As Oil Profits Decline, ISIS Taps Into A New Resource: Archeological Artifacts

ISIS top man is almost a ghost, a man of very few appearances and whenever he does show up he makes sure that all the 6 billion inhabitants of the planet know about it. In one of his staged appearances, the whole wide world seemed to ignore all what he said and focused on one thing: The Rolex watch in his hand. After all the guy does have an exquisite taste but it’s not his taste what matters here, what matters is the fact that traditionally Rolex watches have been linked to the big money owners, the affluent and successful business leaders and this here is the core of the issue.

Since its debut, ISIS has shown business skills as equally as military skills and although one would question how can you form a well trained and highly occupied militia in a fortnight, some sorts of business successes can be done in such a short time especially when the resource is strategic, offers high returns and the competition is virtually non-existent. All these apply to oil so it was normal and understandable that the first thing ISIS did after invading parts of Iraq and Syria was to control oil resources; they even advertised a job opening in November 2014 for an oil field manager to manage their valuable asset, and put it back on the right track all the while pushing competition out of the market by turning to the black market to sell their oil for prices as low as $20/barrel and sure enough there was never any shortage of customers. But that was just a short lived phase because the world which was happy with the low prices at the beginning quickly realized that the negative effects reached as far the shale oil rigs in North Dakota. That was when the US led a coalition in order to presumably stop ISIS and they started their air raids and soon enough it was obvious that those raids where just orchestrated to prevent ISIS from entering certain areas of interest; for example the raids were really effective and served their purpose when ISIS threatened the federal state of Irbil yet not even one plane left base when the Yazidis were being slaughtered and pushed to extinction.

With oil profits drying up, the rolex-wearing business man had to tap into another resource that is abundantly available in the area he controls (and no I’m not talking about dates); actually this area is extremely rich in archeological ruins and artifacts that are valued in many millions of dollars and which have a buyer base that is as enthusiastic and deep pocketed as the oil clients ( just today I heard that someone paid $187 million for a Picasso painting, so can you imagine how much they would pay for a 4000 year old statue?)

And as any smart investor he first tested the grounds and he did so in Mosul. People sat horrified in front of their tv screens as they watched ISIS fighters tear down and break apart statues that were almost older than humanity itself but then they all sighed in relief after archeologists came to say that most of the statues on display were dummies and replicas and that the real ones were hidden. Great news, now instead of having to tour all the sites, ISIS can go to one central warehouse and find all what they need to sell (that’s how you cut your supply chain costs and increase profitability, told you this guy was a business man in a previous life!)

A few days ago, the US military euphorically announced the killing of a top ISIS oil expert along with 40 aides (maybe that was the dude who replied to their 2014 ad and got hired) yet they sat and watched as the militia entered the 4000 year old Palmyra which we call Tadmor; again no planes flew over that area (starting to sound a bit eerie no?) there also is a great historical reserve and while after the attack on Mosul ISIS videoed how they were destroying the ruins, nothing has come out of Palmyra yet and I don’t think anything will because  the guys will be busy making deals to sneak as much as they can out of the country and sell for whatever prices they can get – after all they need the money and the same parties that had no problem in buying ISIS oil have no problem buying those valuable ruins and historical artifacts either. UNESCO has confirmed it and EBAY as well – you can find many valuable coins on e-bay and for relatively low prices.

ISIS seems to be investing heavily in 3 things that are highly profitable, oil, the trade of rare artifacts and prostitution – 3 commodities and services that has been sought out since the oldest time and although they claim that prostitution and all what is related to tourism are against their dogma it seems they have little trouble when it comes to making money of them for after all and like one of my MBA professors used to constantly state “It’s not unethical, it’s just business.”

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ISIS as an Economic Threat

In the popular US Tv show called “The Mentalist” there’s a serial killer called “Red John” who’s famous for marking his crime scenes  with a red smiley face but that’s not what we’re here to talk about; a few days ago the Christian Minorities in Mosul, Iraq woke up to find their front doors marked in red. Ironically the red marking on the houses was the letter “”ن which is the Arabic letter for N which stands for Nazareens – the naming that ISIS members give to Christians in the region. Put that letter in a circle and it will somewhat look like our fellow’s funny face. Christians were not the only ones marked for death in Mosul, the Shiites in that region and other minorities faced the same fate.

Ever since ISIS’s star started to shine amidst the Syrian revolution they have been in a rapid expansion. Of all the so called “opposition” factions (they are referred to as “so called” because we have lost count of how many of them are there now) ISIS seemed to be the most organized add to that they are the most brutal and the most feared amongst all the guerrillas there. And unlike the others, they seemed to have a vision, mission and mostly a strategy; they targeted key points in the Syrian landscape, forged for resources and mostly spread fear with their brutal and beyond the extreme methods. Their tactical strategies helped them attain keypoints in the Syrian landscape including oil refineries – a strategic resource in any war.

