Monday 20 May 2019 | 19:05 | SYDNEY
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The West Asia Program

The West Asia program provides original research on developments in the Middle East and Central and Southwest Asia, including as they impact on Australia. Central research issues include relations between West Asia and East Asia, the Arab uprisings and geo-political change in the Middle East and Australia’s relations with the Gulf.


Latest Publications

Israel's Gaza ground operation: How does this end?

This morning I recorded this conversation with Lowy Institute Middle East expert Anthony Bubalo about the escalation of Israel's military operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. As the NY Times reports, after ten days of air operations against Hamas, Israel has overnight launched a ground

Baghdadi's caliphate is a mirage, but a damaging one

ISIS has released video of its leader Abu Baqr al Baghdadi appearing at a Mosul mosque (pictured) during Friday prayers last week, claiming to be the caliph, or leader, of the Muslim faithful and calling himself Caliph Ibrahim. Carrying the supposed moniker of 'the invisible sheikh' is great for

Egypt: Peter Greste (and don't forget the rest)

In passing comment on the seven-year jail sentence handed down to Australian journalist Peter Greste, it would be all too easy just to join the swollen ranks of the indignant. You would certainly be in good company. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has described the verdict as 'appalling'. US

Iraq and Syria: ISIS's internet insurgency

Al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist and insurgent groups have cultivated an advanced social media presence. It serves a much more important purpose than do traditional information operations campaigns that Western militaries have been developing for the last few decades. For Islamist groups, their

Iraq crisis: What do Americans want?

By this point in his presidency, Barack Obama had hoped to be firmly focused on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, one of two wars he inherited from the Bush Administration. Instead he faces the task of reintroducing several hundred of them to the other battlefield, of which he had seemingly

Why the US (and Australia) should go back to Iraq

ISIS's dramatic seizure of Mosul last week has caused much geo-strategic hyperventilation. Commentators are variously predicting the collapse of Iraq and eulogising (once again) Middle Eastern borders as defined by Sykes and Picot. The prospect of the US – and perhaps allies such as Australia

Iranian and US interests in Iraq: Strange bedfellows

One of the more unusual byproducts of the advance of ISIS has been the realisation that Iran and the US share an interest in blocking ISIS advances and re-asserting government control over areas seized by the group. It is a classic Middle Eastern 'enemy of my enemy' scenario, which makes for strange

Egypt's opposition: Three scenes from Cairo

 Below are photos taken by journalist Lisa Main in Cairo over recent days of the opposition to presumptive new president Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi. We published Lisa's post on the Egyptian elections earlier today.   Ahmed Harara, a former dentist who was blinded by gunfire in the 2011 uprising. His

False choices in Egypt's presidential election

It goes something like this: over the next two days, Egyptians will elect the former head of the military, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, as Egypt's new president. His sole challenger, Hamdeen Sabahi, may do a little better than expected, perhaps denying Sisi his landslide. But by hook or by crook, Sisi will

Narendra Modi's foreign policy: Continuity the key

The Narendra Modi-led BJP government that takes office in Delhi next week will in all likelihood ensure a certain continuity with the broad foreign and security policy orientation associated with India over the last two decades. This is inevitable and any change under Prime Minister Modi will be

Tony Blair's Gulf delusion

The Middle East can be a policy graveyard for principled leaders because nowhere is there a more marked tension between, on the one hand, Western notions of tolerance and individual freedom, and on the other, the need for political stability and wealthy trading partners. The popular uprisings

Syria: There's method in Assad's election madness

The Syrian Government's successful effort to re-take the Qalamoun area from opposition forces was designed with two aims in mind: to reassert government control over an area abutting Lebanon that resupplied opposition forces close to Damascus, and to maintain military momentum in advance of

Skin-tight jeans and triangle ladies: A look inside Iran

Imam mosque, on the southern edge of Naqsh-e-Jahan Square, Esfahan. Photo by the author. On the edge of Iran's Dasht e Kavir desert, a young Iranian guy sits by the edge of an old reservoir-turned dirty swimming pool, drinking warm beer and gesticulating wildly as he tells jokes to his friends

