The most potent rebel weapon remains the suicide bomber attacks, which are far fewer than the Assad use of air strikes and artillery. The suicide bombers are controlled by the Islamic terrorist groups and are carried out for publicity and to assist operations by the Islamic terrorist rebels. The more moderate rebels still have support from Arab states but are also getting hit by Assad forces and some very hostile Islamic terrorist rebel groups.
Syrian forces are regaining control of key roads, border crossings, and neighborhoods in Aleppo and Damascus. Western nations are no longer even thinking of providing air support for the rebels but are instead fixated on how to destroy the Syrian chemical weapons. In effect, the West is now obliged to help defend the bases where the weapons are held and figure out how to destroy them. That is not going to be easy. Destroying the chemicals where they are means shipping in vulnerable (to rebel attack) equipment and Western technicians. Getting the Chemicals out of Syria for destruction means helping guard truck convoys that would take the chemicals to the Syrian coast where ships would take them to a country that would host the neutralization process for the deadly chemical process. The problem is that no country has volunteered to host the destruction and now thought is being given to doing it at sea, on a ship large enough to hold and operate the needed equipment. For the Assads this is all great stuff because until the chemicals are destroyed in Syria or out of the country the Western nations are de facto Assad allies.
Victory is not a sure thing for the Assads. Many Assad supporters are getting out of Syria, or at least sending their families into exile (or “extended vacation”) until it becomes clear how all this will end. The rebels could still unite, the West could still agree to provide air support. But at the moment it looks like neither of those events will come to pass.
Syria’s neighbors (especially Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq) are now bracing themselves for the worst case, the defeat of the Syrian rebels. This would mean that the millions of pro-rebel refugees they are hosting would be joined by thousands of angry, defeated, and often still armed rebels. The Islamic terrorists among the rebels are of greatest concern, because these men would be content to continue fighting in any country they land in. For the Islamic terrorist rebels from outside the region, it might be preferable to return to their home countries in the West and elsewhere and continue killing there. Most would continue operating against the Assad government, as would the more moderate rebel groups. The Syrian refugee camps would become bases for the expelled rebels and the world would have a new terrorism crises to deal with. In a familiar drill, Western donors would support the refugees, the host countries would complain about the economic and social disruption of the refugees, and Syria and its allies (especially Iran and Russia) would complain about the rebels and Islamic terrorists living off the refugee camps and continuing to terrorize the Assad supporters in Syria. Only Israel would escape this mess because the Arab world has been at war with Israel since the late 1940s and Israel has been able to cope with the Islamic terrorism. While Iraq would find itself with more Islamic terrorists in Anbar province (largely Sunni western Iraq) the autonomous northern Kurds would now be helping the newly autonomous Syrian Kurds of northeast Syria maintain their independence from the Assad forces. This could get interesting. Otherwise, the worst case in Syria is not much different than the best case (rebel victory). The key issue is always about what is to be done with the Islamic terrorists.
Syria is going to attempt a widespread polio vaccination campaign because Pakistani Islamic terrorist rebels have apparently introduced polio into Syria. So far this year there have been 13 cases of polio in Syria, after having been absent since the late 1990s. In Pakistan there have been 62 cases of polio so far this year, which was more than all of 2012 (58). In Pakistan polio cases reached a low of 28 in 2005 but then Islamic terrorist opposition to vaccination led to a sharp increase that hit 198 cases in 2011. Since then, Pakistani government and religious leaders have sought to deal with resistance to the vaccination campaign. In Pakistan a third of the polio cases have shown up outside the territories. A Taliban ban on polio vaccinations has left over 250,000 young children vulnerable to the disease and these are most of the ones getting infected. Years of Islamic radical clerics preaching that polio is un-Islamic has caused a growing number of parents (from throughout the country) to refuse the vaccinations, even when there is no Islamic terrorist threat of retaliation. This year about three percent of Pakistani children failed to get the vaccination, either because of Islamic terrorists or parents believing the anti-vaccination propaganda. Polio should have been eliminated entirely by now, as it can only survive in a human host. But there has been resistance from Islamic clergy in some countries, who insist the vaccinations are a Western plot to harm Moslem children. This has enabled polio to survive in some Moslem countries (especially Nigeria, Somalia, and Pakistan). The disease also survives in some very corrupt nations, like Kenya and India, because of the difficulty in getting vaccines to remote areas, tracking down nomad groups, and stopping corrupt officials from plundering the vaccination program (and causing many vaccinations to not happen). Islamic terrorists from Pakistan are believed responsible for a recent outbreak of polio in Syria because an analysis of the DNA of the polio in Syria was similar to polio DNA found in Pakistan.
