Monday 18 Jan 2021 | 18:22 | SYDNEY
People | experts Rodger Shanahan
Research Fellow, West Asia Program
Lowy Institute
Areas of ExpertiseMiddle East security issues; Political Islam; Shi’a Islam

Bahrain and the price of principles

Normally, events in Bahrain would not elicit much commentary from officials in Canberra, except for travel advisories. The problem is that our activist foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, has been at great pains to describe Australia as a middle power with global interests. As part of that approach, he

A dangerous day for Bahrain

Four days after GCC foreign ministers pledged $20 billion over ten years to Oman and Bahrain and warned against foreign (read Iranian) interference in those countries, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sent forces to Manama. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Tehran has now issued a call 

Australia selective on Arab democracy

The problem with being ideologically disposed towards democracy and having to deal in the real world of international politics is that you often have to say one thing but do another. The trick for public figures is to avoid having to do it too often or too close together in time. A good example is

Here what the army is for

Hugh White's post on US Defense Secretary Gates' recent speech to West Point cadets asks, 'What is the Australian Army for''. I was waiting for this question to come.  What with Iraq yesterday's news, Afghanistan having only a few more years to run and the China question looming large,

Australia\ ties with the Middle East

I can't let Andrew Carr's comment that 'Australia's trade relationship with the Middle East is negligible save for our wheat industry' pass without comment.   Even a cursory view of the DFAT website reveals some issues about bilateral trade relations with the region at odds with his

Sultan of Oman: Exception to the rulers

Not all autocratic rulers in the Arab world are necessarily bad, or even disliked. Besides, in the Arab world, one man's autocrat is another's strong, wise, consultative ruler. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in my favourite Arab country, Oman. This piece gives some idea of the ability

Sectarianism the subtext in Bahrain protests

In an opinion piece in the ABC's The Drum, Lowy Institute Non-resident Fellow Rodger Shanahan writes that the protests in Bahrain are qualitatively different from those elsewhere in the region.The Drum, 21 February 2011

Bahrain: The sectarian dimension

The brutal Government crackdown on Bahraini Shi'a protestors was both deplorable and inevitable. But the protests in Bahrain are qualitatively different from those elsewhere in the region because Bahrain's pro-democracy demonstrations represent a sectarian threat to Sunni political interests&

Egypt: What do the neighbours think?

The closer you are to events, the less principled and more pragmatic you become.  Hence, while Western governments advocate for the departure of President Mubarak, views from the region are somewhat different, even if the likelihood of the Tunisian contagion spreading beyond Egypt is

Hizbullah divides and conquers

With the election of Najib Mikati to the Lebanese premiership, the end of the short-lived 'Cedar Revolution' is complete. Not that it was much of a revolution anyway — while it did succeed in getting the Syrians to withdraw their troops from Lebanon, Damascus is as big an influence now as

Australia to Yemen: G\'day mate!

It appears Sana'a has found a new friend.  Yesterday's AUKMIN communique announced that 'Australia and the UK reaffirmed their commitment to continued international and regional engagement in working with Yemen to find solutions to Yemen's economic and political challenges'. And

As Riyadh fades, the sharks circle

The collapse of the Saudi-Syrian peace deal designed to solve the political impasse in Lebanon says much about the state of Saudi regional diplomacy. In 1989, Saudi Arabia played host to the Taif Agreement that set the conditions for the end of the civil war. But two decades later, Riyadh

Lebanon: There goes another one

Nearly six years after his father was assassinated by a car bomb in Beirut, Sa'ad Hariri has now seen his government fall at the hands of the very group whose members are likely to be accused of complicity in his father's death. The timing of the resignation of the Hizbullah ministers and their

Iran: Are sanctions working?

Reliable intelligence on Iranian capabilities and policies is notoriously difficult to gather. But, fueled by a combination of Iranian intransigence, a permeable sanctions regime, Gulf Arab fears and selective hyping for political and security purposes, popular wisdom has it that 

2011: Year of the econo-terrorist?

