Officials from Russia, Iran and Syria have established a “joint operations room” to ensure the safe arrival of Iranian crude oil in Syria circumventing US and EU sanctions according to reports first published by Russian state-backed news agency Sputnik. With the bulk of Syria’s oil and gas resources under US backed Kurdish control in the country’s far northeast, Damascus is reliant on Iranian supplies. The recent Suez Canal obstruction by a giant container ship (MEES, 26 March) underlined Syria’s vulnerability to disruptions to this trade.

The mechanism will see Russian naval ships escort Iranian tankers from Port Said at the northern end of the Suez Canal as far as Syrian territorial waters. Sources confirmed the arrangement to Saudi-funded and London-based daily Asharq Al-Awsat which reported that three Iranian vessels have already arrived at Syria’s key port of Banias under Russian protection, with another four expected soon. The deal seems to have been discussed in February meetings between Alexander Laverntiev, Russian president Putin’s special envoy to Syria and Syria’s president Assad. (CONTINUED - 1024 WORDS)