Thursday 14 Nov 2019 | 01:43 | SYDNEY
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Middle East

Protests in Lebanon are a problem for Hezbollah

After two weeks of unprecedented protests in Lebanon, the Western- and Saudi-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri bowed to pressure and resigned on Tuesday. The President, Michel Aoun – a Christian – now says he is seeking to abolish Lebanon’s confessional government and replace it with

October in Syria: Podcast out now

October 2019 saw two major new developments in Syria which have shifted the geopolitics of the region: US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from north-east Syria, abandoning its allies the Kurds and allowing Turkey to invade; and the death, days later, of the Islamic State

The worrying precedent of Turkey’s “safe zone”

There is a reason the Kurds say they have “no friend but the mountains”. Time and again human rights atrocities have been perpetrated against them, and they are not strategically important enough for any country to take their side. News of death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Sparks fly in Lebanon

Tyres are once again burning on the streets of the Lebanese capital Beirut, while in the country’s north, wildfires are raging.  The two happenings may seem unrelated, but the dramatic events in Lebanon of the past week represent a culmination of chronic economic mismanagement, corruption,

Iraq protests: The cost of corruption and failed reforms

Since the start of October, large-scale protests have rocked Iraq, killing more than a hundred people and wounding thousands. Iraqis are frustrated with high unemployment, the dismal state of Iraq’s essential infrastructure, and the long-standing corruption seen as the fundamental cause for the

Turkey’s “safe zone” may prove costly

On 9 October, Turkey launched a military operation, code-named Operation Peace Spring, against US-allied Kurdish forces in north-eastern Syria. Ankara described the goal as creating a “safe zone” along the Turkish-Syrian border, 480 kilometres long and 32 kilometres deep, stretching from the

The sharp shift on Syria

Just last week, much of Washington seemed to reach consensus on the direction of US policy in Syria. The Syria Study Group, a bipartisan committee convened by Congress to examine policy options released a final report, laying out a way forward. The committee concluded that sharp shifts and reversals

Undeclared air strikes: Between war and peace

Airpower has long been a favoured instrument in Middle Eastern wars, and none more so than by Israel. The country has been particularly innovative in its use of airpower, emulated by many, now including Iran. The uncertain origin and ambiguous meaning of the attacks on Saudi oil facilities by

Israel’s Arabs awaken to their electoral power

Members of the Arab List elected to the Israeli Knesset (parliament) at last week’s elections are walking a tightrope. The decision announced by the List’s leader, Ayman Odeh, on 22 September to endorse Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, as Israel’s next Prime Minister

Syria: Is it time for the West to talk with Assad?

Syria is one among several Middle East regimes which believe that repression, if not used in moderation, provides a necessary answer to challenges to the existing political and social order. Accordingly, Western governments have to decide the relationship they wish to have with Syria, and its

Raising the stakes in the Gulf’s game of reprisals

The weekend’s attack on the Saudi oil facility at Abqaiq is the most dramatic escalation of the Persian Gulf tensions since the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018. At the time of writing, the weapons used have allegedly been traced to Iran, while the Yemeni Houthi movement has

Australia sails into muddy waters in the Gulf

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was at pains last week to emphasise the “modest and time-limited” nature of Australia’s contribution to the new US-led maritime security mission in the Strait of Hormuz known as the International Maritime Security Construct’ (IMSC). He batted away suggestions

Australia in the Gulf: Will we make a difference?

Australia’s commitment to the US-led coalition to provide maritime security for the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf will be one maritime surveillance aircraft, to start operations later this year, and one frigate from early 2020. Military personnel will also help staff a coalition

The Middle East air campaign, unmasked

Israel has undertaken an attritional air campaign against Iranian and Iranian-related targets in Syria for several years, with hundreds of strikes being reported. There have always been unstated red lines in place as part of the “rules of the game”. Any Syrian regime activity that creeps over

Australia in the Gulf: The order-based rules

Back in December, Scott Morrison went halfway in following Donald Trump’s change to the diplomatic recognition of Israel, deciding to leave Australia’s embassy in Tel Aviv while formally acknowledging “West Jerusalem” as the capital. But at the same time, Morrison decided not to follow Trump

The reluctant coalition

The Australian government’s announcement today that it will contribute assets to a maritime coalition force in the Persian Gulf comes as no surprise, given the very public way the US request was delivered in Sydney at the recent AUSMIN meeting. Washington doesn’t make those type of requests

Iran: Washington calls on Canberra

Washington has asked for Australian support to participate in a coalition maritime Persian Gulf security force. The request was formally announced as part of Sunday’s AUSMIN talks. It is the type of request that Australia would prefer not be made. Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the

