Wednesday 20 Sep 2017 | 09:49 | SYDNEY
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Middle East

Syria: Momentum now firmly with Assad

Earlier this week, Syrian state media announced Syrian government forces had broken the Islamic State (IS) siege of the Syrian military garrison at Dier az-Zour, the latest in a series of battlefield successes. The army is still a long way short of securing the city or the province, but the breaking

Cutting a deal with Islamic State

Negotiated deals between government forces and various armed groups have been a feature of the Syrian conflict. But a controversial deal involving several hundred Islamic State fighters who vacated the rugged Lebanese-Syrian border area is yet another example, if any more were needed, of how

The increasingly fragile Iran nuclear deal

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last month, US President Donald Trump called into question Washington’s continue support of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Last year on the campaign trail Trump made his dislike of the deal very clear but, for the last seven months, his

Death of a Lebanese terrorist

They say that the wheels of justice turn slowly, but they do turn. And if the reports of the death of the terrorist Khalid Sharrouf are confirmed, then it meant that he died as a Lebanese, rather than Australian citizen (he was stripped of his Australian citizenship early this year). This doesn’t

Riyadh’s Shia two-step

Iraqi Shia Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's reconciliation tour of Sunni-run Gulf states continued this week, following up his visit to Riyadh to see Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with a visit to the UAE. There he was met by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayad. There is little doubt

Cholera in Yemen: A totally preventable catastrophe

On 9 August, the UN Security Council called on the parties to the conflict in Yemen to allow 'unfettered and sustained access' to humanitarian aid. That call came too late for the estimated 500,000 Yemenis suffering from cholera. In a statement just five days later, the WHO announced Yemen’s

Saudi-Qatar dispute: The new normal

More than two months have passed since Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, along with Bahrain and also Egypt, imposed a blockade on Qatar. The very public move was intended to force Qatar back into line with the Saudi-UAE regional outlook. But Qatar fought back. By diversifying its economy,

Saudi Arabia’s change of tack on Iraq

For too long, the Saudis have complained about the 'loss' of Iraq to Iranian influence without acknowledging that their almost complete refusal to establish ties with Baghdad achieved little other than creating the vacuum that Tehran has sought to fill. But there are signs that Riyadh has

Trump’s vital but confused support for Lebanon

It’s hard to know at times if Trump has any Middle East specialists on his speech writing team or whether he’s just fired them all. His comments after a recent meeting with the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri, have become a source of mirth here in Lebanon after he stated: 'Lebanon is on

Syria: A farewell to arms

Last week’s confirmation that the CIA-run program to vet and arm Syrian rebel groups in the north of the country was coming to an end was a tacit acknowledgement of the flaws in the scheme. It should also have come as little surprise as, if there has been one thing that Trump has been consistent

Defence exports to the Gulf: No price on values

A recent interview with Christopher Pyne in his capacity as Minister for Defence Industry was somewhat unusual in the way in which he apparently advocated defence export-led closer engagement with Middle Eastern countries. The problem with defence exports, of course, is that ideally we

Stalemate in Qatar dispute

It was Marlon Brando’s character in The Godfather, Don Vito Corleone who uttered the famous words ‘I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse’. In the current imbroglio between Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc, the 13-point list of demands issued by Riyadh could well be described as making Doha an

Lifting the veil on jihad

In April 2015 a fresh-faced Australian-born doctor appeared in a slick Islamic State video extolling the virtues of making hijra to what he portrayed as a utopian Islamic society. The video showed the doctor, Tareq Kamleh, in a pristine and well-equipped paediatric ward tending to a premature

Qatar crisis: Why the Saudis want Al Jazeera gone

Closing Al Jazeera and all its affiliates is among the top demands from the Saudi-backed alliance in its three-week-old trade and diplomatic embargo of Qatar. While the Saudi alliance accuses Qatar of using its powerful media empire to incite extremism, back Islamist groups and interfere in

Lebanon’s elections: War by other means?

The Lebanese civil war was, at heart, a battle over contested conceptions of the Lebanese state. Was it to be secular and West-aligned, or closer to the (predominantly Muslim) Arab world? This question has never really been settled. But these days, rather than fighting it out on the streets of

Saudi succession shuffle

Today's announcement that Saudi Arabia's King Salman has reshuffled the line of succession in favour of his son Mohammed bin Salman is surprising, but not unexpected. MBS, as he is often referred to, has been moved from Deputy Crown Prince to Crown Prince, while Mohammed bin Nayef (MBN), the King'

US making policy on the run in Syria

Two events overnight in Syria have demonstrated just how complicated the situation continues to be. In the first instance, Iran joined Russia and the United States in lobbing missiles at Islamic State targets inside Syrian territory. The statement from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)

Syria: The battle for the east

Sryian President Bashar al-Assad claimed in September 2016 that he intends to re-establish control over the whole of Syria, and recent actions indicate this remains his strategic aim. In the west of Syria, realising he did not have sufficient combat power to defeat the armed opposition militarily

China’s growing interest in the Middle East

Much has been said about US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to the Middle East but it’s worth remembering that only a few weeks earlier a mirror image of Trump’s Middle East tour took place in China. In mid-March, King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Why Trump’s Middle East trip matters to Australia

