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Event Summaries
May 15, 2018

Event Summary: Days of the Fall: A Reporter’s Journey in the Syria and Iraq Wars

Henry Jackson Society

TIME: 18:00 – 19:00 – Thursday 10th May 2018

VENUE: The Henry Jackson Society,
Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP

Dr Jonathan Spyer
Executive Director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis
Author of Days of the Fall

On the 10th of May 2018, The Henry Jackson Society was pleased to host Executive Director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis and a Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and at the Middle East Forum Dr Jonathan Spyer. An analyst of Middle Eastern affairs, Dr Spyer was talking about his most recent book entitled, Days of the Fall: A Reporter’s Journey in the Syria and Iraq Wars, as well as about the overall political situation in Syria. The book provides the analysis of the insights to be gleaned from frontline reporting and on the Iranian attempt to build an independent military infrastructure in Syria.

Dr Spyer’s presentation showed detailed description of Syria’s divided areas of influence with actors such as Iran, Turkey, Kurds, the U.S., Russia, the Islamic State and the President Assad’s regime all competing for territory and political control. There are two conflict systems dominating the country’s political landscape as seen by the analyst – between the Assad’s regime and the rebels on the one hand, and between the Islamic State and the Global Coalition on the other. Both are somewhat reaching their end. The main question is whether the rebellion will be able to survive. Another serious problem is that even if the Islamic State lost the remaining territory it was not going to be replaced by “good things”, argued Dr Spyer. One of the features of the conflict systems has been the fact that none of them was being led by Syrian, Arab actors, which is quite an unusual development for the recent history of the Middle East. According to Dr Spyer’s prediction, the Syrian conflict will, therefore, be resolved by foreign actors who decide on its direction and development.

Among major issues for Turkey have been the Kurds and their relationship with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK. The fact that the Kurds have the Free Syrian Army and the West in their allies makes Turkey uncomfortable. The conflict between Turkey and the U.S. plus the French is, therefore, another side to the Syrian internal dynamics. The geopolitical confrontation between Russia (which increasingly relies on private paramilitary groups) and the U.S. and the Israeli-Iranian dimension are integral parts of the Syrian conflict. Although Israel will try not to clash with Iran on the ground, the Iranian facilities and fighters pose threat to Israel. Days of the Fall: A Reporter’s Journey in the Syria and Iraq Wars looks at the Syrian conflict from the point of view of every actor, including from the standpoint of the Islamic State.

Finally, Dr Spyer paid particular attention to the media coverage of the conflict and how the Assad regime managed to turn itself into savvy media actor by using social media tools. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that authoritarian regimes can regulate the Internet, as well as the press. The fact that nobody on the ground recorded the regime’s atrocities played into the hands of President Assad. The majority of people covering the Syrian conflict were freelancers and not traditional media whose presence and coverage was of paramount importance when the Ghouta incident took place. Dr Spyer reminded that although the internal conflicts in Syria are coming to an end, it is important to keep in mind that sixty percent of the country’s territory is being controlled by Russians and Iranians and not by the Syrian regime.

In seven years of the conflict, Dr Jonathan Spyer witnessed some of the most dramatic events of the Syrian conflict – the rescue of the trapped Yezidis from the attempted ISIS genocide in 2014, the Assad regime’s assault on Aleppo, the rise of independent Kurdish power in north east Syria, and the emergence of the Shia militias in Iraq. He is a frequent guest analyst on electronic media and advises and consults on Middle East matters for a variety of bodies in the private, governmental and NGO sectors.