Two tankers loaded with 1.4 million barrels of crude oil arrived Friday at the Syrian port of Baniyas from Iran, according to the ship-tracking company Tanker Trackers. The shipment brings to five million the crude stocks sent by Tehran to Damascus in response to the growing fuel crisis since mid-March.
“In about 24 hours, two of the first three tankers will arrive in Baniyas, Syria, with about 1.4 million barrels of Iranian crude," Tanker Trackers reported on Thursday. The fleet consists of the navigator IRINS Makran and the destroyer IRIS Sahand, according to the deputy coordinator of the Islamic Republic Army and former commander of the Persian Navy, Habibollah Sayyari.
In addition, another 300,000 barrels of crude oil are in the Suez Canal awaiting shipment after receiving proof of payment. The vessels have increased their security measures and stop at a suspected covert military vessel run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard before entering the Suez Canal, according to Lloyd's List.
After the US unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, Washington imposed a battery of sanctions on Tehran. The decision included threats of sanctions against countries that continued to do business with Iran, causing many of the Islamic Republic's customers, such as India, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Greece and Taiwan, to reduce imports.
For this reason, Iranian oil production has declined sharply over the past three years. Persian oil production is currently around 2.5 million barrels per day, although the country has recently indicated that it expects to increase production to more than 6 million barrels per day.
However, Iran could restore most of its oil export capacity within a month if the US finally returns to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, according to Farrokh Alikhani, deputy head of production at the National Iranian Oil Company.
"We have calculated that the time needed for full recovery is three months, based on the plans and arrangements made, and our forecast is that we would reactivate most of the capacity as planned within a month," Alikhani acknowledged. So the Tehran regime would fully resume its export policy.
In any case, the détente in the Syrian arena has sparked competition between Iran and Russia for influence and spoils of war. Both states are building power plants in the country, and are vying for contracts for oil extraction, phosphate mining and port construction worth many millions of dollars, according to Jihad Yazigi, editor of the Syria Report, a leading business newsletter.
"The Iranians have felt that they have not gotten a fair share of Syrian assets in relation to their commitment, their military commitment but also their economic commitment," Yazigi acknowledged to the Washington Post. "The Iranians provided much more economic support. But the economic benefits are going to the Russians more than to the Iranians."
Iran has backed the al-Assad regime since the start of the Syrian war through forces from its elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Quds Force, as well as Iranian-backed militiamen from Iraq and Lebanon and thousands of Afghan Shia Muslim fighters. In support of Syria's beleaguered finances, Iran has also extended it three lines of credit worth at least $5.6 billion, according to the Syria Report.
The latest shipments come amid the alleged incursion of an Iranian naval fleet into the Atlantic, according to Iranian media. The vessel is reportedly carrying fast attack boats destined for sale to Venezuela, according to Politico.
The fleet left the Gulf port of Bandar Abbas last month and arrived in the Atlantic on Thursday after travelling 6,000 nautical miles and crossing the Cape of Good Hope. It would be the first time the Iranian navy has ventured this far into the Atlantic.
The two ships are tentatively headed to assist Venezuela in seeking relief from US sanctions that were imposed by the Trump administration, according to the Politico report.