Monday 30 Mar 2020 | 11:30 | SYDNEY
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Middle East

Iran: Sanctions vs sympathy

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown up some serious moral questions for society, including ones to do with decisions on treatment priorities for health workers under severe pressure. But another moral issue has arisen in the international relations field – in the midst of a pandemic, how appropriate

The New Wave of Middle-East Media Repression

Egypt and Saudi Arabia have shown that, when a government lacks legitimacy, its best chance of holding onto power is by suppressing unfavorable information. But the experiences of Iraq and Lebanon suggest that this approach has limits in political systems that depend on power-sharing arrangements

Saudi Arabia is not offside on gender equality

Little has surprised me more than spending my Saturday night Googling how to buy tickets to watch a game of football in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – perhaps only that it was for a female football league announced by the Saudi sports authorities just last week. That I might stand in a stadium in

Europe under threat

The novel coronavirus Covid-19 dominates not only the media headlines in Europe but the everyday life of just about anybody. In the federalist European Union, it is still up to the individual states, often also their parts – Bundesländer, Départements, Provincie, or whatever they are called –

Syria: What the UN can do, and must do

As the Syrian Government intensifies its offensive against Syria’s Idlib province, the final opposition stronghold in the nine-year old war, diplomats and UN officials are running out of words in their attempts to convey the severity of the crisis to the UN Security Council. The UN Emergency

Syria: The battlefield rules

The Syrian conflict has once again shown just how complicated it can be, along with the ramifications if one side seeks too much change to the status quo. Syrian government forces, with Russian assistance, have been waging a months-long campaign to capture key parts of rebel-controlled Idlib

Australia and Israel should be partners in Asia

The rise of Asia and growing superpower competition pose serious challenges for countries such as Australia and Israel, and they should face them together. On the one hand, Asia’s economic dynamism offers access to new and growing markets; on the other hand, changing regional dynamics in Asia have

Israel’s democracy: a systemic problem

Israel has often been called the only democracy in the Middle East. This is not quite true. The Economist’s Global Democracy Index for 2019, which ranks 167 countries by five democratic criteria, lists Israel as a “flawed democracy”.* Israel scores well on electoral process/pluralism and

Russia makes its presence known in Iran crisis

Recent revelations make it clear that Iran’s willingness to confront the US following the strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad was not driven just by a mix of domestic considerations and a compelling desire to retaliate. Iran’s bluntly open challenge to the US may have been

The impact of accuracy

Of all the unfortunate events of last week’s hostilities between Tehran and Washington, the most tragic was undoubtedly Iran’s use of a surface-to-air missile to shoot down an airliner, killing 176 people. But this accident was not the most strategically significant development of those days

In Tehran, a tragic error threatens political wreckage

The briefing provided by the aerospace commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Command (IRGC) regarding the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was revealing for both what it told and what it didn’t tell us. To begin with, the incident appears to have been a tragic operator

Trump walks away clean from Soleimani fallout

The US drone strike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani dominated the political discussion in Washington last week. President Trump’s decision to target Soleimani – an escalatory move in the ongoing confrontation with Iran – was an unexpected development. The conventional wisdom was

Ending Iran’s regional ransom

Criticism of Donald Trump’s brazen assassination of Iranian Quds Force commander Qassim Soleimani has rightly focussed on the unprecedented nature of the killing and the escalation in the conflict between the two countries it presents.  Imaginations have run wild with the scale and horrors

“Maximum pressure” demands diplomatic off-ramps

With Donald Trump facing an impeachment trial in the Senate and a tough re-election battle, some US rivals see the president as politically weakened, risk-averse in exerting military pressure, and incapable of delivering on diplomatic commitments. The American drone strike killing General Qassim

Will Trump win big from killing Soleimani?

In assessing the consequences of President Donald Trump’s assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, the key is the Iraqi government’s reaction. The Iraqi parliament’s resolution overnight demanding expulsion of the US military

Middle East protests: Careful what you wish for

Popular protests in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran once again mark the level of dissatisfaction that much of the Middle East has with their governments. Calls for freedom and human rights, jobs, and an end to corruption are themes familiar to those both inside and outside these countries. In the case of

When price hikes pour fuel on the fire

The word “protest” has become part of the common vocabulary in the last few months, with demonstrations in Hong Kong, the Middle East, India, and across Latin America making headlines around the world. The recent protests in Iran, particularly, have brought into focus a longstanding issue:  

Sistani: The (not-so) hidden hand behind Iraqi politics

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has been a consistently powerful and decisive force in Iraq’s ongoing political transition. His role in Iraq has been closely observed over the years by those seeking to understand Iraq and to divine its future political fortunes. Representing the “quietist”

Shifting alliances in the Gulf a boon to China

In the wake of escalating US-Iran tensions in the Persian Gulf, the geopolitical realities of the Asian region are rapidly changing. New strategic alliances are being formed as old partnerships give way. A good example is the trouble surrounding a three-way transit agreement between Iran, India,

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

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