After a series of setbacks in Syria they shifted their strategy to Iraq; a location where they had more fertile soil due to the policies of the ruling regime and as a result of years of sectarian tensions and just like the US invasion to Baghdad in 2003, Mosul fell in their hands with no resistance at all. The bounty was massive and it ranged from piles of cash money in banks to a huge supply of very advanced US weapons that were proctored to the Iraqi Army (or should I call this army Casper since it keeps disappearing?) that astonishingly vanished into thin air when word of the invasion came in. some statistics put their current fortune at $2 billion dollars – try to let this sink in for a moment!

After securing territory in Iraq and starting to perform their regular “cleansing” techniques in order to clean out all opposition and spread fear, they shifted towards Lebanon in a short stint where they tried to take over a border town in the farthest Northern Bekaa point with the Syrian borders. Their invasion lasted only a few days where they were forced to retreat back into Syria since they were not able to face the Lebanese army. But had they managed to conquer the town “A’arsal” and spread inside Lebanon their main target would have been the water resources for that country in addition to its seaports on the Mediterranean – an important focal point to help them have access to Europe. They previously tried to do so in Syria but back then Russia proved to them and to the whole world for that matter that they are willing to go to a world war but not let Syria or most specifically the Syrian shores fall in the hands of any opposing faction. Not to mention that in the last 2 years there have been important information and findings about massive amounts of oil in Lebanon mostly off of its shores.

So what will happen here is that the combined reserves of those 3 countries will exceed those of the current second biggest oil producer globally and the largest producer regionally which Saudi Arabia, they will also have access to the Mediterranean Sea through the Lebanese and Syrian shores which will give them ease of access to Europe and to USA. Having oil and gas as key commodities might represent Europe’s opportunity to get out of Russia’s grip and they can use the water resources to trade with the water thirsty gulf nations.

Forget about religion, minorities, women, children, senior citizens and human rights for that matter and focus on dollars here because this is the key point and it is another proof that war is the key for propelling economy forward. European Countries and the USA have no shame at all when dealing with blood diamond coming from the civil war–plagued-African continent nor they have any problem doing business with many of the tyrant regimes there so why should it be any different in this case? Tomorrow they will claim that ISIS prevailed because people allowed it to and that they are loved and popular in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. They will forget all the displaced people, they murdered victims and that atrocities committed and say that since this is what the people there want, we don’t have any problem in acknowledging that state and having diplomatic and business relationships with them.  But it is Saudi Arabia who has to be scared from that and the kingdom should go all-in to face this threat. At almost 10 million barrels a day, the oil rich kingdom’s economy revolves around that commodity only; take that from them and their economy will instantly collapse since all other economical sector are not as significant. Saudi Arabia should not under any circumstance accept that all those reserves fall in the hands of 1 regime that has proven over and over again that they have no ethical boundaries in what they do. They will lose a major European market, will be forced to lower their prices and maybe lose a competitive advantage against the USA

In short, ISIS is not a threat to Christianity or any other religious groups as much as it is a threat to oil rich countries. Building an empire on such a stretch will give them the upper hand and will surely make it easier for oil thirsty nations to go to one source instead of searching in many places. ISIS has shown over and over again that they have no interest in fighting with the Israeli regime – a fact that will make USA comfortable and it will encourage them more and more to go deeper in business with ISIS as long as they keep their little ally on the Mediterranean alone.

In the recent days, ISIS brutality in Iraq reached new heights with them emptying Mosul from all its Christians not to mention the casualties and then they moved to surrounding the Azydian minorities located in the Sinjar mountain area. Slaughtering 500 innocent and defenseless civilians sent a resounding message to the whole world; yet it was only when ISIS reached the borders of Kurdistan and threatened “US interests” in IRAQ that Mr. Obama ordered airstrikes against them. Yet another proof that the world is not moved by humanity but by money and interests. The airstrikes proved successful and ISIS was not able to reach Erbil although they managed to spread fear in the whole state and caused millions of dollars in economic losses. We still have to find out yet whether those airstrikes will be continued to totally destroy ISIS or they were just meant to draw borderlines for them.

As I was finishing that blog, I got a flash news that the UN council has voted to cut off all financial support to ISIS and Al Nusra, wait, what? Come again? Is this a confession? Are they admitting that they were the ones that created that monster? If the UN was designed to protect the world from agressors, tyrants, crazy dictators and war criminals well then who is going to protect the UN from itself?

I strongly believe that human nature is mostly controlled by 2 factors: greed and fear and it seems that ISIS greed has shown how far they can go. They seem to be confident about the success of their plan and their clients are already there. Rumor has it that Secretary of the State Hilary Clinton admits in her new memoirs “Hard Choices” that the USA is behind the creation of ISIS to fulfill exactly the purposes stated above; one small advice to the creators of Taliban and Al Qaeda in the 80’s “what goes around, comes around” maybe you would like to ask your troops in Afghanistan about that.