The public has come to assume that Islamist groups are dedicated to the conduct of mass casualty attacks against Western interests to either exact revenge in response to perceptions of armed attack on the community of believers (umma) or to seek changes to Western states' foreign policies regarding

Middle East: Just as I predicted

At the start of 2010 I made some predictions about the year ahead for the Middle East, so in the spirit of retrospection, I'll review my crystal ball. My 2010 predictions are in italics. Iran: Iran will continue to concentrate minds in the US in particular, but I can't see much policy

Qatar: Diplomatic World Cup winners

Gulf Arab states can be divided roughly into two camps — those that see Iran as a threat (be it existential, irredentist or ideological), and those that, for rather more pragmatic reasons, see Iran as a permanent geographic reality which needs to be engaged. Selected excerpts from the

Iraq: Bagdhad\ 1001 nights (well, almost)

It appears that the eight–month wait for a new government to be formed in Iraq — the new beacon of Arab democracy — may at last be over. By gaining the premiership, the incumbent prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has managed to do what all right–minded Arab leaders do once

Yemen: Al Qaeda affiliate rising

Last weekend's foiled bombing attempt emanating from Yemen highlights again both the resilience and persistence of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the difficulties both the Yemeni and US governments face in addressing the threat. In many ways, AQAP is a more serious threat

Bahrain and the ballot box

The results of last Saturday's parliamentary elections in Bahrain will confirm the worst fears of many in the Sunni world — democratic elections can only strengthen the hand of the Shi'a and, by association, Iran. One need look no further than Iraq to see what transpires when Sunni

Lebanon\ VIP visit

In this case, VIP stands for Very Iranian Person, as President Mahmoud Ahmedenijad commences his two-day official visit to Lebanon.  The Lebanon visit fits perfectly with Ahmedenijad's vision of Iran as a leader of the Muslim world, and his view that Iranian political (as opposed to

Afghanistan: The strategic straw

Given that the parliamentary debate on Afghanistan is likely to commence shortly, and that the PM and the Opposition Leader have recently visited our troops, I felt it appropriate to offer one observation that perhaps those entering the parliamentary debate could heed. After a few years as an

Tourism in Yemen: Put another magazine in the AK-47

Tourism Australia has certainly done a good job in securing Oprah Winfrey's Ultimate Australian Adventure in December; the return on government investment in the project is very likely to be substantial. But when you're selling iconic destinations such as the 'Oprah House', Great Barrier Reef and

Indonesia: Size vs capability

Michael Wesley's recent posts regarding the future of Australia's security and defence policy in the face of an economically and militarily developed Indonesia deserve greater attention, and he is spot-on in looking at the second order effects of a more assertive China. I would,

Iraq: Smells like victory

The recent withdrawal of the last US combat forces from Iraq and the equally recent reminder from the Al Qaeda affiliates across the country that they remain operationally active has elicited little in the way of introspection from commentators in this country.  Australia left what seems

Gulf tanker attack — take two

My previous post concerning claims of an attack against a Japanese tanker in the Straits of Hormuz at the end of July stated that an attack appeared to be a less likely cause of damage to the tanker. It looks like this may have been wide of the mark. Not only has a group (the Abdullah

Just across the Rio Grande

In light of the reasoned and rational debate we are having over the issue of 'asylum seekers', 'unauthorised arrivals', 'illegal immigrants', or whatever is currently the term, it is educational to find out what some obviously well-informed US politicians have seen happen when you relax border

Straits of Hormuz: Terror and tankers

Attacks on shipping in the strategic Straits of Hormuz in the event of greatly increased tensions with Iran is one of the future worst-case scenarios that military (and economic) planners grapple with. And for a period this week it appeared that a Japanese oil tanker en route from the UAE to Japan

Hizbullah/Lebanon: Tribunal minefield

Hizbullah, always keen to maintain its reputation as first and foremost a Lebanese nationalist resistance movement, is facing increasing difficulty in maintaining this fig leaf of respectability in the complex sectarian political terrain of Lebanon. The latest, and most serious challenge to this

Afghanistan — and the winner is ... 2014

Yes, it's now official. Afghan security primacy in four years' time and the west can turn off the lights (or at least dim them) and leave. For all the talk of 'conditions-based' withdrawal, a timeline had to be set at some stage for everybody's sake. And it's not as if the West hadn't been

Death of an Ayatollah

The death of Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah last week brought out tens of thousands of people to his funeral in Beirut, giving an indication of his following in the country. Those who have since spoken well of him, such as the British ambassador to Lebanon and the CNN editor Octavia

When (Middle) East meets (south) west

Little noticed in Australia was the inaugural Arab League Pacific Islands summit held in Abu Dhabi in late June. This earlier post highlighted the UAE's interest in the South Pacific in trying to secure votes for its candidacy to house the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy

