Syria: Killing Kids For The Cause

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June 5, 2012: The Israeli government is debating how to deal with chaos in Syria and Islamic terror groups (particularly Hezbollah) getting possession of ballistic missiles and chemical weapons. Decades of "destroy Israel" propaganda by the Arab states in the region make it impossible for open cooperation with Israel to take direct action in Syria. Israel is cooperating with Turkey and Arab states with intelligence. Turkey provides sanctuary for the rebels and Arab states (particularly from the Persian Gulf) are supplying cash, weapons, and other equipment. No foreign state or coalition is yet willing to openly aid the rebels. The UN is powerless as long as Russia uses its veto to block anti-Assad measures. Russia insists the violence is caused by outsiders. The growing violence against civilians has caused Russia to suggest some changes in the Assad government, but that's it.

The Assads have too many armed rebels for their security forces to handle. The Assads must defend the cities and military bases (most of them are near cities). If the rebels control a city, the chance of foreign intervention goes way up. If the rebels capture a military base, they gain weapons and documents embarrassing to the government (because of discussions of how to handle violence against civilians). The UN sponsored ceasefire that began on April 12, has failed to halt the violence. That deal called for soldiers to withdraw from urban areas and for rebels to stop shooting. Neither side complied, although the army went through the motions for a while. The government cannot afford to lose control of any large city.

The government has sent more troops to guard the borders, especially the one with Lebanon, to slow down weapons and other supplies coming in for the rebels. Smuggling clans have been operating along this border for over half a century and can switch to new routes whenever soldiers show up.

Casualties are now over 2,000 a week, with more than 500 dead. While the pro-government militias have started killing large numbers of civilians, soldiers are also doing it on a smaller scale with indiscriminate executions at checkpoints. So far the rebels have persuaded their armed supporters to concentrate on armed (militiamen and soldiers) opponents and not unarmed civilians.

The UN, and most of the world, condemned the slaughter of civilians and many nations began expelling Syrian diplomats. The Syrian government and allies, like Iran and Russia, blamed foreigners and rebels for the massacres. The government is blaming the UN and other foreign enemies for growing shortages and unemployment. The sanctions are making it difficult to legally import everything, including essential items like food. The government is losing control of real estate and its loyalists. But the decline is gradual and the Assads still believe they can outlast the rebels. That is looking more and more like a slim hope.

Starting on May 25th, pro-government militias began murdering large numbers of civilians. On the 25th, over a hundred people were killed, about half of them children. The killers believed the victims were pro-rebel and that this sort of thing would persuade the rebels to back off. The Syrian government does not have tight control over these militias, who were allowed to form so pro-government minorities (especially Alawites) could protect themselves from the growing number of armed rebels. In response to international criticism the government accused the rebels of slaughtering their own people to encourage foreign intervention. Such tactics are not unknown (there was a lot of it in the Balkans in the 1990s) but was apparently not the case here.  

The Iranian security advisors are finding that what works in Iran isn't working in Syria. In Iran the government has the support of about a quarter of the population (mostly in rural areas). From these religious conservatives the Iranian government recruits its police, soldiers, and the huge (several hundred thousand men) armed Basij militia. The Basij are often used without uniforms or firearms, as street thugs who beat up anti-government demonstrators. Iranian opposition groups have never been able to sustain large scale opposition to the religious dictatorship. The Syrian dictatorship does not have the religious fanaticism element going for it. The Assads have maintained control by being secular and buying the loyalty of the urban population and tribal leaders with government jobs and business opportunities.  That system broke down when the Arab Spring made it obvious to most Syrians that they were living in a corrupt and mismanaged dictatorship and maybe freedom was worth fighting for. The Assads and their Iranian mentors still believe that the right amount of terrorism can calm things down.

June 4, 2012: Syrian opposition groups, including some leaders of major tribes, met in Turkey and expanded the rebel coalition.

June 3, 2012: In the last two days rebels went on the offensive, attacking army checkpoints and convoys, leading to over 300 casualties.

In Lebanon troops managed to stop militia fighting in Tripoli. There were over 50 casualties (and 14 dead) from several days of shooting between Sunni and Alawite militias. These two groups are backing (respectively) the rebels and Alawite government in Syria. This is the fourth outbreak of militia violence in Tripoli in the past year. While Syria has some fans in Lebanon, most Lebanese are anti-Syrian because Syrian claims Lebanon as part of "Greater Syria."

May 30, 2012: Rebels gave the government 48 hours to comply with the UN ceasefire terms, otherwise the rebels would increase their attacks. The government didn't and the rebels did.

 

 

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