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A tale of two phantom pipelines and Syria

Conspiracy theorists are having a field day airing reasons for the conflict

Gulf News

It has become fashionable to reduce the destruction of some Arab countries to obscure reasons that have no foundation in reality. The destruction of Iraq was to rid the world from its weapons of mass destruction, a laughable lie as it turned out.

After more than six years of bloodshed, destruction and mayhem in Syria, we are told that the reason is that Syria, in 2009, refused to grant Qatar approval for a gas pipeline to Turkey and Europe. And that the US supported the project to allow Europe to diversify its gas suppliers and also to abort a similar proposal to bring Iranian gas to the Mediterranean and on to Europe.

And why would Syria refuse such an obviously advantageous venture to itself is to protect the interests of its Russian ally, the dominant supplier of gas to Europe? And that the Iranians also encouraged Syria to refuse the pipeline in favour of theirs.

The internet is replete with stories about this, where some Arab commentators and prominent western analysts, including Pepe Escobar and William Engdahal, and media outlets propagate the story that Qatar turned to supporting the Syrian opposition to Bashar Al Assad for his refusal of the Qatari pipeline without giving any credible supporting evidence as to whether there was such a project in the first place.

These conspiracy theorists ignore the fact that just a short while before the civil movement in Syria in 2011, which later turned into this ugly armed conflict, relations between Syria and Qatar were normal, if not excellent. Bashar Al Assad and his wife were guests of the Qatari Emir and his wife in Doha and the two families were considered personal friends and Qatar was considering investing in Syria.

There was no official statement from Qatar or Syria as to any discussion of a pipeline project. The countries in between, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are completely silent as if their agreement to the project is foregone. Remember that Qatar wasn’t able to export gas to Kuwait and Bahrain because of Saudi opposition to transiting its on- and offshore territories.

There were no reports about a feasibility study or provisional offtake agreements from the intended countries. Even Turkey, a welcoming country to any passage of energy facilities into its territory is silent about this.

Let us turn to the other pipeline, where in 2011, months after the start of the Syrian conflict, Iran, Iraq and Syria considered a gas pipeline from the South Pars field to the Mediterranean. From there on, there were many options reported as to convert the gas to LNG, or go through Turkey to Europe, or even a sea line to Europe. The line is reported to be 5,600 kilometres in length, 56-inch in diameter and costing $6 billion.

In 2013 a framework agreement was signed and the cost raised to $10 billion. That year Iraq signed a controversial agreement to import gas from Iran to fuel its power stations east of Baghdad, at the expense of flaring its own, which gave the impression that the big project is underway. Until today no Iranian gas has crossed the Iraqi borders despite the construction of a pipeline.

The Iranian project is believed by some to be supported by Russia and it’s a mind boggling question as to why Russia would support a competitor to its own interests in Turkey and Europe. At the same time why would Iran seek such a vulnerable route to pass through a destabilised Iraq and Syria while it could expand its already existing export pipeline facility to Turkey.

Therefore, in December 2012 the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies said that the project “remains doubtful”. “It is not clear how such a project will be financed given that both Iran and Syria are subject to strict financial sanctions.”

Even after the sanctions on Iran were supposedly removed, it remains to be seen how such a grand project can go ahead.

The Qatar and Iran pipelines are adversaries, but both are said to impact the tragic Syrian conflict. In fact, some doubted the seriousness of Iran and said the proposal is just a “moral” support to Bashar Al Assad.

The two proposals are unfounded or unrealistic and Paul Cochran of “Middle East Eye” says: “While neither pipeline has left the drawing board, or indeed was ever realistic, this has not dampened the theory’s popularity as a core reason for the Syria conflict.”

People sometimes believe conspiracy theories because they are afraid they may materialise or that they are the easy way to explain complex issues. In the meantime, the Syrian people continue to suffer.

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