Syria: Running Out Of Ideas And Options

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July 10, 2012: In the last month rebels have gone underground in cities, as the army made it clear that it would destroy entire neighborhoods if they encountered organized resistance. But with more cash and weapons flowing in from the wealthy Persian Gulf Arab states, and Turkey providing bases and training for the growing number of Syrian men fleeing the country, the number of trained and armed rebels within Syria grows. As they leave the cities, the rebels find shelter in the largely Sunni countryside. The army doesn't have the manpower to shut down rebel activity in the rural areas. Using pro-government militias, even those from rural areas, is not a good option either. Travelling outside the cities is becoming increasingly risky, especially if you look like the security forces or government officials. Because so many pro-rebel civilians are in the cities, supplies for the population are generally left alone.

The Assads are finding more and more of their long-time supporters having second thoughts. The security forces are not winning, and just hanging on to the major cities is not a victory if the rebels are as determined (as they appear) to fight to the end. So far, about 17,000 people have died and over 300,000 (out of 22 million) have fled the country. Nearly ten percent of the population is going hungry and the Assads are beginning to deny food to pro-rebel parts of the country. This will lead to more calls from NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) for the UN, or NATO, or someone to provide armed escorts for food deliveries to the starving.

Turkey has indicated that it will not go to war with Syria over the downing of a Turkish F-4 jet last month but that there will be some kind of response. That response is apparently the increased support for the Syrian rebels and the increased security on the Turkish side of the border. That includes shooting back at any Syrian police or soldiers who fire across the border at Syrian rebels in Turkey. Because of the F-4 loss, the rebels now have a secure base and a more enthusiastic ally. Syria has apologized for downing the F-4 but still insists that the aircraft was in Syrian air space. In response to that, there are now more Turkish jets patrolling the border, apparently with orders to fire back if Syrian jets or anti-aircraft weapons fire on them or into Turkey.

The UN continues to try and negotiate a peaceful end to the rebellion. The new approach is to get Russia and Iran to pressure the Assads to step down, leave in peace (and with much of their stolen billions), and allow elections. Russia and Iran want the Assads to stay because elections mean a new government hostile to Russia and Iran. Russia is intent on supporting the Assads because it believes it was deceived by the UN in Libya, where it supported armed intervention with the understanding that their guy, Moamar Kaddafi, would survive. Iran needs Syria as part of its campaign to gain control of the Moslem holy places in Saudi Arabia and the destruction of Israel (followed by world domination of Shia Islam). Iran is increasingly concerned about the survivability of their Assad allies. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of Iranian security troops and experts in Syria, trying to come up with ways to put down the rebellion. These guys are reporting, back to Iran, that they are running out of ideas and options.

July 9, 2012: Russia announced that it will make no more arms deliveries to Syria until things calm down (until either the rebels are defeated or the Assads ousted). It's possible that this announcement only refers to new arms orders, not deliveries of old orders. It does indicate that Russia is having second thoughts about supporting the Assads.

July 8, 2012:  Senior Arab League officials are describing the Assad dictatorship in Syria as a "mafia like operation." Such undiplomatic talk is unusual from the Arab League, which has long contained members who were little different from the Assads. It's one of the ways in which the Arab Spring has really changed the fundamentals in the Middle East.

July 7, 2012: Syrian artillery fired at a Lebanese village that was suspected of hosting Syrian rebels. At least three people were killed and many more wounded. Dozens of buildings were destroyed or damaged.

July 4, 2012: Manaf Tlass, a one star general in the Republican Guard, fled to Turkey and defected. Tlass's father had been Defense Minister of Syria for 30 years. Such high level defections are increasing, and there are increasing reports of pro-Assad families making arrangements to get out of Syria and into comfortable (or at least safe) exile.  Defections by soldiers and particularly senior officers are increasingly common. Sometimes dozens come across in one day. Turkish and NATO intelligence officials interview the defectors and get updates on what shape the Syrian armed forces are in. So far, the secret police and Republican Guard are holding together. But much of the regular army is considered unreliable, and officers are ordered to arrest any soldiers of questionable loyalty. So far 15 generals have deserted and over 20 percent of the army troops. Those caught deserting are usually shot on the spot. The army is becoming more of a prison than a fighting force.

July 3, 2012: UN officials are more frequently describing the situation in Syria as a civil war.

July 2, 2012: The last week was considered one of the bloodiest so far, with over 800 killed.

July 1, 2012: About 3,000 were killed in Syria last month, the bloodiest month to date. About 80 percent of the dead were civilians or rebels. The Assad government has apparently ordered the security forces to forget about restraint and to shoot anything that might be anti-government activity and keep shooting. In addition to artillery and tank gun fire, areas believed clear of rebel fighters are often visited by the secret police, who interrogate and often torture or kill civilians suspected of supporting the rebels.  

June 30, 2012: All parties now agree that the latest UN effort to negotiate a peace in Syria has failed. It's also become clear that the only thing the many rebel factions can agree on is the destruction of the Assad dictatorship. After that, there might be more civil war as secular and religious factions decide what the post-Assad government will be like.

 

 

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