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Syria: The energy crossroads that never was

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(Read caption) A satellite image shows a pipeline fire in Homs, Syria in February 2012. Conflicts have left plans for new oil and gas pipelines in the region in various states of disarray.

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Syria may not have a lot of oil, but it's in the middle of countries that do.

That's why the Bashar al-Assad regime worked for years to make it an energy transit hub, bringing oil and gas from the energy-rich Middle East to the fringes of energy-hungry Europe. But external politics and internal strife have rendered that vision moot. Whoever emerges to lead post-civil war Syria will have to resurrect some version of the idea, because the current energy landscape isn't fueling Syrian economic development – something Mr. Assad knew only too well.

"He understood that if he couldn’t make growth [happen] he was going to fail," Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, said in a telephone interview. "He had a giant youth population, and a giant unemployment problem, and no growth."

The Middle East is full of pipeline dreams that are announced with much political hope but little underlying support from the realities on the ground. Pipelines are expensive to build. They're hard to maintain, especially in volatile regions. Just because countries have lots of resources doesn't mean they have the infrastructure in place to take advantage of them. Despite all this, Syria does have certain geographical advantages that could make it a pipeline hub.    

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