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Who is with whom in Syria and Yemen?

Whenever crises become drawn out, things get more complicated, stances and alliances change, suspicions worsen and intentions become more elusive

Jamal Khashoggi

Published: Updated:

Whenever crises become drawn out, things get more complicated, stances and alliances change, suspicions worsen and intentions become more elusive. This is happening in Yemen and Syria.

Turkey is conducting a military operation in northern Syria, supporting the Free Syrian Army (FSA) against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Kurds are objecting the most about this and threatening Turkey. They are backed by Kurds in Turkey’s parliament. Iraqi Kurds are silent as their leader visited Ankara this week. Iraqi Kurds are unenthusiastic about Turkish Kurds and their Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist group.

All analysts think that Syrian Kurds’ military victories, with US support, are aimed at dividing Syria or forming a nucleus for a Greater Kurdistan spanning Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. However, Iraqi Kurds are unenthusiastic about the Syrian Kurds’ projects. The latter are against Iraqi Kurds and afraid of Iran, so they do not support Iranian Kurds either.

On Aug. 15, the Turks announced a deal with the United States about the withdrawal of Syrian Kurds west of the Euphrates. However, Washington disregarded the announcement because at the time the Kurds were triumphing against ISIS in the city of Manbij, west of the Euphrates. Despite the Syrian regime exploiting the Kurds against all its opponents, they have suddenly clashed with each other, so the regime has bombed them.

It seemed like a minorities’ alliance between the Alawites and Kurds, the latter expanding - along with ISIS - without any arrangement between the two, at the rebels’ expense. The Kurds perhaps think their time has come, ignoring their deal with the regime and triumphing against it in the city of Hasaka. Russia urged both parties to meet at its airbase on the Syrian coast, then imposed ceasefire terms, which offended the regime.

The Americans warned the regime about raiding Hasaka or the Kurds again, thus imposing some kind of no-fly zone for the sake of the Kurds, Arab tribes allied to them, and civilians trapped in this conflict.

These same Americans previously rejected a no-fly zone to protect civilians in Syria’s major cities, where hundreds of thousands have been killed by barrel bombs, napalm, and even chemical weapons used by the regime, in flagrant violation of the laws of war. They said a no-fly zone was a complex issue and could not happen without international consensus. This is what lured Russia to be part of such raids, while the United States stood still.

However, it took Washington five minutes to declare Hasaka a safe area when its Kurdish allies were targeted. Its justification was that there are US forces with the Kurds, but everyone benefited from the prohibition, including innocent children. This was not the case for Omran Daqneesh, the boy whose photo in an ambulance in Aleppo awakened the conscience of the world and the media for two or three days, then was quickly forgotten.

On Wednesday, Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield, and the Americans were the first to change their stance. Vice President Joe Biden, at a press conference during his visit to Ankara to improve ties with Turkey, called on the Kurds to withdraw to the west of the Euphrates or lose US support.

Whenever crises become drawn out, things get more complicated, stances and alliances change, suspicions worsen and intentions become more elusive. This is happening in Yemen and Syria

Jamal Khashoggi

Meanwhile, Russia’s expressed concern for civilians is inconsistent with what it is doing daily in Idlib and Aleppo. The positive is that Moscow is not against the operation, so clearly there was prior Turkish-Russian agreement.

The operation can now expand to the whole region within the western side of the Euphrates and the Kurdish flank of Afrin in northern Aleppo. It will constitute a buffer zone controlled by Syrians and protected by Turkey, one that is recognized by all the parties active in Syria. The Russians and even Americans would then turn the country into a swamp that drags in Turkey. This is why Ankara is taking steps vigilantly; there is no trust between the parties.

Yemen

The case in Yemen is similar to that in Syria. President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi is appointing ministers and governors who cannot stand each other. Saudi Arabia is supporting meetings of religious clerics in Yemen, which made them come up with agreements that could unite them regarding the country’s future. The legitimate government approved of the meetings and the agreement that was announced at a huge ceremony in Riyadh.

Then Yemen’s Minister of State Hani Ben Brik, who became the most powerful leader in Aden with his militia, attacked the Riyadh meeting. He accused all those who signed the deal of advocating terrorism, and arrogantly said many of the attendants were not Yemeni clerics but “members of a party that is considered a terrorist group in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates [UAE].”

His tweets, just like his violations against public order in Aden, passed without anyone holding him accountable. The same goes for statements published in a newspaper printed in Aden. The statements were made by a minister who wishes that the war goes on in the north “so that they would be able to arrange their situation in the south.” An online newspaper said these statements were fabricated, but no one sued the newspaper.

Insults, accusations and suspicions have affected everyone in the resistance. Every time someone is appointed in any position, comments and rumors arise that the appointed person is unwelcomed by a specific country or strongly supported by another. The excessive appointment of ministers, governors and ambassadors is complicating things. It seems as if they are dividing shares in a way that pleases all parties and countries.

I once had lunch with senior Yemeni officials, and one pointed to Sheikh Sofian al-Arada, governor of Maarib and leader of its resistance, and said: “If it weren’t for God and this man, two thirds of the Yemeni governorates wouldn’t have been able to resist.” He told me how he shared 23 billion Yemeni riyals, which were in the central bank’s branch in Maarib and never fell into Houthi hands.

He then said if it were not for the Yemeni Congregation for Reform, which is constantly being accused, “the resistance in Taiz, Ibb, Dhamar, Al-Bayda and Al-Hodeidah wouldn’t have existed.” I asked him why he did not say that to the media so divisions within the ranks would end. He smiled and said the people who should know this truth know it already.

Riyadh has saved Yemen through Operation Decisive Storm, which was launched in March 2015. Now perhaps it is time for another, similar operation. It will not take too much time to happen and be fruitful.

US Secretary of State John Kerry left Riyadh on Thursday after meeting with Saudi officials. According to the US State Department, he presented his project for a “permanent and fair peace.” However, it did not include the preservation of the current administration.
After the talks in Kuwait, which were supported by Saudi Arabia but aborted by the Houthis and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, we must understand that no negotiation or peace plan will succeed without support and abidance by the different parties.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on Aug. 27, 2016.

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Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggiSave

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