Oil & Gas Editorial: Syria - A Tale Of Two Pipelines And One Chessboard?

Tim Haïdar

After American Navy destroyers launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at an Assad-controlled airfield in Western Syria, worries about a Russo-American stand off in the Middle East have gained heft.

The two air strikes came in response to an attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s north-western Idlib province in which at least 87 civilians were killed. Purportedly carried out by Syrian government forces, the assault displayed all the hallmarks of a nerve gas attack.

Pan-global condemnation, calls for retaliation and then swift, unilateral execution of an armed reprisal followed. Russian President, Vladimir Putin, was quick to denounce the air strikes as “violating the norms of international law” and an “act of aggression against a sovereign country” that would harm relations between the US and the Russia. A statement delivered by White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, affirmed that a repeat of the Idlib gas attack may incur the “future action” by the Trump administration.

Members of the international community have been quick to pick sides in view of a possible escalation: all of the G7 nations and Turkey flocking to the “Stars and Stripes”, while Iran and Bolivia rallied with the “Trikolor” of the Russian Federation. In Beijing, the Middle Kingdom has firmly taken the middle ground, in its customary fence-sitting posture.

The dictum tells us “energy is politics”: might the current turmoil in Syria have more to do with the desert nation’s role in long-term energy security rather than the actions of a hereditary dictator or factions of religious zealots?

Syria is a vital transit point for two competing pipeline projects, the cold steel conduits to monetising the 51 trillion cubic metres of natural gas  in the South Pars/North Dome field, Persian Gulf properties of Iran and Qatar respectively.

Russia has shown its preference for an Iranian pipeline solution cutting across Iraq and Syria before joining a sub-Mediterranean artery that heads to Europe, whereas the US has backed the Qatari alternative that would head up through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey before joining the European supply network. On either side of the equation is the safety of supply guaranteed by the natural gas accumulation with more recoverable reserves than every other field on Earth combined.  

Whether the Assad regime was culpable for the Khan Sheikhoun massacre or not, the gears of war are whirring into action. Syria is just the latest chessboard in a game that has been raging for almost a century.