By Yusuf Kanli
30 March, 2015
Could there be that much of a difference between how developments of this “Greater Middle Eastern Area” are perceived in Ankara, Cairo or Kuwait? Listening in a Kuwait hotel room to a political analyst on a Saudi news channel reporting live on the Cairo meeting of the Arab League, the difference of perception was crystal clear. “The Iran-backed terrorists in Yemen and the American-backed terrorists in Syria…” the analyst said, “cannot be tolerated.” What a correlation. Obviously things did not appear as such when viewed from Ankara.
From Ankara’s perspective, the “people of Syria” are struggling against a “ruthless dictator” and peace can be restored only if the Bashar al-Assad regime is terminated. In Cairo, and apparently in most parts of the Arab world, there is a perception that those fighting al-Assad’s government are no different than the rebels fighting the Yemeni government. Yet, while in Syria the “rebels” are condemned at the same time al-Assad’s legitimacy is questioned, Yemen’s president, Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, is considered the legitimate president who should be protected against the “Shiite insurgency.” Many analysts are now rightly asking the key question: Saudi-led Arab strikes apart, will the U.S.-led “coalition of the willing” supporting and conducting the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qaeda or Sunni extremism in Iraq and Syria help protect the same evil elements in Yemen?
Yesterday Turkey was accused of discreetly supporting ISIL militants and not effectively helping out the defense of Kobane in Syria. Now, the same Turkey and its Western allies are accusing Iran of messing up Yemen and praising the Saudi-led operation. Naturally there cannot be “absolute white” and “absolute black” in this “black and white” Middle Eastern painting, yet “what is what” is becoming all the more difficult to identify, is it not? What is the fallout of the Syrian quagmire which has now entered its fifth year with no end in sight on the Yemeni sectarian civil war? What will be the other repercussions of the Syrian menace on regional balances? The Saudi-led “united Arab military undertaking” in Yemen has already started talks of “one nation, one military, one resolve” rhetoric on the Arab street, or at least there is such a climate in the Arab media. Whether that is even possible is of course something totally different but with the exclusion of Qatar in the Yemen operation, the Saudis managed to bring under its military leadership the entire Sunni Arab fold. That is a reality. Arab unity, a rare phenomenon, might of course be a blessing for a quick resolution to the problems of the region, but could also be a curse if the “external powers” accused of stirring and spreading up sectarian problems indeed actively engaged in the Yemeni conflict. The Syria quagmire was feared might evolve into a regional war. The al-Assad regime did its best to make it so, and failed so far. On the other hand, the time-off in the nuclear standoff with Iran is fast approaching its end and there is no compromise in sight from the key positions of Tehran on the issue. Can Iran use the Yemen crisis and evolve into something sufficiently bigger to make difficulties in the nuclear arena and become secondarily important for global power brokers?
With this bleak picture and the gloomy atmosphere created by a Security Council statement that an appeal for $2.9 billion for Syria’s Response Plan generated only about 9 percent of funding, and Syria’s Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan’s appeal for $4.5 billion was so far only 6 percent funded, Kuwait will be hosting Tuesday the “Third International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria.”
The cash-strapped U.N., struggling to reach out to millions of displaced Syrians as well as refugees with food, medicine and shelter, has been desperately in need of funds. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are flooded with Syrian refugees and all are complaining the international community has not been doing enough to share the burden. The last two pledging conferences were held in January 2013 and January 2014. The total pledged in 2013 was about $1.5 billion and in 2014 about $2.4 billion. The largest contributions came from the host country, Kuwait, which pledged $300 million in 2013 and $500 million in 2014.
When asked about the rate of delivery, Kuwaiti government sources said the Gulf state had delivered 100 percent of its pledges to the U.N. and the Red Cross. Some 78 countries and 40 mostly international organizations are slated to participate in Tuesday’s “Kuwait III” conference chaired by the U.N. secretary-general and hopefully will help raise some of the resources required to meet the daunting tasks.