March 30, 2015

About Jonathan Spyer

Dr. Jonathan Spyer is Director of the Rubin Center (formerly the GLORIA Center), IDC Herzliya, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2010) and a columnist at the Jerusalem Post newspaper. Spyer holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a Master’s Degree in Middle East Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. His reporting on the war in Syria and Iraq has been published in a number of major news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Times, Weekly Standard and many others. His blog can be followed at:

The Kobani Precedent

U.S. Service members stand by a Patriot missile battery in Gaziantep, Turkey, Feb. 4, 2013, during a visit from U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, not shown. U.S. and NATO Patriot missile batteries and personnel deployed to Turkey in support of NATO's commitment to defending Turkey's security during a period of regional instability. (DoD Photo By Glenn Fawcet)

Recently,  I attempted to undertake a reporting trip into the Kurdish Kobani enclave in northern Syria.  It would not have been my first visit, neither to Syria nor to Kobani.  For the first time, however, I found myself unable to enter.  Instead, I spent a frustrating but, as it turns out, instructive four days waiting in the border town of Suruc in south-east Turkey before running out of time and going home. The episode was instructive because of what it indicated regarding the extent … [Read more...]

Four Rival Factions Pick Over Syria’s Bones

Harakat Hazm flag 
(Adapted from: Source SVG image Flag of Jihad.svg (by Lexicon))

In the latest blow to supporters of the “moderate” elements among the Syrian rebels, the Harakat Hazm “Movement of Determination” this week announced that it was disbanding. Hazm was never a large group. It never possessed more than around 5,000 fighters and was active only in northwest Syria. But for a period of time, it was held up by those who supported arming the Sunni Arab rebels as the kind of militia that the U.S. and the West could get behind. It had ties neither to the Salafi … [Read more...]

Heartbreaking Times

Syrian refugee center on the Turkish border 50 miles from Aleppo, Syria (August 2012).

Kobani refugees faced a bitter winter on the Turkish-Syrian border, yet there was one bright spot: The fight to rid the Kurdish Syrian town of Islamic State jihadists was officially declared over on January 27. The Kurdish YPG militia, with the vital assistance of the US Air Force’s 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron and additional coalition air power, drove the last of the jihadists out and planted the Kurdish flag once more over Kobani. They have kept up the momentum; more than 160 additional … [Read more...]


YPG Kurds returning fire against ISIS

Following is an excerpt from an account of a reporting trip undertaken by the author to the Kobani enclave in northern Syria and to the Syria-Turkey border area in May 2014.  During the course of this trip, the author interviewed both YPG and IS fighters and visited frontline areas in which the two forces faced each other. The excerpt is part of a book project on the sectarian war in the northern Levant and in Iraq. ISIS was already by this stage acquiring a reputation that set it apart from … [Read more...]

Hizballah, Iran, Assad Offensive Against Southern “Buffer Zone” near the Golan Heights

Syrian army checkpoint in Douma, Syria, January 2012 (Credit: Elizabeth Arrott/VOA)

A force consisting of Hizballah fighters, Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Syrian regime soldiers launched an offensive this week  southwest  of Damascus, in the direction of Quneitra province and the Golan Heights.   Their aim is to regain territory lost to Syrian rebels and jihadis over the past year, and to establish a strong defensive line before the capital. In Quneitra and  Dera’a  provinces, close to  the borders with Israel and Jordan, the Syrian war is characterized by … [Read more...]

Victory in Kobani: A Major Achievement –  but Hard to Replicate

Coalition airstrike in Kobani on Islamic State (IS) position, October 2014

The near-complete liberation of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani this week from the forces of the Islamic State is a remarkable testimony to the tenacity and courage of the Kurdish resistance on the ground.  It also showcases the awesome efficacy of U.S. air power, when given a clear mission and properly directed. It is nevertheless necessary to qualify some of the more hyperbolic  reactions to the announcement of the IS retreat.  The relief of Kobani in no way constitutes a general rout … [Read more...]

Yemen Joins List of Collapsed Mideast States

Map of Shi'a insurgency in Yemen. ("Yemen war detailed map" by 0ali1 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

This week in Yemen, an Iran-backed Shia militia captured the presidential palace. The president has since resigned. It was the latest stage in the slow advance of the Houthis, who entered the capital Sana’a in September of last year. The latest Houthi victories do not bring the Shia rebels undisputed control of the country. They do, however, ensure the undisputed presence of the Iranian clients in the central government. The situation in Yemen exemplifies in acute form most of the phenomena … [Read more...]

Game Not Over: The Quneitra Attack in Context

Entrance to the town of Quneitra, Syria, on the border of the Golan Heights. ("Quneitra" by Ed Brambley - originally posted to Flickr as Quneitra. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

In analyzing the significance and hence likely fallout from the  Israeli killing of a number of senior Hizballah and IRGC personnel close to the Golan border this week, a number of things should be borne in mind: Firstly, the killings were a response to a clear attempt by the Iranians/Hizballah to violate the very fragile status quo that pertains between these elements and Israel in Lebanon and Syria. Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in his interview to the al-Mayadeen network … [Read more...]

Four Jews Killed in Paris Attack Buried in Israel

The Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes, Paris, where four Jews were murdered by an Islamist terrorist on January 9, 2015.

Under a cloudless Jerusalem sky, a crowd of thousands gathered at the cemetery at Givat Shaul on Tuesday, to bury the four Jews murdered at the Hyper Cacher in Paris. Yoav Hattab, Yohan Cohen, Philippe Braham, and Francois-Michel Saada were laid to rest in Har Hamenuhot, on the approach to Jerusalem from the west. The families chose to make their funerals an act of defiance, firmly remembering that these lives were robbed by an Islamist murderer, because the four men were Jewish. The form this … [Read more...]

Reflections on the Murders in Paris

Turkish pianist Fazıl Say sentenced to 10 months in prison by the 19th Istanbul Peace Court for “insulting religious beliefs held by a section of the society,” (DHA photo).

The Islamic world is currently in the midst of a great historic convulsion. This process is giving birth to political trends and movements of a murderously violent nature. These movements offer a supposed escape route from the humiliation felt at the profound societal failure of the Arab and to a slightly lesser extent the broader Muslim world. The escape is by way of the most violent and intolerant historic trends of Islam, into a mythologized and imagined past. The route to this old-new … [Read more...]