. Haswani, a dual-Russian-Syrian national, for his alleged role as a broker of crude-oil shipments from Islamic State to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The sanctions freeze assets held by Mr. Haswani in the U.S. and EU.
“We’ve declared to the world…that we’re going after him,” said Amos Hochstein, a State Department special envoy who oversees U.S. efforts to cripple Islamic State’s energy business.
The role played by men such as Mr. Haswani is one reason why Islamic State has been able to sustain itself financially despite U.S.-led military strikes and plunging oil prices. The group’s energy profits have fallen by as much as half over the past year, officials said, but sales continue to make up a sizable proportion of total revenues, estimated at $1 billion to $2 billion annually, including income from the Assad regime.
Buttressing Mr. Hawsani are his strong ties to Russia. He teamed up years ago with one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest associates to build the sprawling gas-production facility in Syria’s Tuweinan region that caught the attention of the Obama administration.
Administration officials said Moscow’s military and economic alliance with Damascus makes it clear Russia knows of the dealings between the Assad regime and Islamic State. [Continue reading…]