With the Russian military claiming that ISIS’s territorial reach in Syria has shrunk from 70% of Syrian territory in 2015 to less than 5% now, ISIS continues to suffer heavy defeats in Syria’s eastern province of Deir Ezzor.
The Syrian army has apparently succeeded in driving ISIS from more of the areas it controls in Deir Ezzor city and there are reports that ISIS is collapsing there. Note that this is happening without any of the devastation inflicted by the US airforce on Raqqa.
Meanwhile elsewhere in Deir Ezzor province, the Syrian army has recaptured from ISIS the important T2 oil pumping station, one of a complex of three pumping stations (T1 is in Iraq) used to pump oil from Iraq and Syria to ports on Syria’s Mediterranean coast.
There has been some discussion – and some concern – that ISIS in what may have been a negotiated deal recently handed over the Al-Omar oil fields – Syria’s largest – to the Syrian Kurds before they could be recaptured by the Syrian army.
The reality is that the Al-Omar oil fields are comparatively small (Syria is not a big oil producer) – they are totally dwarfed by the much vaster oil fields the Iraqi Kurds have just lost near Kirkuk – and it is unlikely the Syrian Kurds will be able to hold on to them for long anyway.
By contrast Syria was an important oil transit state before the war (there is a widespread view that it was a project to build a gas pipeline across Syria from Qatar which was the cause of the war). With the T2 oil pumping station back under the Syrian government’s control there is now a high probability that it will become one again.
As it happens my opinion is that all the recent gains by the US-backed Kurds in Syria will prove ephemeral, just as the post-Saddam Hussein gains by the Iraqi Kurds have proved to be in Iraq.
Not only will the Syrian Kurds before long surrender the Al-Omar oil fields to the Syrian government, but at some point I expect them to hand over Raqqa to the Syrian government as well.
Both Raqqa and the Al-Omar oil fields have been comprehensively devastated and lie outside historic Kurdish territory. Not only are they in no sense genuine assets (production at the Al-Omar oil fields has apparently slowed down to a trickle) but the Syrian Kurds even with US backing are likely to conclude before long that they simply do not have the resources to restore them.
Given the recent shift in the balance of power in the Middle East against the Kurds as a result of the Iraqi government’s successful Kirkuk operation, I suspect that the Syrian Kurds will agree before long to offload both Raqqa and the Al-Omar oil fields to the Syrian government, possibly as part of a Russian brokered deal granting them some form of autonomy.
Meanwhile, as to ISIS its final collapse in Syria and of its phoney Caliphate is now probably no more than a few weeks away.