Saturday 20 Jul 2019 | 21:20 | SYDNEY
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Rodger Shanahan's picture
People | experts Rodger Shanahan
Research Fellow, West Asia Program
Lowy Institute
Rodger Shanahan's picture
Areas of ExpertiseMiddle East security issues; Political Islam; Shi’a Islam

Saudi Arabia has a new king with the same old policies

New Saudi monarch King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. (Wikipedia.) With the death of King Abdullah, the Saudi succession machinery has immediately swung into action. The Saudi monarchy prizes stability, and in order to forestall any damaging intrigue regarding succession, particularly in light of

Hizbullah feeling the strain

Hizbullah is likely glad to see the end of 2014. It will be viewed as a year in which its mortality as an Islamist militia was exposed, and its 'post-Israeli withdraw/post-2006 war with Israel' glow began to appear as a distant memory. It faces challenges on several fronts. To begin with, its

Iraq: Time on Washington's side

The saying 'you have the watches but we have the time' is often attributed to the Taliban (or Mauritanian immigration officials), but it is representative of the fact that indigenous armed groups understand that occupations are temporary, while the population is permanent. The UK and France learned

Bahrain basing deal: UK returns to east of Suez

They're baaaaack... UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond used the Bahraini Government-funded Manama dialogue on the weekend to announce the signing of a Defence Agreement with the Kingdom of Bahrain. It is sometimes difficult to discern substance from symbolism in these types of announcements. In

Peace on the horizon for Bangsamoro?

As part of the 'Sectarianism and Religiously Motivated Violence' Masters course which I run at ANU's National Security College, students were asked to write a post on a contemporary sectarian conflict. This piece by Sophie Wolfer was judged the best of those submitted. The end of a 40-year

ISIS beheadings are a grotesque media strategy

ISIS is a transitory organisation whose aspiration to lead an Islamic reconquista is doomed to fail. It will eventually be degraded and splinter, some of its members joining the myriad other groups within the jihadist milieu while others fight over what is left of ISIS. One thing of enduring

Lebanon: The nation and the army

While Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon have all felt the heavy burden of hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian civil war refugees on their soil, Lebanon has felt the largest impact on its security from the fighting. Lebanon's complex patchwork of religious communities each has their own external

A Middle Eastern sporting odyssey

When you are an observer and student of a place like the Middle East, it is easy to mix several interests. Does religion, history and politics push your buttons? You won't find a better region for it. Are you a security analyst? There is a surfeit of riches here. A gastronome perhaps? Come on in.

What's so strategic about Kobane?

If you relied only on the media, you could be forgiven for thinking that the focus of the fight against ISIS has been on the Syrian city of Kobane. This is thanks to the easy access for international media to the Turkish side of the border near Kobane and the resulting images, as well as the work

Syria: What is a moderate rebel?

The question of defining a 'moderate' rebel in Syria's civil war bedevils the US as it works to fulfill its plan, announced by President Obama on 10 September, to arm and train anti-ISIS groups in Syria. The term 'moderate' is thrown around with gay abandon without anyone defining exactly what they

Syria: ISIS is not the only problem

Questions abound over what to do about ISIS and whether it should be pursued into Syria (the US has now started hitting ISIS targets in Syria). Concentrating simply on ISIS though, risks misunderstanding the regional nature of the problem and the fact that ISIS is just the strongest of numerous

Australia's Iraq deployment: Pragmatism over principle

The Prime Minister's unsurprising announcement of an Australian military commitment to the US-led anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition answered a few questions and raised others. I think the justification for military intervention in Iraq is relatively straightforward, but the environment within which

Obama's strategy: First thoughts

It's fair to say that President Obama is a reluctant commander-in-chief and sees the Middle East as a place where the limitations of US military force are most apparent. So his speech  tonight on America's strategy against Islamic State (IS) was from someone who wishes he didn't have to deal with

Syria and Iraq: Why did Obama bring religion into it?

