Background: Iranian shipments and Turkish airstrikes
The acceleration of the current fuel crisis in regime-controlled Syria has been months in the making. In November, Tehran suddenly reduced the flow of its discounted oil exports to Syria sharply from 118,000 barrels per day to 57,000, setting off a supply shock as well as explosive price increases for both the regime and civilians. The shortages prompted a rapid shutdown of most Syrian industry, shuttering public services and sending the country spiralling into its most acute phase of financial crisis yet.
While oil shipments from north-east Syria rarely total more than 20,000 barrels per day, the collapse of Iranian exports has suddenly placed domestic crude production at the center of regional geopolitics.
Since late November, Turkish forces have ramped up attacks against the SDF and a range of infrastructure targets across the region—chief among them, oil fields and facilities. Self-Administration officials report that at least 14 oil production sites have been damaged by Turkish missiles and UAV attacks, mostly concentrated in Hasakah province in the areas of al-Qahtaniyah, al-Malikiyah and Rmeilan. With domestic production dwindling as a result, crude shipments have slipped to around a third of flow levels from several months ago. At present, no more than 30 to 40 oil tanks a day are crossing into regime-held territories.
As a result, black market prices have exploded, setting off new destabilizing tribal conflicts and a scramble for control. Spontaneous outbursts of protest roiling al-Baggara-dominated towns along the Euphrates River, in addition to the tribe’s rising demand for their own tribal council, are a symptom of this development, as lucrative oil smuggling assumes its place as a key pillar of the regional economy.