The recent American refusal to launch air attacks against Syria, despite a major Syrian use of nerve gas against pro-rebel civilians has Israel quite upset. The Americans refused to carry out promised air attacks against the Syrian government and weak American support for the Syrian rebels has enabled Iranian aid (advisors, cash for the economy, and thousands of Shia mercenaries) to change the course of that war. The rebels, Israel, and the Arab world blame this all on the Americans. The rebels are now on the defensive and Iranians are intimidating (and infuriating) their main regional opponent; a Sunni Moslem coalition led by Saudi Arabia. The Gulf Arabs, despite spending much more on defense, do not have the capability or confidence to militarily intervene in Syria. This is humiliating enough, but the success of Iranian backed Assad forces against Saudi backed rebels is even worse. The Saudis are furious at the West for letting Iran win this one and, as a further humiliation, there’s not a lot the Saudis can do about it except court even further humiliation by scheming with Israel (the official arch-enemy of Saudi Arabia and most Arabs for over 60 years) to halt their mutual Iranian enemy.
The principal Iranian weapon in Syria is a mercenary army composed of Shia volunteers recruited throughout the region and paid for by Iran. A key part of this force consists of several thousand trained (by Iran) and organized Hezbollah light infantry. The Hezbollah and Shia volunteers have led the counteroffensive against the Syrian rebels. This has been costly to Hezbollah. The Iranian mercenary army has suffered over 2,000 casualties in the last few months, and most of the dead and wounded have been Hezbollah men. That’s because the Hezbollah fighters are better trained and able to lead the attacks. All this has caused many problems for Hezbollah back in Lebanon, where Hezbollah has represented the Shia minority for over 20 years and become an unpopular bully in the process. Most Lebanese see Hezbollah as a tool for Iran and a supporter of Syria. That is not popular with most Lebanese because most Syrians, especially the pro-Iran Assad government there, believe Lebanon should be part of Syria. Hezbollah supporters (and Iran) are fine with that, as long as a Shia minority continues to rule the “Greater Syria.” While Israel has long been the official enemy for all Arabs (Shia, Sunni, and Christian) in Lebanon, the Christian/Sunni majority is turning more of their hatred against Hezbollah and this pro-Iran group feels threatened. Yet Hezbollah must continue to do Iran’s bidding in Syria. It’s Iranian cash, weapons, and advisors that keep Hezbollah militarily dominant in Lebanon.
What keeps Islamic terrorists going in Syria is aid from Arab Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, which has long supported Islamic conservative groups. Yet the Saudis came out against the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt this year and against al Qaeda two decades ago. Despite that, the Saudis have no problem supporting Islamic radicals in Syria, including some who belong to al Qaeda. What is going on here? It’s simple. The Saud family has always supported Islamic radicals but only those who agreed that the Saud family should be in charge (of Saudi Arabia and as a leader of the Islamic world). Islamic radicals that changed their minds about this arrangement were crushed. Thus the Saudis supported al Qaeda until al Qaeda decided that the Sauds were not Islamic enough to be in charge. That led to a dispute in the 1990s that escalated in 2003 and, so far, the Sauds are winning. The Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt has always been hostile to the Sauds, and that has been reciprocated. This was made worse by the fact that the current head of al Qaeda was once a leader in the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood. This was made worse as the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood won a recent election in Egypt and got cozy with Iran, the archenemy of Saudi Arabia and Sunni Moslems in general. Iran is especially feared by the Sauds because the Iranians are not Arabs (but rather Indo-European, like most Europeans and Indians) and are openly hostile to the majority (80 percent) form of Islam (Sunni) espoused by the Saudis. The Iranians are Shia, a smaller (about 10 percent of Moslems) sect that conservative Sunnis consider heretics. After several major wars over the issue a thousand years ago, for the last few centuries Moslem leaders have played down this antagonism. But the mutual hatred remains and in the last few decades Iranian Shia leaders have become increasingly aggressive in claiming that Shia should control the Moslem holy cities of Mecca and Medina, as well as all that oil the Arabs now possess. The two holy cities are in Saudi Arabia and have been administered by the Saud family for nearly a century. Saudi Arabia also contains the largest oil reserves in the world. The Sauds want to keep things the way they are and have been increasingly aggressive in blocking Iranian moves. That’s why the Sauds support Islamic radicals in Syria, even though many of these Islamic terrorists want more radical Moslems running Saudi Arabia (and removing “Saudi” from the name of Arabia). Despite all this opposition, the Sauds continue to hold firmly onto power.