India links: Election special

Voting for India's Lok Sabha (lower house) elections kicked off on Monday. In place of my regular India Links, here is the best election-related reading of the week: The Economist published a strongly worded editorial last week, which stated that 'this newspaper cannot bring itself to back Mr Modi

Human rights: After the spring in Libya and Egypt

Last week, the Lowy Institute hosted a roundtable examining human rights in the Middle East, which featured human rights defender Hassan al-Amin and Tirana Hassan from Human Rights Watch. Hassan al-Amin fled Libya to be a dissident in exile and returned as an elected member of parliament

The rise of jihadism in Syria and Egypt

Launched last week, Anthony Bubalo's Next –gen Jihad in the Middle East has attracted much media attention for its argument that current conditions in the Middle East are worse than those that saw the emergence of al Qaeda.  As Lateline quipped, Syria could be the new Afghanistan. Listen to this

What would Modi mean for Indian foreign policy?

Polling booths for the world's biggest election open in India this week, with signs pointing towards likely victory for a BJP-led coalition with Narendra Modi at the helm. But despite his image as a divisive nationalist, it's unlikely there will be any disruptive change in Indian foreign policy

Egypt, Sisi and the next generation of jihadists

At the end of last week, Egyptian military chief Field Marshall Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced that he would be resigning his military post to run for this year's presidential elections, expected to take place in May. It is a move that has been mooted for months now, and has at its origins the

Next-gen jihad in the Middle East

In this Analysis Lowy Institute Research Director, Anthony Bubalo, argues that the current turmoil in the Middle East is incubating a new generation of jihadists. In many respects the current conditions in the region are worse than those that saw the emergence of al-Qaeda. 

Happy Afghan new year, the Taliban way

New year's eve, regardless what calendar you adhere to, is for many about turning a new leaf and making resolutions about what to do better the next year. In Afghanistan such a leaf was turned, but for many of us it is not about things getting better, but things getting worse. While out with

What's next for Peter Greste?

The gates to Tora prison and court in Cairo. (Photo by the author.) Having sat through the previous hearing of Australian journalist Peter Greste's trial in Cairo, I quickly came to the conclusion that the trial is purely political. With hearings due to resume today, so far no credible evidence

Lebanon: Second front in the Syria war

This weekend's blast at an army checkpoint on the outskirts of Hermel, claimed by Sunni jihadists, is just the latest in a series of vehicle-borne suicide attacks aimed at largely Shi'a areas in Lebanon. Last month a suicide bomber got through to Hermel and killed four people. And things could

Splitters: Syria's Pythonesque Islamist opposition

One of many great scenes from The Life of Brian was the depiction of the schism among anti-Roman groups that resulted in the standoff between the Judean People's Front, the Judean Popular People's Front (splitters!), and the People's Front of Judea (splitters!). It was a not-so subtle reminder

Rahul Gandhi breaks his silence

This interview with Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and head of the Congress Party’s election campaign, is creating waves in India, in part because it's the first interview he has given in ten years. In place of my regular India links, which will return next Friday, check out the

Syria: Is Assad the solution?

As Syria stumbles into its third year of conflict, President Assad continues to bank on his belief that the longer he remains in power, the more likely that the opposition will be seen as a combination of Islamists, carpetbaggers, proxies and miscreants, and that the West will somehow reluctantly

The infectious disease threat in Syria

Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the presence of wild poliovirus type one (WPV1) in 10 children under two years old in Deir al-Zour province in the Syria's east. These are the first reported cases of polio in the country since 1999. This is another sign of the collapse of

Syria: how the West can play a weak hand better

This Lowy Institute Analysis examines the trajectory of the Syrian conflict in the wake of the Russian and US agreement to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons.  It argues that while that agreement, enshrined in Security Council Resolution 2118, may remove a pernicious class of weapons from

Lebanon: the Chimera of a Shi’a ‘third way’

Lowy Institute Nonresident Fellow Rodger Shanahann recently published an article in the Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 36, no. 3, Spring 2013, which looks at the implications of the Arab uprisings and the civil war in Syria for the Shi'a of Lebanon