An Israeli who snuck into Syria… twice

For behind the scenes, insightful on the ground conflict zone reporting, one would be hard pressed to find a better writer than Michael J. Totten. In his latest column he interviews Jonathan Spyer. Jonathan sneaked (snuck?) over the border with the Free Syrian Army to cover the war against Assad from the front lines. He did it twice. And he’s an Israeli.

My friend and colleague Jonathan Spyer sneaked over the border with the Free Syrian Army to cover the war against Assad from the front lines. He did it twice. And he’s an Israeli.

He has the chops for it. His magnificent first book, The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict, is partly about his experience in South Lebanon, first as a tank operator with the Israel Defense Forces during the war against Hezbollah in 2006, and then again as a journalist the following year. I won’t tell you exactly how he manages to get around in these dangerous parts of the world on an Israeli passport, but he does, and we should be grateful because he produces outstanding work.

I recently spoke with him about what he has seen in Syria recently, what the West ought to do about it, and about the even greater threat from Iran and what the West ought to do about that.

MJT: You’re a brave man, Jonathan Spyer, for sneaking into Syria twice as an Israeli. Tell us what it’s like there right now and how things have changed since you were there nine months ago.

Jonathan Spyer: Well, the most immediately notable change between my first visit in February and the most recent trip was the extent to which the rebels have consolidated their control on the ground in the Idlib and Aleppo Governates. In February, the regime’s army was still patrolling the border. The rebels were entrenched in a number of villages and rural areas, but they ventured onto the main highway only by night and for short periods. Assad’s army was the ruling force, and it could enter even the areas flying the flag of the rebellion if and when it chose to.

This situation has changed. Today, the Assad regime hardly exists on the ground in the area between the Syria-Turkey border and Aleppo city, for example. The Free Syrian Army has joint control of a border crossing – Bab al-Salaam – in cooperation with the Turkish army. I took the main highway after crossing the border, heading for Aleppo city in the company of two opposition activists. The highway is policed by FSA checkpoints every few miles. READ THE REST

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