Monday 18 Jan 2021 | 18:43 | SYDNEY
People | experts Rodger Shanahan
Research Fellow, West Asia Program
Lowy Institute
Areas of ExpertiseMiddle East security issues; Political Islam; Shi’a Islam

Israel Pacific charm offensive

My colleague Jenny Hayward-Jones and I have written previously about Iran's attempts to influence and reward the Solomon Islands for its UN votes. But Pacific micro-states' voting patterns are of equal if not greater interest to Israel. This week the presidents, foreign ministers and

Yemen hits al-Qa'ida, but how hard?

The unsuccessful bombing plot against an American airliner at Christmas, a plot which had its origins in Yemen, did what my posts on The Interpreter and my Lowy paper (co-authored with a real Yemen expert, Sarah Phillips from Sydney Uni) could not do — focus the media's attention on Yemen. 

Qatar makes its entrance, on a wing

Six months ago Sam wrote a post about Qatar's decision to purchase two C-17 cargo aircraft and how they would provide a good national advertisement in times of humanitarian crisis.  The Haiti earthquake has provided the Qatari Government with its first opportunity to dispatch aid in the very

Middle East in 2010 (part 2)

Part one here.  Ahh, the Middle East peace process. I really do think I'm on firm ground here when I predict that the MEPP will look the same at the end of 2010 as it did at the start — going nowhere. The reasons are pretty well summed up in some exchanges from last year. In May 2009

Middle East in 2010 (in two minutes)

If there is one thing I've learned from following, living in and writing about the Middle East as an Australian it is that, while many of my countrymen say they find the region fascinating, it is fair to say most Australians believe it to be of peripheral concern despite our substantial economic

UAE gets big lift from cargo planes

Sam asked why a small country like the UAE needs the services of six (although other reports say four) C-17 strategic airlift aircraft. What could they possibly be used for? In the absence of any strategic planning document such as a White Paper, besieged by international arms manufacturers

Those perfidious Persians

My attention was drawn to an opinion piece in today's Australian that portrays the Middle East as locked in a modern-day Cold War pitting an expansionist, anti-Western Iran against a bloc of regional countries trying to valiantly resist the advances of the perfidious Persians. I agree with

The Gulf: Nothing succeeds like excess

While those of you who have returned from the coast or overseas are counting the cost of your holiday, spare a thought for the poor citizens of the Gulf Arab states, some of whom are forced to get by on an average per capita GDP of a little over US$70,000. The UAE's US$52,000 figure gives it the

Our low-risk, low-return Afghan surge

I argued in a previous post that sending more civilian advisors to Afghanistan and then restricting them to bases achieves little more than the rearrangement of bureaucrats' locations. Advisors who never get to interact with the locals outside the security of coalition bases are severely

A mountain out of a minaret

The Swiss referendum that banned the construction of minarets will inevitably be portrayed as a further example of the European backlash against Muslim migration, following on from France's 2004 banning of Muslim headscarves from state schools. But while the issue of European concern at (real or

Al-Qaeda, tribes and instability in Yemen

In this Lowy Institute Analysis, Sarah Phillips and Rodger Shanahan discuss the re-emergence of a significant al-Qaeda presence in Yemen. The authors focus on al-Qaeda’s efforts to build relations with local Yemeni tribes, something that will be central to the movement’s prospects of cementing a

Afghanistan: A dog of a story

Am I the only one who finds it strange that the wounding of two Australian soldiers in a week is barely newsworthy whereas the recovery of a dog is international news? Perhaps it now means that if it's on a lead it leads

Afghanistan: The costs of success

Graeme Dobell's post on the lack of Australian coverage, let alone debate, about Afghanistan paraphrases a question cited by Peter Cosgrove during his Boyer lecture: 'What would be the costs of failure?' I would be more inclined to ask about the costs of success, because success will not look

Big trouble from little Yemen

Although in an earlier post I criticised Arab states for exaggerating Iranian activity in Yemen, Saudi security authorities nonetheless have every right to worry about the trouble emerging from its southern neighbour. After Saudi security forces effectively subdued its own al Qaeda affiliate, the

Yemen: An Iranian under every bed?

