April 27, 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: http://jonathanspyer.com/.

The Islamic State Comes to Damascus

The Jupiter temple in Damascus (by Ai@ce - http://www.flickr.com/photos/aiace/2177466137/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Jupiter_temple_in_Damascus.jpg#/media/File:The_Jupiter_temple_in_Damascus.jpg)

The latest reports suggest that Islamic State fighters have largely withdrawn from the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk, on the outskirts of Damascus.The jihadis have returned to the district of Hajar al-Aswad, from where they launched their assault into the camp on April 1; the strongest element in the camp now is Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian franchise of al-Qaida.Islamic State does not seem to have suffered a major defeat in Yarmuk. Rather, their intention was to strike a blow against the … [Read more...]

The Middle East Battle Lines Are Drawn

Rebel fighters prepare to launch an anti-tank missile towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Maaret al-Naaman village, in Idlib April 30, 2014.

In the last decade, the Middle East has been living through a political convulsion of historic proportions.  Regimes that once appeared immovable have been destroyed or have receded.  New forces have risen up and are making war over the ruins. The result of the effective eclipse in recent years of the states of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon has been the emergence of a large and chaotic conflict in the contiguous area once covered by those states.  The failure to develop coherent state-loyal … [Read more...]

ISIS Pushes West

Jafra Palestinian Youth Center in Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, Syria. Also location of Yarmouk PFLP office.

The conquest by the Islamic State of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus confirms the resilience of the jihadis and is an indicator of their current strategy.  Islamic State has lost considerable ground in Iraq, with the recapture of Tikrit constituting its latest setback.  IS has no real response to coalition air power, when it is combined with a competent and determined ground force.  This was first demonstrated in the organization’s defeat at Kobani in January, and it is … [Read more...]

In the Shadow of the Gunmen

[Essam Mohamed] Fighters for Libya's interim government rejoice after winning control of the Kadhafi stronghold of Bani Walid, October 2011. (Image courtesy of: Magharebia)

In a process of profound importance, five Arab states in the Middle East have effectively ceased to exist over the last decade.  The five states in question are Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Libya.  It is possible that more will follow. The causes of their disappearance are not all the same. In two cases (Iraq, Libya) it was Western military intervention which began the process of collapse. In another case (Lebanon) it is intervention from a Middle Eastern state (Iran) which is at the root … [Read more...]

A New Chapter in the Sunni-Shi’ite War

US Marines training members of the Saudi Arabian Army. Members of the Royal Saudi Air Force observe indirect fire from Jordanian artillery alongside forward observer Marines from India Battery, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit as part of Exercise Eager Lion 12 here, May 17, 2012.

The assembling of a Sunni coalition to challenge the advance of an Iranian proxy in Yemen, and the subsequent announcement in Sharm al-Sheikh of the formation of a 40,000 strong Arab rapid reaction force are the latest moves in a war which has already been under way in the Middle East for some time. This is a war between Sunni and Shia forces over the ruins of the regional order. It is a war which is unlikely to end in the wholesale victory of one or another of the sides.  Rather, it will … [Read more...]

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...]

THE ISLAMIC STATE VS. THE KURDISH YPG IN NORTHERN-CENTRAL SYRIA: AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

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...]