September 4, 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:

Syria’s New Diplomacy

photo: James Gordon

Iran and Saudi Arabia have tabled rival peace plans for Syria, but their aims are irreconcilable and no end to the conflict is in sight. As the civil war over the ruins of Syria grinds on into its fifth year, the fighting seems nowhere near an end. Indeed, there is no longer a single war taking place in the country. Rather, as Syria physically divides into separate entities, so the conflict, too, further subdivides, spawning new conflicts. There are today no less than five different conflicts … [Read more...]

The Teheran Formula

The Official Seal of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or Sepah

In late June, I traveled to Iraq with the purpose of investigating the role being played by the Iranian-supported Shia militias in that country. Close observation of the militias, their activities, and their links to Tehran is invaluable in understanding what is likely to happen in the Middle East following the conclusion of the nuclear agreement between the P5 + 1 powers and Tehran. An Iranian stealth takeover of Iraq is currently under way. Tehran’s actions in Iraq lay bare the nature of … [Read more...]

Erdogan’s Bait and Switch in Northern Syria

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)

The latest events in northern Syria constitute a bold move by the Turkish leadership to deal with a most pressing problem, from their point of view. That problem is not the continued existence of the Assad regime, far to the south. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would certainly like to see the end of this regime. But its continued truncated existence between Damascus and the coast and in isolated spots elsewhere does not constitute an immediate danger for the Turkish leader. The issue is also … [Read more...]

Lecture: Mid-East Instability, State Collapse, and Their Affect on Israel


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Opening the “Gates of Evil”

The ministers of foreign affairs of France, Germany, the EU, Iran, UK, and United States as well as Chinese and Russian diplomats announcing the framework for a comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear program (Lausanne, April 2, 2015). (Photo: U.S. Dept. of State)

Sunni Arabs see deal as facilitating further Iranian regional subversion, confirming U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East The response in the Arabic-speaking world to the conclusion of a deal between the P5+1 countries and the Islamic Republic of Iran over the latter’s nuclear program has divided along familiar lines. Among pro-Iranian elements, such as President Bashar Assad of Syria and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, the news of the deal has, predictably, been met with … [Read more...]

Coming of Age in Sinai

Weapons used by persons during the 2012 Egyptian-Israeli border attack, which killed 16 Egyptian soldiers and infiltrated Israel before being killed by the Israeli Air Force. (Source: Israel Defense Forces)

The Sinai-based Islamic State affiliate Wilayat al-Sina (Sinai Province) claimed responsibility for the firing of three Grad rockets at Israel on July 3. This attack, which caused no casualties, came closely after a large-scale assault by the group against Egyptian security installations in the Sheikh Zuweid area of northern Sinai. Both events served notice regarding the growing seriousness of the threat represented by the jihadists in northern Sinai. The Sheikh Zuweid attacks … [Read more...]

The Ghosts of Old Baghdad

Shorja Market, Old Baghdad, June 12, 2015, with a Shi'a banner in the foreground.

A few hours in the Shorja open market in Baghdad can teach you a lot – about the Middle East’s past, its present and its apparent future. What’s to be found there is informative. What is absent – equally so. My fixer Yusuf hadn’t wanted to take me to Shorja. I was in Baghdad for a reporting project on the Shia militias. Between heading for Anbar with Kata’ib Hezbollah and up to Baiji with the Badr Corps, we had a few hours of downtime in Baghdad so I suggested we make for … [Read more...]

Iraq Falls Apart As Iran-Backed Forces Keep Islamic State at Bay

Fighters of the Kata'ib Hizballah in action against ISIS, Anbar, June, 2015. (Photo: Jonathan Spyer)

Baghdad in the early summer has the atmosphere of a city under siege. Armoured vehicles carrying heavy machine guns are patrolling the area surrounding the international airport. The nearest positions of Islamic State are just 65km away. The atmosphere is fervid. The 40C summer heat adds to the effect. The Islamic State threat pervades everything here. It is there in the muscular armed men deployed outside the luxury hotels. In the barbed-wire fences and heavy iron gates protecting the … [Read more...]

John le Carré and the Last of Empire

British author of espionage novels David John Moore Cornwell, pen name John le Carré

The British novelist  David Cornwell  (John le Carré) is best known for his fictional depictions of the British intelligence services during the period of the Cold War.  That this constitutes the main focus of Le Carré’s considerable prominence is probably justified, from an aesthetic point of view.  His early novels set against this background (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) have the distinction of creating and depicting a recognizable fictional world, … [Read more...]

Turkey’s Syrian Kurdish Problem

Kurdish refugees from Kobani in a refugee camp on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border.

Syrian Kurdish forces this week succeeded in turning back a murderous and determined attempt by the forces of Islamic State to claw back control of areas of northern Syria recently liberated by the Kurds. The cost was high, nevertheless. Recent Kurdish successes, meanwhile, have raised the specter of a Turkish armed intervention in northern Syria to crush the growing Kurdish autonomous zones along the border. So where do things stand in the bloody war between the Kurds and the Sunni … [Read more...]