The Islamic State already controls eighty percent of the oil in Syria, but it’s looking for more… and it is sizing up the oil fields of Libya and Egypt for conquest.
That is the word from a senior U.S. official quoted by Reuters, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity. The official said U.S. planners were examining oil infrastructure in Libya, the Sinai Peninsula, and elsewhere, assuring reporters that “we’ll be prepared,” although no details were given about exactly what those preparations would entail.
The anonymous briefing included the interesting observation that lower oil prices were hurting the ISIS bottom line, but were also leaving oil companies with less money to spend on “a variety of things,” by which the official presumably meant security precautions. Also, dwindling profits lead to unemployed oil workers, who are “easier targets to recruit around the world.”
According to French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, as quoted at RT.com, ISIS may soon be within striking distance of Libyan oil.
“They are in Sirte and their territory extends 250km along the coast,” said Le Drian. “However, they are starting to penetrate into the interior and may be tempted by the oil wells and reserves on offer.”
However, he said French military intervention to protect the oil fields was unlikely: “That’s not on the agenda. One cannot release the Libyans from their responsibilities by suggesting there might one day be an intervention. They must find solutions themselves.”
However, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls seemed more open to taking action. “We are living with the terrorist threat. We have a common enemy, Daesh, which we must defeat and destroy in Iraq and Syria and probably tomorrow in Libya,” he said, using another name for the Islamic State.
Russian propaganda outlet RT.com relayed a U.N. estimate of between two and three thousand Islamic State fighters in Libya, with about half of them concentrated in Sirte. Their work is made easier by the post-Obama/Clinton deterioration of Libya into warlord chaos, with the internationally-recognized national government living in exile while an Islamist alliance holds the capitol of Tripoli.
Time Magazine noted in March that Islamic State militants were launching attacks against Libyan oil infrastructure in a bid to weaken all of Libya’s warring factions. “By attacking the oil sector in Libya, they will ensure that any unity government will be deprived of much of the funds they need to buy the weapons they need to face this group,” said Libya-based fellow Mohamed Eljarh of the Atlantic Council.
Such a Libyan unity government seemed like it might at last be in the cards, as the two rival governments were scheduled to sign a U.N.-brokered agreement on Wednesday, but they appear to have rejected the deal. The UK Guardian reports that the U.N. is optimistically claiming the signing has merely been delayed for “logistical reasons” and will be rescheduled for Morocco on Thursday, but skeptics thought this was unlikely or might even result in the formation of a third nominal government, at odds with the existing two.
The Guardian also reports ISIS militants have already “taken advantage of Libya’s growing chaos” to capture oil fields in the Sirte Basin, and are currently fighting for control of the strategically important town of Ajdabiya, which would give them access to Libya’s eastern oil ports. Western officials deemed it unlikely Libyan forces would be able to repel ISIS from Ajdabiya without outside assistance.
Meanwhile, in the Sinai, Egypt has gotten serious enough about the ISIS threat to violate Israeli airspace several times over the past month, in order to conduct air strikes against insurgents loyal to the Islamic State. Although these incidents marked the first Egyptian violations of Israeli airspace since the Arab-Israeli War in 1973, the Israeli military brushed them off as “minor” infractions, leading observers to suspect there was quiet coordination between Egypt and Israel. The ISIS-linked insurgent group in question, the so-called “Sinai Province,” has threatened to attack Israel.