Saturday 21 Apr 2018 | 14:23 | SYDNEY
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Middle East

Europe: the movers and the shakers

The way in which the European Union and its member states responded to recent strikes by the US, France, and the UK on Syrian chemical weapons targets very clearly exposes the strengths and weaknesses of European power. One or two Europeans are movers, but most are shakers. When it came down to

Syria strikes: mission accomplished?

The US military claims the ability of the Syrian regime to use chemical weapons has been set back “for years” following strikes on Saturday. Given it is just one year since the US last struck Syrian targets following a chemical weapons attack, the latest claim won’t wash for many.

In Syria, Trump must collude with Russia

President Donald Trump is under enormous pressure to respond militarily to the latest provocation by the Assad regime, but he would do so against all of his instincts and earlier pronouncements to end US military involvement in the Syrian war. Just days before the chemical attacks in Douma,

Rouhani, Erdogan, and Putin’s bizarre love triangle

It appears a new regional security order is encircling Syria as the civil war grinds into its seventh year. This shift was visible last week, when the leaders of Turkey, Iran, and Russia met in Ankara to discuss solutions to the Syrian crisis. The detailed talks covered de-escalation zones

The world according to Mohammed bin Salman

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been on an extended tour of the United States, trying to present a friendly face to the American public and bring them on side in the same way he’s won over the Trump administration. This began with a 60 Minutes extended interview 

The rationale for Egypt’s military spending spree

Incumbent President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was re-elected for a second term in last week’s presidential election, winning 97% of the vote. Facing myriad internal and external security challenges, Sisi vowed to safeguard Egypt’s security during his election campaign. The country

Sifting evil intent from charities doing good

The nexus between charitable aid and terrorism is a delicate and often difficult subject to discuss, let alone research. Some troubling relationships do exist, but the number of charities involved is small relative to the vast number of organisations doing good work. Although the sums

Carrots and sticks in the Iran nuclear deal

In January, US President Donald Trump’s frustration with the Iran nuclear deal got the better of him as he set a 12 May deadline for its renegotiation. But meeting this goal is impossible in the current environment. As a result, in an unnecessary and counterproductive move, it looks like the US

The resurgence of Al-Qaeda

Nearly seven years after the killing of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda is numerically larger and present in more countries than at any other time in its history. Indeed, the movement now boasts of some 40,000 men under arms, with approximately 10,000–20,000 fighters in Syria; 7000–9000 in

To Russia: a plea of caution on Syria

The recent UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria was arguably a vital step towards the delivery of much-needed humanitarian aid to 5.6 million Syrians deemed in “acute need”. Yet shortly after the resolution was unanimously adopted, the Syrian Government

What’s in a (street) name?

Bilateral disputes can often have a semi-amusing side when grown adults, who should know better, throw playground insults seeking some form of populist electoral response. Then New Zealand prime minister Robert “Piggy” Muldoon’s reaction to cricket’s famous 1981 underarm bowling

Russia a reluctant driver in the Syrian war

As we witness the slaughter of civilians in yet another part of Syria – most recently, the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta – the country appears to enter the endgame of the confrontation between the regime and an array of rebel groups. But new battles await. Syria is increasingly

The depressing sameness of the fight for Ghouta

A little over a year ago, after the fall of eastern Aleppo in Syria, I asked “What exactly did the defence of East Aleppo achieve?”: Surely it was apparent from the time the encirclement was completed and the attempt to break the siege failed that only one outcome was possible: the defeat

The spectre of a divided Yemen

After the Houthi–Saleh coalition collapsed and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed in December, it didn’t seem as though the conflict in Yemen could get any more complicated. Barely two months later, however, another one of Yemen’s coalitions has imploded. On 27 January, intense

Syria: a plan to name and shame chemical weapons suspects

Last month, France hosted the launch of the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. The effort is aimed at holding to account individuals and groups in the Syrian Government responsible for chemical weapons attacks, and to deter any possible further use of

Shot down over Syria

The downing of a Russian Su-25 aircraft this week marks the second aircraft lost to MANPADS surface-to-air missiles in six weeks. At the end of December, militants shot down a Syrian L-39 aircraft near Hama. Russia’s response has been swift and severe, conducting multiple

Washington's weak hand to play in Syria

With the change of administration in Washington came new clarity about US policy on Syria. The admirable, short-term aim was to defeat ISIS. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the organisation that would produce this outcome on the ground, was founded in late 2015 (the '

Erdogan’s outbursts symbolic of Turkey’s decline

Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan did not mince his words after news of a US-backed Syrian Border Defence Force (SBDF) emerged. The SBDF would consolidate numerous militia groups in Northern Syria, including the predominantly Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), into a unified and

