Stories that do not matter:
- The opposition seizure of an oil field. The field in question has not been operational for some time. The oil cannot be exported other than to government-held territory; without large-scale refineries, the rebels are unlikely to use much of it for fuel.
- Peace talks might be starting. Yes.
- The suicide bombing in Lebanon. The attack revealed no new information and altered no strategic calculus.
- Soyuzneftegaz is exploring for gas offshore. This is a big bet on the regime’s longevity, and could more than make up for the loss of the eastern oil fields ... but nothing will happen for years.
Stories that do:
- Opposition fighters have kept the Damascus-Homs highway effectively closed. Damascus is not cut off (its routes to Lebanon are open) but until this road is secure the regime will not be truly be winning.
- Iran lent Syria $3.6 billion for oil imports in October. That is enough for almost nine months of imports.
- Gas fields continue to produce and the electricity net is reorienting around them.
- Nonetheless, as of June about half the country’s electric generation capacity stood idle, including a 640 MW plant in Aleppo, a 400 MW near Hama, 600 MW in the Tishreen plant near Damascus and 350 MW in the Zeyzoun plant. The main reason for the idle plants is a continuing shortage of fuel oil, not war damage. The exceptions are the Tishreen plant, where the gas pipelines feeding it come under regular attack, and the Mhardeh plant near Hama which lost its gas supply from the Omar field two years ago. (The Omar field is the one that rebels recently seized.)
- Weirdly, however, the government still subsidizes electricity. Until July 8, the price per KWh was 2.5 pounds for users of less than 800 per month, 3.5 pounds for 801-2,000, and 4.0 pounds for 2,000 and up. Now those prices are 6.0, 6.5, and 7.0 respectively ... still incredibly low.
- When schools opened in September, only 4.5 million children registered, down from 5.6 million before the war.
Upshot: the regime is winning ... but it has not yet won, even in its restricted territory. When the roads are secure and the lights are on, then that will have been achieved. Do not pay attention to offensives in the southeastern suburbs of Damascus or retreats in the far east of the country.
More later, when I have digested the most recent UNRWA economic report.