In recent weeks, a number of oil and gas facilities in Syria were struck by a series of terrorist attacks carried out by drones. This is unfortunately not the first time that this has happened as the energy sector remains a major interest of terrorist and insurgent groups operating in the region.
In regard to energy supplies, Syria is significant in the eastern Mediterranean as it was found to possess the largest proven reserves of crude oil in the region. The oil and gas industry as a whole has always been a major source of income for the country as it accounted for approximately one-fourth of government revenues. In the pre-war period, Syria was one of the major producers and exporters of petroleum supplies. Indeed, the production of crude oil before 2011, amounted to around 400,000 barrels per day, half of which were exported.
There is currently a major conflict of interests between the United States, Russia, Iran and Turkey regarding the control of the Syrian oil and gas fields. In this context, numerous attacks on Syrian energy infrastructures have been carried out either by state or non-state actors, resulting in the Syrian government losing control of key oil fields. Indeed, such attacks have far-reaching consequences for the county’s economy. The Syrian oil and gas production have undoubtedly experienced a dramatic drop since the civil war erupted. It has essentially undergone a steep fall of approximately 95%, thus forcing the Syrian government to start importing oil.
The energy industry became a legitimate target of terrorist groups in the 1990s and it is the sector most affected by terrorism at a global level. Syria is not the only example of this kind. Oil industries in Nigeria, Colombia and Venezuela are considered to have been affected by terrorism in some sense. Research has shown that in regions with high-level tensions, such as Syria, the possibilities of a terrorist attack against energy infrastructures are higher. The incentive behind such an attack may be to cause a great deal of damage in order to attract media attention, to put pressure on the relevant government or to obtain control over the energy resources.
There are numerous militant or terrorist groups seeking to exploit sources of energy and natural resources. A prime example is the Islamic State whose funding strategy included the conquering of territory rich in oil and gas. Indeed, the Islamic State heavily relied on the oil-producing areas it controlled; the exploitation of such territories reaped huge profits, making the Islamic State the wealthiest terrorist organization that ever existed. They used these profits not only to fund its terrorist activity but also to buy weapons and to recruit new members. Economic incentives played a key role in many fighters’ decision to join the group. Therefore, the protection of energy facilities in conflict zones and counter-terrorism operations is vital so that they do not fall into the wrong hands.
The energy sector is particularly important for states that largely depend on in thus social well-being depends on its proper functioning. An attack against energy infrastructure by hostile states or terrorists causes serious disruption and problems to societies as well as places national security at risk. It is therefore essential to ensure the security and safety of energy infrastructure anywhere in the world, but especially in unstable countries with fragile security. This could be achieved by working together with organizations that are specialized in energy security responsible for carrying out risk, threat and vulnerability assessments. This, in addition to developing new detection technology in preventing terrorist attacks, will help to enhance forecasting and rapid response capabilities for the protection of energy infrastructure to promote peace and security globally.