Putin’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment

Politicians have a track record of declaring military victory before it is achieved. Think the 'Mission Accomplished' banner unfurled behind George W. Bush aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on 1 May 2003, after which the war in Iraq continued for another eight years, claiming

Russia is not really withdrawing from Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin was reported this week to have ordered Russian military chiefs to redeploy ‘most’ of Russia’s Syria contingent back home. Exactly what constitutes ‘most', though, is anyone’s guess. There are reports that Russia

Congress considers the Iran nuclear deal

The US Congress could scuttle the nuclear deal with Iran this week. But it's unlikely to do so. Donald Trump has railed against the deal since his campaign. In a speech on 13 October, Trump said 'the Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever

Jerusalem: Trump’s roll of the dice

Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is many things, but it is best to begin with two things that it is not. First, it does not preclude Jerusalem also becoming the capital of a future Palestinian state as well as the state of Israel. Many Israelis and Jews

Saudi desperation as Yemen campaign stagnates

The 4 November missile launch by Houthi rebels in Yemen towards the Saudi capital Riyadh prompted an unexpectedly harsh response. Almost immediately, the Saudi-led coalition announced a complete land, sea and air embargo on Yemen. The Saudis have since reopened air, land and sea access to ports

The smugglers of Musandam

In 2017 the waters of the Persian Gulf are still choppy. There is US President Donald Trump's choice to decertify the Iran nuclear deal, Iran's bluster under President Hassan Rouhani and ongoing US efforts to end the dispute between several Gulf states and Qatar. One group of

The puzzling demise of Lebanon’s Sa’ad Hariri

Amid the political carnage visited upon the upper levels of the Saudi polity last week was the fall from high political office of another Saudi citizen, none other than the Lebanese prime minister Sa’ad Hariri. The public resignation was aired on Saudi-owned al-Arabiyya television. There was and

Saudi arrests: More than palace intrigue

The arrests in early November of dozens of Saudi royals, bureaucrats and businessmen has brought fresh international attention to Saudi politics and palace intrigue. The arrests have been widely, and correctly, attributed to 32-year-old crown prince Muhammad Ibn Salman, nicknamed MbS. Ostensibly

Russia in Syria: A course strewn with obstacles

Having vanquished Syria’s rebels militarily, Russia now faces the challenge of reconstructing a durable Syrian state. To convert military victory into a lasting political settlement that benefits it and its allies in Syria, Bashar Assad’s government and Iran, Moscow has moved quickly to

Macron, America and Iran: Searching for a middle way

French President Emmanuel Macron is considering a visit to Tehran in early 2018. Macron would be the first French President to visit Iran since Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in 1976, and given the tensions between Washington and Europe over the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of

The ongoing plight of the Yazidis

As the Iraqi Army and Shiite militias drive Kurdish forces out of cities and villages in the wake of the Kurdish Regional Government's independence referendum, the plight of the ever-persecuted Yazidis remains as dire – and as invisible – as ever. Caught between two governments vying for land

Kurds aren’t always the good guys

I have written recently about the recklessness of Kurdish leaders in staging their independence referendum. Rather than advance the Kurdish cause, it has probably set it back years, if not decades. Despite its laudable efforts against Islamic State, the Kurdish Regional Government has 

Worst enemy: Kurdistan’s history of infighting

Hopes were high in Kurdistan after the historic, if ill-advised, referendum on independence earlier this month. To the question 'Do you want the Kurdistan Region and the Kurdistani areas outside the region's administration to become an independent state?', 92% of respondents voted 'yes'.

On a Trumpian track for the next Middle East war

In some respects, US President Donald Trump and the Iranian theocratic regime deserve each other. Neither respect international agreements, except when it suits their purposes. Trump's badmouthing of the Iranian nuclear agreement is of one with his behaviour over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the

Kurdistan’s strategic overreach

There is no doubt that the Kurds have been unfairly dealt with as an ethno-linguistic group throughout modern history. They’re not alone in this, but they are probably in a different category as far as the West is concerned, as they have sometimes proven to be good allies. Their recent efforts in

Iraq, the Kurds, and the mess America has made

Tensions between the Iraqi military and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are once again threatening to boil over. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered the military to 'impose security' in and around the oilfields and airport in the province of Kirkuk, a region the Kurds took back from Islamic

Trump’s high-risk Iran strategy

This week US President Donald Trump could announce that Iran is not complying with the 2015 nuclear deal, despite a number of US allies and officials - including some inside the Trump administration - insisting that Iran has not breached the terms of the agreement. Under the 2015 Iran Nuclear

Aid and its limits in Palestine

Earlier this year, the Trump administration sparked new hope in Ramallah with efforts to kickstart moribund peace negotiations but, despite several meetings between Palestinian and American officials, there is still no clear outline for negotiations. Also absent is the increase in aid to the

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