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Syria: The Deathwatch Phase
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December 21, 2012: The Syrian rebellion is now in its deathwatch phase. The government is doomed and its forces grow weaker every day. It’s only a matter of time before the government losses control of the entire country and surviving officials flee for sanctuary. Allies (Iran, Russia, China) have been quietly offering refuge to Assad and his senior aides. President Basher Assad keeps making public announcements that he has no intention of leaving. The same can’t be said about the several thousand senior officials he depends on to control the country. Many of these people have committed known criminal acts over the decades and have to fear rebel retribution if they are still in Syria when the rebels win. Many of these officials have already sent their families into exile and when these army and government leaders join their families in large numbers, you’ll know it’s the end. That is expected to happen within the next few months or weeks.

At the moment, the government is calling more and more of its most reliable troops back to Damascus to defend the capital. Despite weeks of government air and ground attacks, rebel gunmen and Islamic terrorists continue to operate inside Damascus. You can hear the gunfire and explosions from downtown where the ministries and major business headquarters are located. The second largest city (after Damascus), Aleppo, is almost completely under rebel control. That includes dozens of military bases and most of the weapons and munitions stored there. The government troops have died, been captured, deserted, or, most frequently, been moved to another part of the country.

The big fear in the West is that Assad may turn his chemical weapons (especially the nerve gas) over to Hezbollah or these weapons may be seized by rebel groups that are also Islamic terrorists intent on attacking the West and Israel. Hezbollah, as a creation of Iran (in the 1980s), could have gotten nerve gas from Iran at any time since then. But that stuff, if used, could be traced back to Iran with dire consequences for Iran. The Syrian stuff, created by a Syrian dictator recently removed from power, would be another matter. In any event, this is not a huge deal as nerve gas is vastly overrated as a terrorist (or military) weapon.

A more immediate problem for the victorious rebels is getting the economy going again. Many key officials (business owners and government officials) who took care of that will be gone after the rebel victory. As was discovered in Libya, putting the economy and government back together is not easy. The same can be said about restoring law and order. As in Libya, Syria will have dozens of major militias, and hundreds of smaller ones, all making demands on the new government and threatening violence if they don’t get their way. Rebel leaders, while still on speaking terms with each other, are already trying to work out the rules for a post-Assad Syria.

Rebels have captured most of Morek, a town that controls the main road between Damascus and Aleppo (and the Turkish border). Some of the towns in this area are Christian and Alawite, and the government is offering weapons to the residents if they will form pro-government militias. This will complicate the security once the rebels win because these minorities long supported the Assads and benefitted from that. Many of the majority Sunnis will be looking for revenge once Assad is gone.

December 20, 2012: The UN admitted what it had long denied, that the Syrian revolution was an uprising of a largely Sunni population against a Shia (Alawite) minority and several other minorities. The UN also announced sanctions against two more Iranian transportations companies for moving weapons to Syria despite UN sanctions.

December 19, 2012: Rebels have captured most of the key towns in the central Syrian province of Hama. This sort of thing means the rebels control key roads, cutting government forces off from each other and cutting some military bases from supply. These troops begin running out of food and other essential items and their bases become easier to capture.

The UN is seeking $1.5 billion from donor countries. A third would go to about 20 percent of the population inside Syria who are refugees or cut off from food supplies. The rest of the money would go to help over 500,000 Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. About 40 percent of the refuges are in Turkey with the rest in Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq.

December 18, 2012: About half the 112,000 Palestinians in a refugee camp (Yarmouk, actually a large town) south of Damascus have fled to avoid fighting and air force bombings. The Palestinian leadership is split between rebel and government supporters and the pro-government groups have been losing the battle. As of today, the rebels appear to control all of Yarmouk.

December 17, 2012: Rebels kidnapped two Russians and an Italian on a highway near the port city of Latakia. The rebels (who may be criminals pretending to be rebels) are demanding $700,000 ransom for the release of the three men.

Russia has sent four warships (two amphibious ships, a frigate, and a supply ship) to Syria, apparently to evacuate Russian citizens. The ships are apparently heading for Tartus, the major Syrian port.

A Syrian official told a Lebanese newspaper that he believed neither side could win. Government allies like Iran and Russia now believe the government will eventually lose. Iran is calling for a cease fire and negotiations but few of the rebel militias are interested in that. The rebels sense victory and don’t want to talk.

December 16, 2012: Trying to support pro-government Palestinian militias, air force planes bombed the Palestinian town (“refugee camp”) Yarmouk (south of Damascus).

December 15, 2012: Iranian military leaders protested the arrival of NATO Patriot missile batteries in Turkey. This is more media theater by the Iranians who are taking a big hit in the media because of Iranian support for the Assad government in Syria.

December 13, 2012: An American network (NBC) news reporter and three colleagues were kidnapped by a pro-government militia near the Turkish border. NBC and the other major media organizations agreed to keep quiet about the kidnapping, as this made it easier to negotiate with the kidnappers (who raise the price, and make more threats, the more publicity the event gets). Some web sites and pro-government foreign (Chinese and Russian) news organizations reported the kidnapping, but most Westerners were unaware of it. Rebel groups began looking for the captives and found them on the 17th. The four escaped during the rebel attack on the kidnappers and got back into Turkey.

December 12, 2012:  The government fired six SCUD ballistic missiles at the Sheikh Suleiman military base outside Aleppo. SCUDs continued to be launched, one or two every few days. The warheads were apparently just explosives (Syrian SCUDS are also able to carry a chemical weapons warhead). Each missile is the equivalent of a half-ton bomb dropped from an aircraft. The base is spread out over 200 hectares (500 acres). SCUD is a Russian designed missile based on the German V-2 of World War II. In effect, SCUD is a perfected V-2 but still takes several hours to fuel and make ready for firing. The Syrian SCUDs are not particularly accurate, they are able to hit within a kilometer wide circle, at best. The Syrians are firing SCUDs (of which they have several hundred) because they fear the missiles might get captured, and the air force is running short of munitions and fuel for aircraft missions.

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