By Arab News
By Baria Alamuddin*
If only all humanitarian crises inspired such global unity and resolve! In a few short days we have been living through the traumatic birth pains of an entirely new geopolitical order, with profound and unpredictable reverberations for decades to come.
As cities burn and populations are uprooted, the deep ideological divisions and strategic impotence that have wracked the Western world for years have superficially vanished, as if by magic. This was manifested at the UN General Assembly, where 141 member nations from Europe to the GCC to the Pacific took a unified position on Ukraine, leaving a handful of rogue states — Syria, North Korea and Belarus — on the opposite side. Even close Kremlin allies such as Iran and China could only bring themselves to abstain.
The transformation was most profound in states that have long flirted with Moscow. Germany’s abandonment of its long-standing military neutrality and economic alignment with Russia has far-reaching implications, while near neighbors Finland and Sweden are clamoring for NATO membership. After irritating the West with his purchases of Russian defense systems, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suddenly remembered Turkey was also a NATO member, upping sales of drones and other weaponry to Kyiv and restricting Russian shipping’s access to the Black Sea.
Meanwhile, Europe’s foremost demagogue, Viktor Orban, is being ridiculed by the opposition as “Putin’s lapdog” immediately before Hungarian elections. Eastern European states that beat, tortured and blockaded Syrian refugees have opened their doors to over a million Ukrainians. Beijing anxiously watches developments, knowing the outcomes will affect its own abilities to menace its neighbors and crush citizens’ freedoms.
The ramifications of these events will affect the Middle East equally profoundly. One short-term risk is that America and others appear to be rushing toward a quick-fix nuclear deal with Iran, allowing them to focus on Russia. Tehran is exploiting that to seek further concessions, while a panicky Moscow appears to be trying to thwart such an outcome with its own new demands. Flooding the market with Iranian oil to compensate for blocked Russian output is not a viable solution, because Tehran is an equally grave threat to global security.
These negative potential outcomes offer Arab oil producers the opportunity to call the shots to ensure that their security interests are protected. With Russia bombing nuclear power stations, Arab states and Israel may discover that they have an increasingly sympathetic global audience when they highlight the apocalyptic risks of tolerating Iranian nuclearization, its immense ballistic missile program, and the proliferation of Iran-backed militias from Baghdad to the Mediterranean Sea.
Libya and Syria suffered wars of extermination by mercenaries from Moscow, Ankara, Tehran and elsewhere, long after Western interest in these conflicts had dissipated. The sovereignty of Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq has been shredded by years of naked Iranian aggression. Gulf states have been under constant assault from barrages of Iranian missiles and drones. This will worsen if Iran emerges from a deal with billions of dollars of unfrozen funds to invest in regionwide terrorism.
Although in recent days Russian air raids in Syria have decreased, there are concerns that if the Kremlin gets a bloody nose in Kyiv, it may exploit its mercenaries in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere to up the pressure on states perceived as acting against it, particularly as the Middle East has been the arena for proxy conflicts since time immemorial. Indeed, there is evidence that the Kremlin views Syria’s current fragmented reality as a model for a future divided and submissive Ukrainian puppet entity.
So catastrophic is the situation that some are hailing Naftali Bennett as the world’s best hope for a sane outcome, given Israel’s uniquely close ties with both sides. However, Putin appears hellbent on not listening to any voices of reason.
Infinitely worse is yet to come for Ukraine: After humiliating setbacks, Moscow is inflicting indiscriminate levels of destruction last seen in Syria, hoping to starve and crush courageous citizens into submission. International tensions are hence set to further soar, while tensions within Russia will escalate as citizens see living standards plunge for a war they are scarcely allowed to mention. As the Russian economy bleeds to death, irreversible defeat is etched on the grim faces of Putin’s generals. The Kremlin can pound cities to dust, but the Ukrainian nation is forever outside its grasp.
On International Women’s Day we watch girls and mothers fleeing into exile, while grandmothers grimly manufacture Molotov cocktails in freezing bomb shelters. Ashen-faced youths are given a rifle and taught how to bandage themselves after a limb is blown off. Like millions of others, my heart bleeds after having lived through such horrors when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 — losing everything, embracing loved-ones we may never see again, knowing our lives are transformed for ever.
Ukrainian dignity and courage in the face of unimaginable evil humble us all, while reawakening the world’s long-slumbering conscience and sense of justice.
The Middle East has long been mired in this evil, amid genocide, sectarian cleansing and wars of annexation. Assad, Israel, Iran, Erdogan, Hezbollah, the Houthis and Al-Hashd al-Shaabi must discover that the civilized world will stand with human rights and justice, irrespective of ethnicity or faith. Raw might is never right. Evil is self-destructive and unsustainable. Injustice must never be allowed to prevail.
It has taken a few short days for Europe to reawaken and shake off three decades of strategic complacency. The Western world is no more immune from the implacable, brutal march of history than anywhere else.
The world is relearning that sovereignty, freedom, territorial integrity and international law aren’t natural attributes that spontaneously prevail, but are fundamental principles that must be fought for, and that millions of peace-loving citizens are willing to die to protect.
Irrespective of how this crisis ends, history will remember the brave struggle of the Ukrainian people against colossal odds. It will also recall whether the rest of the civilized world reasserts the primacy of international law and national sovereignty, to ensure that aggressor states cannot menace peace-loving nations, throughout Eurasia, the Arab world and everywhere else.
- Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.