Tanker-for-tanker

The most perplexing question following Iran’s capture of the MV Stena Impero on Friday is why the British were unable to foresee this action as a natural response to Britain’s earlier seizure of the Iranian-flagged tanker Grace 1 in Gibraltar and make appropriate preparations. The Grace 1 was

Iran’s dangerous gamble

Iran has announced that it has exceeded its enriched uranium limit under the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. This follows the decision in May 2018 when the Trump administration unilaterally pulled the US out of the deal and reimposed economic

Iran: Australia’s deliberate ambiguity

Ambiguity in foreign policy is no bad thing, and on Iran, the only certainty Donald Trump has displayed after a week of heightened tension was his weekend declaration that “the only one that matters is me”. So the debate is on, hawks versus doves, over messages and intentions. Was

The limits of unilateral action against Iran

As Washington is finding, maximum pressure campaigns have their own limitations, even with the most coherent and experienced foreign policy teams. But with ​the Commander-in-Chief sending mixed messages (overnight Donald Trump described the alleged Iranian attacks on oil tankers in the

Morsi’s fate a reminder of power realities in Egypt

The death of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in Cairo on 17 June provides an opportunity to reflect on both the certainties and the vagaries of Egyptian politics.  The fact that he was an elected leader who was removed, albeit to widespread popular relief, by the Egyptian military in

Oman: credibility gulf will test White House

For the US to directly accuse Iran of attacking oil tankers just outside the heavily congested, economically critical and strategically vital waters of the Persian Gulf … well, it ought to be a big deal. A really big deal. And it’s not as if this story is being ignored. As I checked this

The relativity of the death penalty

Opposition to the death penalty has a long and quite public history in Australia. Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan of the so-called “Bali Nine” drug smugglers received support from artists, singers, actors, media personalities and sports stars, while a crowd of about a thousand people

The clock is ticking on tensions with Iran

Washington’s attempts to isolate Iran economically and politically rely largely on whether it can get Tehran to opt out of the 2015 nuclear deal. As long as the Trump administration is the only signatory to withdraw from what is known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA),

Strategic trends across the Indo-Pacific region

Much has been written in recent years about the reorientation of US policy to the Indo-Pacific region in response to China’s expanding economic and strategic footprint. What is less clear, however, is how the region itself is responding to the new era of strategic competition proclaimed by

ISIS: the generational problem

The fate of perhaps as many as 70 children born to Australian mothers and caught up in the Iraq-Syria conflict has been the focus of Australian media attention. There are calls for them to be repatriated on the grounds that they should not be tarred with the same brush as their parents. An episode

Israel’s elections: many messiahs, but only one king

Twenty years ago, Benjamin Netanyahu – “Bibi” to friends and foes alike – lost in an electoral landslide to Ehud Barak, then head of the Israeli Labor Party. It ended his first term as prime minister. Many thought it would be his only term. I remember standing in a densely packed Rabin

Near death on the River Nile

Running a marathon in a city of 19 million people that has been rated by the World Health Organisation as the world’s second most polluted city and whose legendary traffic congestion was the subject of a special study by the World Bank may not seem like everyone’s idea of a good plan. But as

Silencing women’s voices in Saudi Arabia

Nassima ran as a candidate in local elections in 2015 before authorities removed her name from the ballot. Hatoon is a professor of women’s history and among the first women to acquire a driver’s license in Saudi Arabia. Every Saudi woman must have a male guardian who has the power to

Syria: emerging consequences of the US withdrawal

Don’t confuse tactical loyalty with strategic sense. No Kurd in their right mind would have believed that the US presence was anything but temporary. It’s a new year and another chapter in the long-running Syrian civil war. With ISIS nearly defeated on the Syrian battleground, President Donald

What happens next? Trump’s sudden Syria exit

Donald Trump’s announcement that he is pulling troops out of Syria is another example of the New York property developer turned president's decision-making style. If you don’t understand or don’t like the deal, then get out of it. All that matters is the bottom line. In business this may

Responses to Australia’s Israel capital decision

Some, perhaps surprising, support from Bahrain to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision for Australia to formally recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel while leaving Australia’s embassy at its existing location in Tel Aviv. According to a tweet translated by Al Jazeera, Bahrain’

Australia jostles over its Iran policy

If news reports are believed, Australia will on Saturday formally recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital while leaving its embassy to remain in Tel Aviv in an announcement to be made by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. If other news reports are believed, such a shift will be against the

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