In this fast-paced world of media grabs, it is easy for selective quoting to misrepresent what leaders say. In his 28 August press conference for instance, when President Obama was asked whether he needed Congressional approval to go into Syria and attack Islamic State, he said 'I don't want to put

Air power to the fore in the Middle East

As a former Army officer, my service bias has always made me a believer that only events on the ground matter. The air force is a great enabler but rarely the decisive factor. But my experience of the Middle East has also taught me the value that many governments place in air power. In the Gulf in

The Islamic State's media logic

The horrific images surrounding the gruesome execution of the US journalist Jim Foley are dominating the headlines. The Islamist group had several reasons for doing what they did, and when they did it. It reinforces the Islamic State's reputation as the baddest Islamists of them all, a useful tool

Obama's intervention: Iraq is not Syria

The limited use of military force announced by President Obama earlier today was likely prompted by concern at the success of ISIS's latest offensives across Syria and Iraq. The jihadist group has recently redoubled its efforts in Raqqa, Syria, in an effort to take the remaining pockets of Syrian

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

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

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

Mosul falls, Canberra shrugs: Australia's Iraq amnesia

One would have thought that a country which invades another for what it considered altruistic reasons would continue to have an interest in events there long after the troops have been withdrawn. When that country is Iraq, however, there appears to be a case of collective amnesia among Australia's

Syria: Implications of the retreat from Homs

Last week's surrender by opposition forces of their remaining foothold in the old city of Homs once again focused attention on the devastation wrought by three years of conflict on Syria. Pictures of the damage inflicted on the old city are reminiscent of World War II, and with each passing day it

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

Pakistan's guns for hire in the Gulf

When I worked as a Defence Attaché in the Gulf, my local military driver was often not who I thought he was. Resplendent in his dishdasha and with excellent Arabic, I was surprised to find out that he was a Pakistani Baluch. When I asked my interlocutors how many Pakistanis there were in Gulf

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 have

Syria: Here endeth diplomacy

The Vietnamese, in their battles with US forces, used to talk of the need to 'hug the belt', or to engage so closely with US ground forces that the Americans' overwhelmingly superior firepower would be blunted through fear of hitting their own men. In Syria, the opposition has largely 'hugged the

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 that

Syria and the Geneva conference

The so-called Geneva II conference ended last Friday.  The key to any negotiation regarding Syria is to aim low and keep one's expectations realistic. It is fair to say that UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi's (pictured) aim was simply to get two of the sides in a room.  His claim that he didn't expect

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

Bahrain: Attending the wrong dialogue?

I am returning from Lebanon and Bahrain, where I've been speaking to various elements of the Shi'a community in each country. Lebanon's sectarian problems have always been multi-faceted and are complicated by centuries of foreign interference, making their resolution virtually impossible. In Bahrain

Riyadh's annus horribilis

As 2013 comes to a close, Saudi Arabia should be concerned that it is increasingly being seen as an observer of events that threaten to re-shape the region in ways that will weaken its standing. I am currently in Lebanon and the feeling of disappointment with Saudi Arabian leadership of the Arab

Iran: Sweet & sour

Two events overnight have pitched Iran once again to the forefront of Middle Eastern politics, albeit for completely different reasons. First was the twin suicide bombing targeting the Iranian embassy in Beirut that killed over 20 people but didn't breach the perimeter. An al Qaeda affiliate has

Syria: Vote 1 Bashar

Despite everyone telling him that he's got to go, Syria's President Bashar Assad has been steadfast in his refusal to do so, claiming that the only ones who can tell him it's time to leave are the Syrian people. They will get their chance in the presidential elections slated for mid-2014, which he

Talking to Iran is good, right?

It is right to be cautious about Iran's post-Ahmadinejad willingness to negotiate on the nuclear issue. And while a combination of the sanctions regime and the election of Hassan Rouhani as president has enabled negotiations to occur, the West should be alert to where Iran sees itself positioned

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