Tuesday 20 Feb 2018 | 16:50 | SYDNEY
What's happening on

Middle East

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

Syria: Five stages of grief (part 2)

Part 1 in this series described the changing mood in Syria towards acceptance of an eventual victory for the Assad regime. This post examines how the practicalities of re-establishing civil society are going to be worked out including, perhaps most importantly, determining who will pay. The

Syria: The five stages of grief (part 1)

Many people will be familiar with the oft-quoted five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. After my most recent research trip to the Middle East, I noticed a distinct feeling that as far as Syria is concerned, most actors are now in the final stage: an acceptance

Politics slows Saudi reform plans

Even to the Saudi leaders looking at the consultants' PowerPoint presentation last year, Saudia Arabia's 2020 'National Transformation Plan' must have looked improbable. Unemployment to be cut by a fifth in just three years, 1.2 million additional jobs in five years, half of the Saudi workforce

War reporting 101: Check your sources

Earlier this year I wrote about the willingness of the news media to highlight claims of civilian casualties caused by coalition forces operating in Iraq and Syria, but their apparent unwillingness to critically examine their sources or to follow up when their claims have been denied, dismissed or

Commercial drones: Privatising air power

In irregular wars, the state has traditionally had a monopoly on the use of air power. This has now been overturned. With the rise of small, low-cost, commercial-off-the-shelf drones, armed non-state actors are now also able to employ air power. Today, the leading armed non-state group

Kurdistan precarious but steadfast on eve of referendum

It is hard not to be sympathetic to the decades-long Kurdish struggle for independence and self-determination. The long-suffering Kurdish nation was summarily divvied up by the Sykes-Picot Agreement (a document that continues to vex the Middle East to this day) and the Treaty of Lausanne after World

Leave the Iran nuclear deal alone

In 2015, now-President Donald Trump said of the Iran nuclear agreement (otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA]) that 'Never ever, ever in my life have I seen any transaction so incompetently negotiated as our deal with Iran. And I mean never.’ Of course, Trump has

Turkey’s EU accession: A useful fiction

By any measure, the German Chancellor debate between Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz last weekend was a dispiriting, monotonous affair. On irrelevant issue after irrelevant issue, both candidates spoke around each other, barely acknowledging one another's presence and finding themselves more often

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

Pages