It got much rougher, of course, with the US, UK, France and Israel progressively turbo-charging all manner of covert ops privileging moderate rebels and otherwise, always targeting regime change.
The game now has expanded even more, with the recently discovered offshore gas wealth across the Eastern Mediterranean -- "in offshore Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon. This whole area may hold as much as 1.7 billion barrels of oil and up to 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. And that could be a mere third of the total undiscovered fossil fuel wealth in the Levant.
From Washington's point of view, the game is clear: to try to isolate Russia, Iran and a regime-unchanged Syria as much as possible from the new Eastern Mediterranean energy bonanza.
And that brings us to Turkey -- now in the line of fire from Moscow after the downing of the Su-24.
Ankara's ambition, actually obsession, is to position Turkey as the major energy crossroads for the whole of the EU... 1) As a transit hub for gas from Iran, Central Asia and, up to now, Russia (the Turkish Stream gas pipeline is suspended, not cancelled). 2) As a hub for major gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean. 3) And as a hub for gas imported from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.
Turkey plays the role of key energy crossroads in the Qatar pipeline project. But it's always important to remember that Qatar's pipeline does not need to go through Syria and Turkey. It could easily cross Saudi Arabia, the Red Sea, Egypt and reach the Eastern Mediterranean.
So, in the Big Picture, from Washington's point of view, what matters most of all, once again, is isolating Iran from Europe. Washington's game is to privilege Qatar as a source, not Iran, and Turkey as the hub, for the EU to diversify from Gazprom.
This is the same logic behind the construction of the costly Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, facilitated in Azerbaijan by Zbigniew Grand Chessboard Brzezinski in person.
As it stands, prospects for both pipelines are less than dismal. The Vienna peace process concerning Syria will go nowhere as long as Riyadh insists on keeping its weaponized outfits in the non-terrorist list, and Ankara keeps allowing free border flow of jihadis while engaging in dodgy business with stolen Syrian oil.
What's certain is that, geo-economically, Syria goes way beyond a civil war; it's a vicious Pipelineistan power play in a dizzying complex chessboard where the Big Prize will represent a major win in the 21st century energy wars.
This piece first appeared at Strategic Culture Foundation.