Lebanon-Israel: Drill seekers

One doesn't normally associate resource wars with the Levant (apart from concerns about water supplies). But tensions are emerging over something normally associated with the Persian Gulf: several large offshore gas fields have been discovered that promise significant economic advantage for

Defence suspiciously round number

I'm always a bit suspicious when big public policy projects have round numbers attached. While ministerial and political statements love round numbers, nature and real project management normally don't. Which brings me to the number 100. When I was in Army HQ in the late 1990s, the new

Rugby Union: Regional front-rower

I always like reading Graeme Dobell's posts and I would like to add some comments to his latest on regional footballing diplomacy. But before I do, I must admit my sporting bias — I am an unabashed Rugby Union tragic. While there is no doubt that there are large numbers of players of Pacific

Israel Defence Forces all at sea

I have written elsewhere that Israel's inability to see challenges to its authority in anything but purely existential terms has led to a rigidity of thinking that erodes its ability to deter opponents. The latest incident on the high seas involving the Israeli military again highlights some

Burqa ban banalities

I've gritted my teeth for long enough as people who should know better mount an outrageous scare campaign on an issue they patently know little about and care even less to find out about, and which has virtually no relevance in this country because of the miniscule number of people it affects. This

Big trouble in little Mesopotamia

While the post-election world of Iraqi politics is still mired in confusion, as the prime minister Maliki’s State of Law coalition and former prime minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqiyya coalition seek coalition partners, one thing is for certain: Iran seeks to be the winner in the long run.  Iran

Iraq: Return of the hanging chad?

It is something of an understatement to say that Arab voting patterns have tended to favour the incumbent in recent years. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak gained 94% of the vote in 1999 (as the only candidate) but a constitutional amendment allowing for multi-candidate presidential elections saw

America loses patience with Israel

Greg Sheridan's article on the weekend argued that a decision to adopt a policy of containment of a nuclear-capable Iran was the only 'semi-intelligible explanation for Obama's bizarre overreaction against the Israelis', manifest in the reports of President Obama's less than warm reception of

Gulf tensions (without Iran)

This report regarding a skirmish between Saudi and Emirati naval (or more likely coast guard) forces is interesting not just because of its rarity but because it sheds light on the potential flashpoints that the ill-defined maritime borders within the Persian Gulf present. The two countries have

South Pacific: Votes in them thar atolls

If it's not the Iranians seeking friends in the Pacific then it's the Israelis, and if it's not the Israelis it's the...Emiratis. The UAE's recently announced 'Partnership in the Pacific' is a US$50 million aid program administered by the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, for use solely in the

What did you do in the war, Australia?

Jim Molan's post raises some excellent questions about the nexus between military commitment and political influence in the broader Australian-US relationship. I agree with Jim's view that the national caveats that we have placed on our commitment in Afghanistan and that were in place for our

Israel: Elbows off the table please!

As a UN observer working in Israeli-occupied southern Lebanon in the mid 1990s I was often told by Israelis that their sometimes abrupt attitude towards people working for the UN was because they were similar to spiky fruit — rough on the outside but sweet on the inside. At the time I thought

But the Taliban don't play rugby...

I'm sorry to be so critical lately of others' posts, but if I disagree with a post on the blog about which I think I know something, I feel the need to speak out (hence my silence on economics, climate change, Asia etc). And so it is with Nick Floyd's post about the motivations driving your

Victory in Iraq? It all relative

Far from 'dancing around' Chris Kenny's point that the surge set the military conditions for the orderly withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, I agree with him. My post had nothing to do with the merits of the surge, the success of which (along with other tactical and strategic levers that were

Iraq: The audacity of punditry

I don't think I have seen the words 'victory' and 'Iraq' used in the same sentence since President Bush declared in 2003 that the 'Battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror...' But having read Sam's link yesterday to a piece by Chris Kenny I was a bit taken aback to find out that the US

Middle East in 2010 (part 4)

Part one here; part two here; part three here. And finally, to the Levant. Hopes were high following the pro-West coalition's 'victory' in the June 2009 elections that Lebanon would stay in the Western camp and cease to be hostage to external actors, but most realistic observers of Lebanon

Middle East in 2010 (part 3)

Part one here; part two here. Iraq (remember that place? It used to be in the news quite a bit) is the one country in the Middle East which could see significant developments in 2010, but I'm not sure whether the net effect will be particularly good. Politically, the good news is that the

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