To say that Yemen is a country under pressure is an understatement. Battling southern secessionists, a resurgent al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a rebellion in the north from the al-Houthi movement, declining oil reserves and water tables and a growing population, the government certainly has

Iraq: If it bleeds, it leads

Which these days is about the only reason Iraq knocks Afghanistan off the front pages, as the coverage of yesterday's twin suicide bombings showed. Interestingly, General Ray Odierno, the US commander in Iraq, gave a rather prescient interview to the BBC less than a week ago urging the world not

Afghanistan: Disunity at home

Events of the past week have illustrated just how difficult the political management of the Afghanistan coalition can be. As if fighting a resourceful, resolute and ruthless enemy were not enough (as the deaths of eight American soldiers and a number of civilians in a separate incident 

Afghanistan: More shoes on the ground?

Cynthia Banham's article in today's SMH about the need for more civilian aid and expertise raises some interesting points, but doesn't delve deeply enough on the real issue — how to implement an effective whole-of-government approach in an insecure environment.  While she points out that the

Iran: A paper tiger?

Further to Sam's post concerning Amin Saikal's views about Iranian military capabilities, I must confess to thinking that he grossly overestimates Iran's abilities in event of a military confrontation.  Iraq's military capabilities were talked up in many circles prior to their engagement with

Iran: Oils aint oils

The record of sanctions regimes is mixed, to say the least. South Africa is often held up as the example of its successful implementation, whereas there are any number of unsuccessful ones, as this research illustrates. As for Iran, it would be fair to say that US sanctions to date have been

Netanyahu and the Obamian knot

Nobody ever said achieving a solution to the Palestinian issue was going to be easy, and the Obama Administration has not been disappointed.  The US gave gave the Israelis very little wiggle room in addressing its demands for a halt to settlement growth, knowing that PM Netanyahu was holding

Gulf: Bob Gates has a deal for YOU!

Further to Sam's recent post about US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the creation of an Iranian bogeyman to boost US arms sales, it was interesting to note US Secretary of Defense Gates' views in a recent al-Jazeera interview that greater security cooperation between Gulf Arab states and with the

No democracy without demography

Two events on opposite sides of the world provide good examples of the central role statisticians play in developed democracies, and how hard it is for true democracy to develop where statisticians can't ply their trade. The recent electoral redistribution that has led to the axing of long-term

Iran: When will the neighbours pop in?

As this earlier post pointed out, reactions from Iran's Gulf Arab neighbours to the disputed 2009 presidential election were muted, to say the least. This reflects a general GCC policy of non-interference in the political affairs of neighbours, an understanding that autocracies passing judgement on

Maid in Saudi Arabia

A feature of all Gulf states is the preponderance of foreign (normally South Asian or Filipino) guest workers who tend to the needs of local nationals and well-to-do expats. But in a regional first, reports from Saudi Arabia advise that 30 Saudi women have begun working as housemaids (or 'Saudi

Courting Syria

This blog from a year ago highlighted the efforts of the French to bring Syria in from the cold in an attempt to ameliorate its behaviour and as a way of providing an alternative conduit to the West. Twelve months on, little has changed in Syria's regional outlook but the country is now being

US-Israel: Constructive talks?

The construction business has never been one for the faint-hearted, but when it comes to Israeli settlements there is much more than money riding on the result. At the moment they are central not just to the outcome, but to the commencement of the Obama Administration's Middle East peace initiative

Iran: Did the earth pivot for you too?

The true significance of events is sometimes not known until well after their time, because immediacy often impairs objectivity. This not an absolute, as it is often possible to get a real sense of an event's significance through an understanding of historical context. In the case of Iran, for

Women in Arab politics (part 3)

(Part 1 here; part 2 here.) In the last of these posts, we look at the situation for women in politics in the most conservative area of the Arab world, the Gulf. In many instances only urbanised in the 20th century, maintenance of strict implementation of Islamic dress codes for Muslim women and

Iran: What will the neighbours think?

Not much, if official reactions have been anything to go by. While France's President Sarkozy labeled the election a fraud, Gulf Arab states have been careful to avoid criticism of the election and subsequent protests and violence. The Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain's foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid bin

Middle East: Democracy, anyone?

I was drawn to Jason Koutsoukis' article in this weekend's SMH about the 'democracy deficit' in the Middle East, particularly his assertions that the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and the UAE will have nervously watched the display of freedom that the Iranian election campaign represented,

Iran: What if the results were right?

