Syria: Battle between Superpowers over natural resources

The conflict in Syria has destroyed the country.

Dr Ilyas Mohammed writes that the Syrian conflict is not necessarily about sectarianism and balance of power between superpowers and regional proxies, rather it’s about natural resources.

The Syrian war has been portrayed in the media as being part of the Arab Spring, where Syrians are fighting to create a free democratic and plural society. The involvement of regional and global powers is ambiguous. All contend that they are working hard to end the war. Scratching the surface of these concerns reveals a struggle of Mediterranean oil and gas reserves.


The Syrian war has caused a major humanitarian crisis, which has resulted in millions of Syrians fleeing to neighboring countries, and others to Europe. The United Nations has called on regional powers: Saudi Arabia and Iran and global powers, such as United States and Russia to put pressure on both sides to end the war.

Attempts have been made to bring both sides together to talk peace, such as the proposed Geneva II talks. However, given the divergent goals of the protagonists, and their supporters, the talks are likely to be a “gesture of bad will”.

Natural resources and geopolitical power

Regional and global powers have portrayed their concern and involvement in the Syrian war as being humanitarian. In reality this is misleading. It’s a little known fact that the Mediterranean Sea (Syria, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus) has vast gas and oil reserves. Thus, increasing the geopolitical importance of countries such as, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine for regional and global powers.

Research carried out by the US Geological Survey (USGS) has calculated that the Eastern Mediterranean: Aegean Basin offshore Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, the Levant Basin offshore Lebanon, Israel and Syria, and the Nile Basin offshore Egypt has 345 tcf of gas and 3.4 billion barrels of oil.

In 2009 Israel and the US through the American “Noble Energy” discovered the Tamar field in the Levantine Basin, some 50 miles west of Israel’s port of Haifa. The Basin has an estimated 8.3 tcf (trillion cubic feet) of highest-quality natural gas. The discovery has led Israel to declare it its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Hezbollah has claimed that the gas fields belong to Lebanon. Lebanon delivered maps to the UN to back its claim, to which Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman retorted, “We won’t give an inch”, thus, increasing the chances of war between the two countries.

Russia, not wanting to be left out in the cold, and wanting to lose its monopoly over energy, and its geopolitical influence in the region has signed a $90 million, 25-year deal with Damascus to start exploring Syria’s offshore energy resources.

Beneficiaries of the Syrian war 

Understanding the geopolitics of the region, it seems evident that the involvement of regional and global powers in the Syrian war is not a concern over humanitarianism.

If the Syrian rebels are able to defeat Assad, then the West, Arab Gulf countries and Turkey will gain a stake in the Syrian vis-a-vis Mediterranean gas and oil reserves. The victory will ensure that Israel becomes self-reliant, and be able to sell gas to countries like Hungary, which has already shown interest in Israeli gas.

Palestinians in this scenario will be left out in the cold again financially and politically. On the other hand, if Assad retains power, then Russia, Iran and Hezbollah will benefit.

It is clear that like previous conflicts, what motivates the global and regional powers is access and control over energy sources, leading increased regional and global sociopolitical influence. Like the previous conflicts in the Arab world, the situation on the everyday Arab will not change.

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