There are two reasons why US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Middle East matters to Australia. First, the President’s visit to Saudi Arabia, where he also held a summit with Arab leaders, and Israel are a signal of where the administration’s foreign policy priority lies, and this does

Iranian politics nothing if not opaque

It is often difficult to make sense of Iranian electoral results. On the one hand, presidential elections feature such a narrow range of choice (the 1600-plus would-be candidates for this year's contest were whittled down by the Council of Guardians to just six, of whom two withdrew before

Iranians vote to continue on the path of engagement

Some 40 million Iranians took to the polls on Friday to vote for the next President of the Islamic Republic, which represented an impressive 70% turnout rate. Commentators had predicted a high voter turnout would favour the re-election of moderate incumbent Hassan Rouhani, and they were correct: he

Trump’s Middle East tour: Status quo reset

President Donald Trump’s upcoming Middle East tour, his first international trip since assuming office in January, will take him to the heart of the three monotheistic faiths, beginning in Saudi Arabia, travelling to Israel and finishing at the Vatican. The symbolism of the tour is manifold.

Erdogan leaves Trump empty-handed

The language at the press conference following their meeting earlier this week may have been conciliatory, but there is no masking the tensions between US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The two strongmen lavished praise on each another,

Iran's growing security problem

As Iran heads into an election on Friday with the focus on the economy, it is easy to miss the rise in temperature in Iran’s regional security environment. In late April, nine Iranian border guards were killed in Sistan-Baluchistan province as the result of an attack launched from Pakistani soil

Syrian safe zones: Not there yet

Last Thursday in Astana the latest agreement that attempts to establish some limited cessation of hostilities in Syria was signed. The signatories (and hence guarantors) were Turkey, Iran and Russia. Given this is the fourth attempt at a cessation of hostilities, prospects for its success appear

What is Trump’s game in Yemen?

Yemen has been rather prominent in the Trump Administration's foreign policy agenda. On 29 January, a spectacularly flawed raid conducted by US special forces against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) heralded the beginning of a starkly different US policy towards the impoverished and

The popes and the Islamists

As we approach Easter, it's worth looking at how institutional Christianity and radical Islamism interact in the contemporary world. The bomb attacks on Coptic churches in Egypt highlight the occasional focus by Islamist groups on Christian targets in the Middle East. Just as outsiders

Egypt’s Copts: Caught between the Egyptian State and IS

What should have been a joyous Easter week has turned to tragedy in Egypt. Two suicide bombings targeting St Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria (where the Coptic pope was praying just minutes before) and St George’s church in Tanta killed 44 people and injured hundreds during Palm Sunday services.

Missile strikes do not signal US shift on Syria

In a complex and confusing civil war in which decisions can result in unforeseen consequences, the Trump Administration was presented with a relatively straightforward choice and with a perfect target. Syrian military aircraft, launched from Shayrat airbase in Homs, carried out an attack

Assad and chemical weapons: The regional repercussions

The renewed use by the Assad regime of chemical weapons, possibly sarin, against civilian population centres in Syria - most recently in Idlib - is immoral, illegal, inhuman and counter-productive in every respect. It serves no military or political purpose. In terms of diplomacy, it is a complete

Assad set to outlast the many who wanted him out

The language emanating from the White House concerning the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad appeared to change last week, revealing another layer in an increasingly realist foreign policy approach from Washington. President Trump had signalled during the presidential debates that his focus was

Sisi in DC: The state of US-Egypt relations

Today, US President Donald Trump will receive Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi at the White House. It is the first visit of an Egyptian leader since 2009 and Sisi will no doubt get a warm welcome. Since meeting on the sidelines at the UN General Assembly in September last year, Sisi and Trump

Civilian casualties and the media

The issue of civilian casualties in the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts has received plenty of media coverage recently. From claims that a mosque was deliberately targeted in Aleppo province with nearly 50 civilians killed, through an airstrike hitting a school housing displaced families in Idlib Raqqa

Syrian safe zones: A planning nightmare

This is the first in what will be a regular weekly post from the Lowy Institute’s West Asia program to bring Interpreter readers up to speed with the latest issues in the Middle East. The Syrian safe zone concept is getting less clear by the day.  In January President Trump said that he '

King Salman’s wild ride

Saudi King Salman’s month-long tour of Asia marks a rare occurrence for Saudi monarchs, who rarely engage in such prolonged diplomatic activities. The arc of the King’s sojourn takes him through a range of regional middle and lesser powers, with stops in Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the

Muddying the Syrian waters

The number of US boots on the ground in Syria is gradually increasing without, it would appear, a plan to inform the public about what broader purpose the troops' presence serves and, perhaps most importantly, what defines mission success and would allow the troops to redeploy. Before leaving

The race for Raqqa

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis is in the process of briefing his draft plan for defeating Islamic State, and is allegedly taking a global strategic perspective. This is only appropriate but, before the strategic can be addressed, the tactical must be planned. And now that Mosul is in the

Is Jordan in danger?

Jordan, unlike much of the Middle East, has been a beacon of stability in the region for decades. The Kingdom has previously faced significant economic threats, but it’s always managed to postpone addressing its structural problems and kicked this debate down the road. But rising challenges

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