Thursday 21 Jan 2021 | 22:47 | SYDNEY
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Middle East

Iran nuclear deal: Revenge of the diplomats

Joe Biden has so many competing priorities to address after four years of Donald Trump that it is hard to know where to start. Biden will naturally have an immediate focus on domestic issues but some foreign policy challenges will demand his attention earlier than others. One of the most urgent is

The bleak reality of sectarian Lebanon

During an end of year break, The Interpreter is again featuring select articles published throughout 2020. This piece was originally published on 31 August 2020. Respected Australian-Lebanese, Beirut-based journalist Rania Abouzeid tweeted last week that the Maronite Church was replacing

Al-Qaeda: The core problem

For year after year, the moustached face Abu Mohammed al-Masri has stared blankly from a photo on an FBI most-wanted poster. A founding senior member of al-Qaeda, al-Masri was responsible for the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that left more than 200 dead. Also known as Abdullah

The fallout of assassinating Mohsen Fakhrizadeh

Political assassinations require considerable preparation and planning. It is almost certain the killing last week of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, head of the Iranian nuclear program, was timed to avoid cancellation of the hostage exchange involving Australian-British academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert. The

Nagorno-Karabakh: Peace – for now

Six weeks of renewed fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh ended last week after Russia brokered a trilateral agreement with the warring parties. Baku is trumpeting its victory on the field of battle and at the negotiating table, while Yerevan is

The G20’s existential crisis

2020 could be defined as a year of global crises – health, political, environmental and economic. The G20 is caught among all four, and how the forum responds raises questions about whether it is facing its own existential crisis. With a chaotic US election and presidential transition as well as

Iran’s year of reckoning

After sexual assault allegations calling out more than 100 men, including prominent members of Iranian society, first appeared on social media in August, women in Iran are having their own #MeToo moment, and the movement is gaining publicity. The latest high-profile figure to be accused of sexual

The other Arab diplomatic talks with Israel

Much publicity has been given to the news about Israel’s normalisation of relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and now what appears to be Sudan. But another set of bilateral negotiations has also recently occurred between Israel and an Arab state, which has garnered far less attention

The false promise of regime change

Book review: Philip H. Gordon, Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East (St. Martin’s Press 2020) Philip H. Gordon, the White House Coordinator for the Middle East during the Barack Obama administration, and now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign

What is Turkey’s endgame in Libya?

Turkey’s reimagining of the Pax Ottomana has not made many friends in the region, and it currently finds itself at odds with Egypt, UAE and Greece to name a few. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made very clear his ambition that Turkey will be a leader in the Mediterranean and in

A China-Iran bilateral deal: Costs all around

Rumors circling about an impending major partnership between China and Iran seem to be accurate. A leaked draft of the agreement published by the New York Times in July indicates that it would involve a deep economic partnership which would open the door for strategic action. Ample speculation about

A diplomatic breakdown over “snapback” tests the UN

After the United States experienced a rebuff at the United Nations last week – with almost the entire membership of the Security Council rejecting its attempt to re-impose UN sanctions on Iran – US officials warned that the dispute could lead to a major crisis in the Council, damaging the

Where next for MIKTA?

After seven years, the informal middle power partnership bringing together Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia (MIKTA), has achieved less than optimists envisioned, but lasted longer than pessimists imagined. MIKTA emerged from the G20 in 2013, bringing together middle powers

The Hariri verdict and the fate of Hezbollah

The sclerotic Lebanese political system has a way of corrupting those who become involved in it. Last week’s verdict from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon found a Hezbollah member was guilty of the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005, but it did not find that Hezbollah or

Hidden seams in the UAE-Israel deal

The main questions about the normalisation agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced a week ago are why did it happen and what will it change? It’s pretty clear what US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu get out of the deal – both leaders

The essence of timing in politics

The 13 August announcement of a United Arab Emirates–Israel deal to normalise relations was a significant event. But at the same time, it overshadowed a number of other interesting Middle Eastern political and security-related manoeuvres occurring elsewhere. The agreement itself was an

The Beirut explosion and the plight of Syrian refugees

When you have the privilege of working in international relations, there are some experiences that stay with you for life. There are the places you go and the people you meet. Conversations that start at the roundtable, continue into dinner, and often go late into the night. At airports and hotels,

It’s always about the oil in the Middle East

Despite US President Donald Trump’s claim that the United States no longer needed Middle East oil following the attacks on the Abqaiq production facilities in Saudi Arabia in September last year, the fact is oil from the region does remain important to the US, not only for its own use, but also as

UN report on US killing of Iranian commander misses the mark

In the early hours of 3 January 2020, missiles fired from US drones killed ten people near Baghdad airport. Drone strikes by the US are almost commonplace these days, but what made this particular strike noteworthy was its target: General Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran's Quds Force, a unit of

Turkey: Not a team player

Turkey is increasingly becoming the piece of the NATO puzzle that just won’t fit. President Recep Erdoğan’s particular brand of Turkish nationalist populism has earned him criticism from most NATO members at one time or another. Turkey’s plans for European Union membership seem increasingly

The obstacles to Syrian aid

On Saturday last week, following weeks of lobbying by humanitarian agencies and difficult diplomatic negotiations, the UN Security Council renewed its authorisation for the UN and its partners to provide humanitarian assistance in north-western Syria from across the Turkish border. The final

Cashing in the chips at the Trump casino

Big moves in the Middle East often seek to take advantage of a favourable political climate in Washington. And there has rarely been as favourable time in Washington for some Middle East leaders as under the Trump administration. But in pro-US capitals across the region, leaders are no doubt bracing

Syria: Thumbs down

Back in December, US President Donald Trump signed the National Defence Authorisation Act, which included was a set of measures known as the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act, or Caesar Act. It was so labelled after the codename of a Syrian defector who had exposed evidence of Syrian government

The high price of cheap oil for Saudi Arabia

The ramifications from the oil war that has pitted Saudi Arabia against Russia but also dragged in the United States may end up being most significant for Riyadh. To misquote Oscar Wilde, “To lose one war may be regarded as misfortune, to lose both looks like carelessness.” Having already

ISIS looks to prosper in a world distracted by the virus

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the heart of Europe. The severity of the virus has forced policymakers to shift their priorities almost exclusively to the home front. As a result, international security concerns, particularly the fight against the remnants of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which had until

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

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

The New Wave of Middle-East Media Repression

In an opinion piece published in Project Syndicate, Lydia Khalil describes how the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia have suppressed unfavorable information to hold on to power. But the experiences of Iraq and Lebanon suggest that this approach has limits in political systems that depend on

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