Syrian diplomats, backed by their Russian counterparts, are trying to generate some interest in a peace deal that keeps the Baath Party active in Syria. Backers of this proposal warn that the alternative is over 100,000 dead in 2013, and a Syria that turns into Somalia, with the country divided into a dozen or more fiefdoms run by warlords. The rebels reply that the Assads and the Baath Party are done in Syria and that negotiations are already underway between tribal and rebel faction leaders over what shape a post-war government will take. The rebels, and many outside observers, see the Assad government as losing ground and combat power daily. More and more Assad supporters have fled to Damascus and western Syria (the sea coast area where Alawites are the majority). Those in Damascus feel they are doomed, as the airport increasingly comes under rebel fire and will likely be closed soon. Land routes are dangerous, and those will be closed by rebels eventually. The Syrian security forces are shrinking from casualties and desertions and there are few reinforcements. These consist of a few advisors from Iran and several thousand Shia gunmen from the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. The government is arming pro-government groups it can depend on. These are mostly Alawite civilians. Other minorities (Christians, Palestinians, Druze and so on) have proved less reliable. Minority militias are not powerful enough to save the Assads and just add to the number of atrocities and dead civilians. The rebels also receive reinforcements from Lebanon, in the form of Sunni volunteers. Even more of these are coming in from Iraq and Jordan. Desertions are helped by Basher Assad repeatedly saying that he will stay to the end. Judging from the gunfire and explosions that can be heard from near the presidential compound in Damascus, the end is getting closer.
Meanwhile, Basher Assad has become more paranoid about assassins getting to him. He rarely attends public events and is constantly adjusting his personal security arrangements. His family and closest aides are nearly as fearful and paralyzed by fear. All this says more than a press release about the state of the government and the failure of its campaign against the rebels.
Fighting in Daraa, a town of 75,000 near the Jordanian border, has drifted to the border itself, causing Jordanian tanks on the other side to fire at Syrian troops who had fired at rebels who moved into Jordan. Unlike Turkey and Iraq, which generally let the rebels go back and forth freely, the Jordanians continue to guard their border, only allowing unarmed refugees in.
Over 45,000 have died in the rebellion since fighting began over a year ago, and the deaths continue at the rate of about a thousand a week. The rebels claim to have destroyed 103 aircraft since the fighting began early last year. The rebels now have portable anti-aircraft missiles and captured anti-aircraft guns (heavy machine-guns and light cannon). The Syrian Air Force knows it is in trouble. Last month the air force made a maximum effort which included lots of attacks on civilians who were supporting the rebels. The idea was that the civilians will cease sheltering and supplying the rebels in order to avoid more of this. On November 29th, the air force made its biggest daily effort ever, carrying out 60 attacks in 24 hours. Before that the number of daily attacks had averaged 20 a day and had stayed at that level for months. The daily sortie rate has since declined to ten or less a day. Aircraft losses, plus shortages of fuel, bombs, and reliable pilots has contributed to this. Air bases are increasingly subject to rebel attack. The Syrian Air Force is fading away and won’t come back while the rebellion continues. The rebels claim (with videos for over 80 percent of them) of destroying 41 aircraft in 2012. Eleven were destroyed on the ground and 30 were shot down.
Rebel tactics concentrate on destroying the morale of government troops, not killing them outright. The soldiers and police are still better armed than most rebels but are operating among a population that is generally hostile to them. The rebels can move and attack at night and spend most of their time surrounding military bases and cutting off supplies. The rebels encourage government soldiers to defect or desert and a growing number of them are. The rebels will usually help a deserting soldier get on his way to his family but encourages soldiers to join the rebels. Officers, especially if they are Alawite, are another matter and are often arrested or killed outright. Same with pro-government militia.
Russia has sent a third amphibious ship from a Black Sea port to the Russian naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus. This ship apparently contains a detachment of naval infantry. Four other ships (two amphibious ships, a frigate, and a supply ship) were sent two weeks ago but have not yet showed up at Tartus. Meanwhile, Russia announced that these four ships, plus warships from other Russian fleets (Russia has four, based in northern Russia, the Baltic, the Black Sea, and the Pacific coast) are converging on the eastern Mediterranean for joint training exercises, not a Syrian rescue mission.
December 29, 2012: In the central Syrian city of Homs, civilians complained that rebels moved into their neighborhood, started fighting nearby government troops, and then withdrew and left the civilians to suffer attack by the army. The rebels involved complained that they ran out of ammunition and that their requests for more ammo went unanswered so they had to leave. The rebels have plenty of ammo, taken from the growing number of military bases the rebels have captured. But distributing the ammo (and other supplies) in a timely manner is more difficult. Central Syria has become a patchwork of rebel and government controlled areas. Supply trucks are considered fair game by either side. The government often uses armored vehicles to move supplies, but that is not a solution because of the growing fuel shortages. Trucks use much less fuel.
December 28, 2012: The rebel National Coalition said it would consider negotiating a transition to a new government with the current government as long as the Assad family was excluded.
December 27, 2012: The Russian, Indian, and Rumanian ambassadors and many of their staff left Syria via the Damascus airport.
December 25, 2012: General Abdul Aziz Jassem al Shallal, the head of Syrian military police, appeared on a Saudi TV station (Al Arabiya) and announced that he had defected and joined the rebels. Shallal condemned the Syrian armed forces for making war mostly on unarmed civilians, not the armed rebels. Defectors like this are an excellent source of information on what’s happening on the government side. Apparently morale is low within the government, with most Assad supporters having second thoughts and seeking a way out that will enable them to avoid rebel retribution. Assad supporters believe the rebels will seek out well-known Assad supporters and kill them.
In the north rebels captured another airbase near Aleppo and have been firing on the Aleppo airport as well. Government forces in Aleppo are increasingly isolated, short of supplies, and feeling doomed.
December 23, 2012: In the central Syrian town of Halfaya, an air force bomb hit a crowd of civilians waiting outside a bakery, killing at least 60 people. Events like this enrage the rebels and lower the morale of most men in the security forces, who are told that they are fighting for the “Syrian people.”