This is the South Pars / North Field Natural Gas-Condensate Field, located in the Persian Gulf. As can be seen from this image, it's positively gigantic, covering ca. 9,700 square kilometers, and has been ranked by the International Energy Agency as the world's largest known gas field, comprising roughly 51 trillion cubic meters of gas in addition to some 50 billion barrels (7.9 billion cubic meters) of natural gas condensate. Unfortunately - for reasons which will become apparent shortly - the field straddles the imaginary line running down the Persian Gulf separating the territorial waters of Iran (in green) and Qatar (in yellow).
This is a map showing the relative distribution of the two largest sects of Islam in the Middle East: Shia (green) and Sunni (blue). Note that, whereas Iran is ca. 90% Shiite, Qatar is ca. 90% Sunni.
This is a map of two competitive pipeline plans which propose to bring the South Pars /North Field natural gas to market, i.e. Europe: The Islamic Pipeline (red), and the Qatar-Turkey Pipeline (pink). It should not be surprising to learn that the two have been called the Shia Pipeline and the Sunni Pipeline, respectively. The important thing to note in this image, however, is where the two pipelines meet: Syria.
This is an image of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite (Shia) Muslim. In 2009, he was approached by representatives of Qatar and Saudi Arabia with a proposal to build the Qatar-Turkey Pipeline - a proposal in which Syria represents a key stretch of real estate. Assad, a long-time ally of Russia, obstinately refused, and instead struck a deal with fellow Shias in Iraq and Iran to build the competing Islamic Pipeline. Within two years, there would be an uprising which, with weapons and training from the U.S., would escalate into an armed insurgency with the aim of toppling his regime.
This is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). He rose to power in 2010 and restructured the largely fragmented AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq), forging it into a rigidly organized and well-equipped fighting force with its sights set on conquering most of Sryia and the oil-rich wasteland of western Iraq.
This is a map of the approximate territory held by ISIS. Notice the inconvenience the presence of ISIS represents for the completion of the Islamic Pipeline.
This is an image of U.S. Secretary of State and former Presidential Candidate John Kerry gabbing delightfully with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. On September 11, 2014, the two men met at the King's royal palace to forge an agreement in which Saudi Arabia would provide support for U.S. airstrikes in Syria against ISIS if the U.S. would support Saudi Arabia's plans to topple Assad and complete the highly lucrative Qatar-Turkey Pipeline. By September 22, the U.S. had switched from sending small arms and supplies to Syrian rebels to running bombing raids.
This is Russian President Vladimir Putin. As Russia is currently the largest single provider of oil and natural gas to Europe, he has no interest in either pipeline ever being built, yet every interest in retaining control of a Russian naval facility in Tartus, Syria, which gives his military direct access to the Mediterranean.
If this brief summary has whet your appetite for more information, do yourself a favor and read the following article by U.S. Army Major Rob Taylor, which appeared in Armed Forces Journal (March 21, 2014):