Syria: Iranian Advisors Joined By Russian Commandos

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March 20, 2012: In the last few weeks rebellion related deaths have averaged over 500 a week. It appears that nearly 10,000 have died in a year of protests against the government and increasingly violent government responses. The security forces have used artillery and tank gun fire against rebellious neighborhoods, as well as indiscriminate fire against crowds along with snipers (who are supposed to kill "leaders" but in practice shoot whoever they can). The government blames Saudi Arabia and Qatar for arming the rebels. Russia and Iran continue to arm the government despite Iraq recently announcing it would not allow Iran to ship weapons (by ground or air) through Iraq. Weapons shipments can still get in via Syrian ports. One Iranian cargo ship (described as a "supply ship"), escorted by an Iranian frigate recently visited Syria briefly and then returned to Iran. Russian weapons regularly arrive at the Syrian port of Tartus. Syria is a major customer for Russian weapons, with Iran apparently supplying most of the cash to pay for the stuff. The FSA (Free Syrian Army) claims that it is getting weapons and equipment from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states via Jordan. Syria has long provided sanctuary for groups hostile to the Jordanian monarchy, and Jordan would like to see that arrangement terminated. The Gulf Arab states appear to be increasing their aid to the rebels.

The government has now shifted the blame for recent terror attacks from Syrian rebels to "foreign terrorists." The main suspect is al Qaeda from Iraq. Syria has provided sanctuary to these guys, and many like them, for decades. Syria knows better than anyone else in the region where the terrorists are and what their goals are. Many terror groups have fled Syria recently, rather than take sides. Other terror groups have joined the rebels or the government.

Turkey and Gulf Arab states are pulling their diplomats out of Syria. Turkey is still willing to send troops into Syria, to establish a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border to reduce violence against Syrians fleeing to Turkey but only with UN approval. This is unlikely to happen as long as Russia keeps using its veto to block any UN moves against Syria. The Arab League is generally united against the Assads but Russian support for Syria in the UN renders international support difficult. Few nations will make a military move without UN approval. The Syrian rebels are openly calling for foreign intervention but are unlikely to get it.

One reason Western nations are reluctant to offer the kind of air support they supplied over Libya last year is because Syrian air defenses consist of a lot of modern missile systems and better trained crews. The only country trained and equipped to take out such defenses is the United States, which does not want to take the lead in any Syrian air operations. That was the deal in Libya and the U.S. wants to keep it that way.

The security forces have shifted most of their attention from Homs to other places like Deir Ezzor in the east, Daraa on the Jordan border, and Idib near the Turkish border. With the help of Iran and Russia, Syria has managed to keep out most official foreign support for the rebels. The government strategy now appears to hunt down and kill as many of the most active rebels as possible. This will demoralize the large number of Syrians who oppose the Assad dictatorship and convince people to submit to a government they oppose. Iranian advisors have pointed out how well this worked in Iran, where a large urban population, that opposed the religious dictatorship in Iraq, have been brutalized and terrorized into submission. Iran also advised that much be made of foreign agents (from Israel and the West, of course) stirring up the people. This gives rebellious Syrians a suitable excuse to accept a future amnesty and behave.

The Assads have a lot of support from leftist groups. Communist Parties in several countries back the Assads, as does the leftist PKK (Turkish separatist Kurd rebels). This PKK support has prevented anti-Assad Syrian Kurds from establishing bases in northern Iraq.

There are over 25,000 refugees in Lebanon and Syria. The 10,000 in Lebanon are having a hard time because Hezbollah (an Iran backed private army that controls southern Lebanon and most of the Syrian border) opposes any help for the refugees and uses its gunmen to search for any Syrian refugees who might be involved in fighting the Syrian government. Turkey is more tolerant and allows the FSA to maintain camps.

March 19, 2012: In the capital (Damascus) several large explosions were heard before dawn, as well as extended periods of gunfire in the suburbs. Rebels inside Syria say that the FSA is still active, and that includes Assad strongholds like the capital. 

A Russian ship arrived in Tartus, apparently carrying "counter-terrorism" troops. These are probably meant to help protect the hundreds of Russians in Tartus working on facilities for a Russian naval base.

March 18, 2012: In Aleppo a bomb went off near the local secret police compound, killing two people. Another bomb destroyed a bridge outside the capital. Several more explosions were heard later at night in the capital.

March 17, 2012: In the capital two car bombs went off and killed at least 27 people. The government blamed the rebels for this; the rebels said the government did it. Others say that al Qaeda and other Sunni terror groups in Syria are responsible. Hundreds of Islamic terrorists have moved from Iraq to Syria in the past few weeks.  

The Syrian National Council (SNC) represents most of the Sunni Arab rebel groups. Now a new rebel coalition (still unnamed) will represent smaller, mainly non-Arab, groups. These include National Movement for Change, the Islamist Movement for the Fatherland (a moderate religious group), the Bloc for Liberation and Development (a tribal group), the Turkmen National Bloc, and the Kurdish Movement for a New Life. The new groups announced their presence while meeting in Turkey.

March 16, 2012: Responding to UN calls to halt attacks on civilians, the government offered to stop attacking Syrian civilians if the armed rebels gave up their weapons. The rebels refused to disarm themselves and said they did not trust the government.

March 15, 2012: The first anniversary of the uprising is noted by a pro-government rally in the capital.

March 14, 2012:  Rebels are driven out of Idib (on the Turkish border).

March 13, 2012: Troops attacked and recaptured the town of Idib.

March 11, 2012: Syrian troops have been planting landmines along smuggling routes used by Syrians fleeing to Turkey.

March 9, 2012: Over a dozen Syrian Army officers (six of them generals) defected and entered Turkey.

 

 

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