Despite the reinforcements provided by Iran (Shia mercenaries from all over and Hezbollah units from Lebanon) the rebels are still advancing. This may explain the alleged army use of nerve gas recently, as conventional methods and large amounts of troops had not been able to remove rebels from several Damascus suburbs or halt the terrorist attacks inside the capital. The key problem here was that many Damascus residents supported the rebels. The chemical weapon attack was meant to show pro-rebel civilians that their disloyalty has a price and that mass murder was part of the punishment. Maher Assad is the guy to carry out this kind of operation, as he has long called for more brutal treatment of rebels and has often practiced what he preached. Foreign medical personnel report treating hundreds of people for apparent nerve gas exposure since the reported nerve gas attack five days ago.
If there is incontrovertible proof that chemical weapons were used, the U.S. and some NATO nations would be called on to make good their earlier promise to attack Assad forces if chemical weapons were used. Assad and his Russian ally warn that these threatened NATO air strikes would be costly. NATO air force planners are aware of this and have been planning for such strikes most of this year. In Jordan a dozen American F-16s arrived two months ago for training exercises with their Jordanian counterparts, and the American jet fighters remained in Jordan after the training exercise. What the rebels want more than anything else is air support. It would require more than a dozen American F-16s to make that happen because unlike Libya, Syria has a larger and better prepared air defense system. Thus, any air support for the rebels would have to be preceded by several days of air operations against Syrian warplanes, radars, and anti-aircraft missile systems. Some of these would survive and until the end of the civil war foreign warplanes would have to be alert to the threat of missile attack. Thus, for the initial SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) phase you really need access to Turkish air bases. Saudi bases would probably be available and would do, although they are several hundred kilometers more distant and would require more aerial refueling. The Turks have been distracted for months by large scale anti-government demonstrations (that have nothing to do with Syria), but now say they are ready to join any NATO air operation against Syria. Another option is to use cruise missiles fired from warships. Ominously, American and British warships (equipped with hundreds of cruise missiles) have been concentrating in the eastern Mediterranean.
The UN is unlikely to sanction aerial intervention because Russia and China are allies of Syria and both can veto UN decisions. But NATO managed to overcome that in 1999, for an air campaign against Serbian troops in Kosovo without UN permission. But first there has to be compelling proof that chemical weapons were used. Some Western doctors who have seen victims believe that it was chemical weapons but lab results and other definitive evidence is still not in. UN investigators are supposed to be allowed to visit the site of the incident later today. Russian state-controlled media accuse the rebels of obtaining chemical weapons and using it on their own supporters to obtain foreign air support. But then the Russian media says a lot of things to support their friend Basher Assad. Conclusive proof (or lack thereof) is likely within the week.
Since the rebels made their chemical weapons accusation there has been a notable increase in weapons and ammo shipments to the rebels, especially via Turkey, which has usually made it difficult to move this stuff. The rebels need cash as well as weapons because in order to maintain their fighting forces they have to be able to give more aid to the families the fighting men leave behind. There also needs to be death benefits to take care of widows and orphans. This money has to be handled carefully as corruption is more frequent among rebel leaders than anyone would like to admit. Too many well publicized cases of stolen contributions and the donations start to dry up.
As more attacks occur against civilians, the most frequent targets are mosques or churches. Nearly a thousand of these religious places (most of them mosques) have been heavily damaged or destroyed so far. Islamic radical rebels are the biggest offenders, as they believe it is a religious duty to kill Shia Moslems and over ten percent of Syrians (including most government supporters) are Shia.
August 25, 2013: In central Syria (Hama province) the governor of Hama was killed by a car bomb.
August 24, 2013: In the capital mortar shells landed in a pro-government neighborhood, killing at least five people and wounding many others. Attacks like this have increased since rebels accused the government of using chemical weapons against pro-rebel civilians in the capital.
August 21, 2013: Rebels claim that army units, led by Maher Assad (brother of the president) fired rockets at pro-rebel suburban neighborhoods of Damascus and killed over a thousand civilians as they slept. The government denied it but the rebels began providing more and more proof.
The government says they have driven all rebels out of a coastal area the rebels attacked over two weeks ago. As this attack along the coast demonstrated, the rebels can get into “government controlled” areas and launch attacks. This is especially true of the Islamic radical groups, who are into suicide attacks and doing whatever it takes to win.
August 20, 2013: The Iraqi government has responded to growing foreign pressure and resumed inspecting (for illegal weapons shipments) Iranian aircraft (by first forcing them to land) flying to Syria. Iran responded by calling this illegal and implying that there would be serious consequences if the Iraqis persisted. This appears to be all for show, as the Iraqi inspectors can easily be persuaded (by Iranian bribes or threats) to see nothing illegal. Iranian trucks full of military supplies still roll through Iraq and into Syria. What Iraq is more concerned about is Sunni terrorists moving weapons and bomb making materials into Iraq from Syria. Iraq has over 20,000 soldiers and other security personnel guarding the Syrian border, which is largely uninhabited and suitable for cross-country driving.
In the north several days of fighting between Kurdish militiamen and Islamic terrorist gunmen from Iraq has caused over 30,000 Kurdish civilians to flee to Kurdish controlled northern Iraq. There are now nearly 200,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq, most of them Sunni Arabs. The Kurds have refused to cooperate with Islamic radical rebels, especially those from Iraq (where the Kurds have kept their area free of these fanatics for over two decades). The Kurds will cooperate with the secular rebel groups, but these have little reason to be in the Kurd dominated north and northeast. The current fighting is mainly about some oil wells, which produce over half of Syria’s meager oil production. The Kurds assert that they are winning these battles and claim to have killed 800 Islamic terrorist fighters last month while losing on 80 of their own.
August 19, 2013: The Syrian government announced that the Lebanese military had been ordered to fight back if there were any more attacks from Syria. Over the weekend more rockets were fired from Syria into Lebanon. These latest attacks caused property damage but no casualties.
August 17, 2013: On the Syrian border Israeli troops fired a guided missile at a Syrian mortar that had fired several shells into Israel. Meanwhile, badly wounded Syrians continue coming to the border crossing seeking medical aid. Today a record 14 were admitted and taken to an Israeli hospital. Over 120 Syrians have received medical care so far.
In the Kurdish northeast a newly constructed pontoon bridge has allowed over a thousand Syrian refugees a day to enter Kurdish controlled Iraq. Most of the refugees are Kurds. There are already over 150,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq, most of them Sunni Arabs.