Unlikely I know, but even though it is becoming accepted wisdom that the Iranian presidential elections were rigged, this Washington Post op-ed argues that the results were consistent with at least one external opinion poll. On the other hand, if the conduct of the elections are the responsibility

Iran: We'll just have to lump it

The candidate preferred by the media doesn't always get elected. This probably explains why the elections in Lebanon saw much rejoicing in the West for the success of the so-called pro-Western 'moderates', even though the electoral system massively discriminates against one (largely anti-Western)

Women in Arab politics (part 2)

(Part 1 here.) For most casual observers of the Middle East, it is the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine) that should provide the most fertile ground for female political participation in the Arab world. As post-WW I mandatory creations, their European colonisers (with the exception of

Obama Arab (not Muslim) speech

While I agree with my colleagues that the Obama speech was a cracker, I can't really share Michael Fullilove's disappointment that it didn't occur in Indonesia, because it was apparent that that this speech was more than just an appeal to Muslims in general. It was deliberately delivered in, and

Hizbullah didn't lose, exactly

While the Lebanese election results have been touted as a defeat for Hizbullah, it is more correct to term it a defeat for Hizbullah's Christian allies. With parliamentary representation allocated by sectarian identity that bears no resemblance to current demographic realities and results in

Women in Arab politics (part 1)

There is no doubt that women are radically under-represented in (and in many instances, practically excluded from) the world of Arab politics. The reasons are many — systemic, cultural, religious — and vary in intensity between regions of the Arab world. It's important to emphasise that I

Lebanon election: Strange days indeed

I will write more after this Saturday's election results are announced, but in the run-up to polling day, it is perhaps an apt time to look at some of the lesser-known aspects of the election. Lebanese politics, with its parliamentary quotas based on confessional identity, requires even more

Sarkozy in Abu Dhabi

There has been much debate on this blog about the nature of 'soft power', and France has certainly been on the front foot in viewing culture as an essential element of its soft power. This is evidenced in Nicolas Sarkozy's current visit to Abu Dhabi, where two of the main pillars of French regional

The ADF as sociological petri dish

I know I'm supposed to be writing about the role of Arab women in politics (and I am), but I felt the need to reply to this post proposing that the ADF go overseas in search of recruits. As a starter, Cameron Crouch proposes looking in Fiji, the Philippines and South Africa for high quality

Kuwaiti sisters doin' it for themselves

Being a white Anglo-Saxon male associated with the Lowy Institute I have undertaken a bit of introspection as a result of the recent commentary about the gender imbalance in the international relations field (particularly in think tank blogs). While I can't do anything about my sex,

Lebanon: Electioneering and social engineering

Relatively free and fair elections are a rarity in the Middle East and, while the outdated sectarian apportionment system calls into question the fairness of Lebanese elections, in the absence of Syrian occupation forces these elections qualify as the freest in the Arab world. But the

Hizbullah: Strategic successes and tactical failures

Some recent events have served to highlight the broad range of issues facing Hizbullah, and also provides an insight into the strategic successes (and tactical failures) that are a constant feature of the organisation's development. On the socio-political front, Hizbullah has sought to reverse

The Arab Summit: Curtains drawn for another year

Too often long-running series tire and eventually disappoint as script writers find it difficult to maintain interesting character development, or plot lines become predictable. I'm happy to say that the long-running soap opera that is the Arab Summit rarely suffers from this form of

The Arab summit as theatre

The communiques that follow the conclusion of the annual Arab Summit are traditionally dryer than Arabian Desert. But then interest in the Summit has rarely been about the issues resolved, because they rarely are resolved. It has been about regional manoeuvrings and the use of a country's

Hizbullah: Look who talking

In contrast to the Obama Administration's initial efforts to engage Iran, the Administration has taken an entirely different tack in dealing with non-state actors in the Middle East. Rather than be seen to lend groups such as Hamas and Hizbullah international legitimacy by addressing

Iran: Obama new years greeting

President Obama's Persian New Year's message (see below) continued a tradition begun in 1992, but its method of delivery, a sub-titled video posted on the internet, reflected the current Administration's comfort with technology and a desire to send a more conciliatory message than

Kuwait back to the polls

This previous post outlined the hectic pace of elections to be conducted in the Middle East in 2009. Now another can be added to the list, as Kuwait will need to go to the polls within two months following the Amir's dissolution of parliament and appointment of the Crown Prince as prime

Iran: Morocco delivers a Rabat punch

The latest episode of Iranian irredentist claims against Bahrain, apparently resolved as a result of a message from the Iranian president, appears to have tried the patience of Arab states outside the Gulf. Morocco has announced the cessation of diplomatic ties with Iran, ostensibly as a  result