Sunday 19 Jan 2020 | 15:57 | SYDNEY
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Middle East

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

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),

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