Syria: Kill Them All Again

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September 5, 2012: Over the last month the Assad government made it clear that it would use as much violence as it could muster to crush the rebels. That is not working, as the increased attacks (which killed over a thousand people a week last month) are creating so many new volunteers for the rebels that there are not enough weapons to arm all the new men. Basher Assad even announced that suppressing the rebels would take time, ignoring the fact that his forces are losing control of more of the country each week. By going for the "kill them all" strategy Assad has forced his fellow Alawites (five percent of the population) to risk all their lives (including women and children) to keep the Assad family in power. The government attacks on rebel civilians have increased the popularity among rebels for retaliation against all Alawites. Before this is all over there will be a lot fewer Alawites in Syria. This will be particularly true in areas where Alawites formed armed militias and attacked nearby Sunnis, often slaughtering unarmed civilians.

Negotiation is no longer an option, as the government says it won't talk until the armed rebels are crushed and that is not happening. For example, the government has been fighting to clear rebels out of Aleppo for over five weeks, without success. The government has declared victory in Aleppo several times, only to be embarrassed by increased rebel activity in the city.

Prolonging the war will cause the government economic as well as military problems. The economy has been hurt badly by the lack of imports and the difficulty in using roads that are constantly fought over by rebels and troops. While the countryside, where most of the rebels are, is largely self-sufficient in food, the cities are not and that's where hunger is becoming a problem. Most government supporters are in the cities. The government will not allow foreign food aid in and demands that it be allowed to import food and other supplies.

While high-level government officials defecting gets headlines, less attention is paid to the growing number of government officials who have gone over to the rebels while still working for the government. This is a dangerous thing to do but with the secret police preoccupied with the armed rebels, civil servants working for the rebels have an easier time of it. These men and women mostly supply information but some apparently get involved in carrying out the high-profile bombings in the capital.

Iran is paying a high price for its support of the Assad dictatorship. Decades of efforts to create good will in Arab countries is disappearing as images of the slaughter of Syrian civilians keep coming. Iran has angered many of its Iraqi allies because of pressure on the Iraqi government to allow Iranian transports to illegally fly through Iraq to Syria. The U.S. had pressured Iraq to halt these flights earlier this year but then the Iraqis quietly allowed the flights to resume. The U.S. is applying pressure again. Iranian efforts to get Iraq to shut down its Syrian border (to prevent support for Syrian rebels by Iraqi Sunnis) have been less successful. Traditional (centuries old) Turkish hostility for Iran has returned along with the growing number of revelations about Iranian espionage inside Turkey and support for PKK (Kurd separatist) rebels. Turkey has already closed its air space and roads to Iranian trucks and aircraft headed for Syria.  

The Syrian rebels continue to call for foreign intervention, at least to stop the attacks on civilians by government artillery, air power, and death squads. The latter are increasingly active, going into neighborhoods and killing or arresting military age men and killing families found to be harboring rebels or weapons. Foreign countries are reluctant to openly intervene without UN approval and this is being blocked by Russia and China. Some NATO countries are talking about just going in but without Turkish support (and military bases), this would be extremely difficult to do.

There are a growing number of Islamic radical groups, many of them known terrorists, fighting alongside the rebels. There are a smaller number allied with the government but it's the pro-rebel terrorists who worry countries (Arab and Western) that back the rebels. Because the terrorists are some of the most determined fighters, the rebels cannot afford to send them away. The rebels appear confident that when the war is over the Islamic terror groups will not be a major threat to a democratic government. Many foreigners, and some Syrians, are not so sure.

Turkish threats of military retaliation have caused the Syrians to stop firing into Turkey (at suspected Syrian rebel bases). The Lebanese armed forces are seen as less of a threat and Syrian artillery continues to fire into Lebanon.

Apparently Basher Assad's brother Maher died from injuries received in a July 19th bombing and was recently buried. The government kept this secret, because Maher commanded the most loyal military units (Republican Guard and 4th Armored Division) and was considered the second most powerful man in Syria.

September 4, 2012: The Al Jazeera website was hacked by supporters of the Syrian dictatorship (which considers most Arab media as hostile).

Russia ordered its citizens to leave Syria. It's unclear if this covers the small number of Russians (civilians and sailors) manning the Russian naval facility at the port of Tartus. Russia is also refusing to supply more weapons to Syria. Russia continues to use its veto to block any UN approval of a military intervention to support the Syrian rebels.  

September 2, 2012: Two large explosions could be heard in the capital. It was later reported that the bombs went off near government offices.

September 1, 2012: The number of registered Syrian refugees doubled in August. There are now 61,000 in Lebanon, 80,000 each in Jordan and Turkey, and around 18,000 in Iraq. Add in the unregistered refugees you have over 300,000 Syrians who have fled the country and over two million who found refuge inside Syria. The government has also arrested about 100,000 people. Those who fled the country are mostly from border areas that have been under attack by artillery and aircraft.

August 31, 2012: Rebels attacked an air base in eastern Syria. Attacks were also made on civilian airports outside Aleppo and Idlib, as these are often used by military aircraft. The rebels have called on foreign nations to supply anti-aircraft missiles but no one has stepped forward. Apparently there is fear that Islamic terror groups, fighting alongside the rebels, might get some of the missiles and use them for attacks on civilian airliners.

 

 

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