November 21, 2013: ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), an Islamic terrorist group formed last July by the Iraq branch of al Qaeda, has called for all moderate and Islamic radical rebel groups to unite. All the rebels can agree on is that unity would be a great thing, but none can agree on who would be in charge. Currently the senior al Qaeda leadership is calling on ISIL to disband and stop feuding with Syrian Islamic terrorist groups. That isn’t happening and neither is rebel unity.
November 18, 2013: In Lebanon local al Qaeda Islamic terrorists set off two bombs near the Iranian embassy, killing at least 23 people and wounding many more. While the bombers did not get into the compound, they blew out the façade of the main building. Iran accused Israel for making the attack happen.
November 16, 2013: ISIL apologized for mistakenly beheading a fellow Islamic terrorist fighter in Aleppo and then releasing video of the incident, claiming the dead man was a pro-Assad fighter. The victim was in fact from another Islamic terrorist rebel group that was loosely allied with ISIL.
The Turkish military reported that Syrian air defense radars were targeting Turkish F-16s flying in Turkish air space near the Syrian border. The Turks implied that there would be retaliation if the Syrians continued doing this.
November 14, 2013: An air strike in Aleppo wounded the senior leadership of the Tawhid Brigade. This is one of larger units in the new Syrian Islamic Liberation Front which is a rival to the older and more moderate FSA (Free Syrian Army). The leader of the Tawhid Brigade died of his wounds four days later, leaving a key rebel unit disorganized and less capable.
November 13, 2013:
On November 13, the U.S. has cancelled a billion dollar order to buy 63 Mi-17 helicopters from Russia for Afghanistan. This was the result of American politicians seeking to punish Russian support for the Assad dictatorship in the current Syrian civil war. It is unclear how the U.S. Department of Defense will obtain the helicopters the Afghan security forces need. It is possible to obtain used Mi-17s on the world aviation market and refurbish them. Either way, Russia will still get something out of it.
November 12, 2013: The Syrian Kurds have declared an autonomous Kurdish state in northeastern Syria. Kurds are about 15 percent of the Syrian population. Most of the three million Syrian Kurds live in the northeast and have received a lot of help from their Iraqi counterparts. As a result, the Syrian Kurds have been able to defeat numerous efforts by Iraqi Islamic terrorists to take control of the Kurdish areas. That’s what also happened in Kurdish controlled northern Iraq. Some 20 percent of Iraqis are Kurdish and most live in the autonomous Kurdish north. Turkey and Iraq are patching up their differences. Iraq has been very critical of Turkish support for the autonomous Kurdish north but now appears ready to overlook that in return for better trade relations and counter-terrorism cooperation with the Turks and diplomatic support against Iran. The Iraqi Kurds fear that this might mean less support from the Turks. But the Turks simply reminded the Iraqi Kurds that as long as they cooperated with Turkey in dealing with Turkish Kurdish separatists (the PKK) and Kurdish nationalists (who want to unite Kurds in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria to form a Kurdish state) all would be well.
November 10, 2013: The U.S. has withdrawn some of the warships it had stationed off Syria (in anticipation of air attacks against the Assad forces).