INTO HARMS WAY: Iran has started construction on a $10 billion natural gas pipeline to key ally Syria, according to the Fars news agency, in an apparent nod of support to President Bashar Assad's embattled regime and a further attempt by Tehran to boost energy exports battered by international sanctions.
BET ON ASSAD: The 750-mile project was first announced in July 2011 as Syrian rebels began stepping up the fight to topple Assad. Many analysts predicted the pipeline would remain in the planning stages because of the countless risks involved, but Iran's decision to start work — even just the beginning sections — is seen a public show of confidence in Assad's ability to ride out the uprising.
DESPERATION AT HOME: It also reflects Iran's wider efforts to expand natural gas and oil pipeline to Middle East and Asian markets as Western sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program cut into sales. The United States and its allies accuse Tehran of seeking to develop atomic weapons, an allegation the Iranians deny.