Items About Areas That Could Break Out Into War
December 5, 2011: The Assads are apparently willing to try and outwait the rebels. There are no indications the Assads are seeking sanctuary anywhere. Exile options are limited, with Iran being the most likely sanctuary. This religious dictatorship would not appeal to the secular (to Iranian eyes) Assad clan. So a fight to the death is shaping up, and it could get very nasty.
Many long-time allies are backing away from their support for the Assads. Alawites are refusing to back the Assads blindly, seeking to avoid a religious war with the Sunni majority. Some of the terrorist groups that have been based in Syria for decades are backing away from the Assads and looking for a new sanctuary. This is especially true of the senior Hamas leadership, who have, until now thought themselves safer in Syria than in Gaza. But ninety percent have now gone to Gaza, leaving about thirty Hamas members in Damascus to show that the terrorists still supported the Assads.
The Arab League appears determined to remove the Assad family from power in Syria. While the League appears united in opposing a NATO air campaign in Syria, there is similar determination to bring down a second Arab government. While the Kaddafi family in Libya was pushed out of power because Moamar Kaddafi was consistently hostile to fellow Arab leaders, the Assads have sinned by being an ally of Iran. One reason for that is the fact that the Assads belong to a minority Shia sect in a largely Sunni Arab Syria. Arab rulers are increasingly fearful of Iran, which is run by a coalition of Shia Moslem fanatics and is trying to develop nuclear weapons. So while the Assads are condemned publicly for killing Syrians, the real reason the Arab League wants the Assads gone is the Iranian connection.
December 4, 2011: The Arab League imposed additional sanctions on Syria. In particular, travel restrictions were placed on 19 senior officials in the Assad government. Their assets were also frozen in Arab countries. On December 15th, air traffic in and out of Syria will be cut in half. All weapons exports to Syria are banned. But smugglers are already increasing their operations. Syria is a lucrative market for weapons. The government forces have all they need, but the many rebel factions are eager to buy whatever the smugglers can get across the border. That is not too difficult on the Iraq and Lebanese frontiers, despite trigger-happy Syrian border guards.
The violence is more widespread now, and daily casualties are increasing. On many days there are over a hundred dead and wounded. The total number of dead so far this year is over 4,500, and could pass 5,000 before the end of the year. The capital, which is full of government employees and Assad supporters, is quiet. But the north is on fire, as are areas on the Iraqi and Lebanese borders. More and more soldiers (usually Sunnis) are deserting and joining armed rebels groups. These rebel fighters ambush soldiers and police, and make the security forces more prone to open fire at the least hint of danger.
The growing list of Arab League sanctions is hurting businessmen who are key supporters of the Assads. This gives these men, especially the Sunni ones, an incentive to switch sides. The banking sanctions are particularly harmful to many Syrian businesses, which finance their operations via regional Arab banks. But Iraq and Lebanon have not enforced the sanctions vigorously, so these two countries will get more business from Syria. Iraq is concerned about losing essential food imports from Syria, and getting more heat from Iran, if Syria is not handled gently. There are a lot of pro-Assad Lebanese, especially among the large Shia minority in Lebanon. But despite these two exceptions, the sanctions are hurting the Assads. There is a growing cash shortage, imports are not arriving on time and there are growing shortages throughout the country.
December 3, 2011: The Syrian National Council (SNC) announced an alliance with the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The two agreed that attacks would only be made to protect Syrian civilians from the security forces. But in practice this means that the formerly pacifist SNC has allied with the more militant FSA and agreed to fight. In theory, violence is only allowed when civilians need protection. But in practice, it means unrestricted attacks on the security forces. Over the past few weeks, a growing number of Syrians openly backed the use of more violence against the government. The SNC is a coalition of dozens of resistance groups that was formed last September, and is run by an assembly of 140 representatives of its constituent groups. The SNC and many Syrians want aerial intervention, as happened in Libya, to help the people get rid of the Assad family dictatorship. The FSA was formed more recently, by officers and troops who had deserted from the Assad forces. The FSA leadership, like their SNC brethren, had found sanctuary in Turkey.
In northern Syria, a dozen members of air force intelligence defected to the rebels. This is unusual, as the military intelligence personnel are normally the most loyal to the Assads. The several thousand men who have deserted from the military so far have mostly been Sunni Arabs, who are over 75 percent of the population. Yet the minorities (Alawites, Druze, Christians) do not want to be on the wrong side of a civil war, and not every minority family prospered under the Assads.
December 2, 2011: Syria has banned the iPhone. The security forces were ordered to seize all iPhones they come across. This is because despite complete government control of the media, pictures and videos of security forces shooting or beating civilians keep getting out of the country. What mystifies many Syrians is why the government is banning only one type of camera equipped phone. Most cell phones have cameras, and the ability to email pix to someone outside the country. And most smartphones can take videos. The iPhone is the most popular smart phone, but most smart phones are not iPhones. In any event, this new ban won't stop the flow of embarrassing pictures and videos, but does show how rattled the government is.
December 1, 2011: Russia delivered dozens of Yakhont anti-ship missiles to Syria. Costing several million dollars each, the missiles have a range of 300 kilometers and are very hard to stop. Syria accounted for seven percent of Russian arms exports this year, and Russia wants to show that they always deliver. Russia is also building a naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus, and several hundred Russians are there working on the project.
Turkey joined the Arab League in imposing sanctions on Syria. Although not a member of the Arab League, Turkey has been trying to establish itself as a Middle Eastern leader, as it was for centuries in the form of the Ottoman Turk Empire. But while the Turkish support is appreciated by the Arab League, Turkish efforts to assert a leadership role have been rejected by Arabs.
November 29, 2011: Saudi Arabia has urged its citizens to get out of Syria, because of the increasing violence.
November 27, 2011: The Arab League agreed to impose sanctions on Syria, after the Syrians refused to halt their use of violence against anti-government demonstrations. Over the next week, several rounds of sanctions were imposed, making it difficult for Syrian officials to leave the country, and for Syria to import or export goods.
November 25, 2011: Syria rejected an ultimatum from the Arab League to halt the violence against civilians. The Arab League said it would impose sanctions, something rarely done by the League against a League member, if the Assads did not comply.
November 24, 2011: The FSA called for foreign nations to provide air support for Syrian rebels, as was done in Libya. The Arab League has not yet backed this (as it did in Libya) and no one is volunteering to supply aircraft.