Video coming out of Syria shows rebels using a lot of new weapons, including Chinese portable anti-aircraft missiles and Yugoslav rifles, machine-guns, anti-tank weapons, and grenade launchers. The Yugoslav weapons were apparently bought from Croatia by Saudi Arabia and moved into Syria via Jordan (where the Saudis are helping the government deal with and pay for the refugees pouring in). The main rebel military organization, the FSA (Free Syrian Army), is responsible for distributing weapons and other supplies to rebel fighters inside Syria. This includes providing some supplies for the Islamic radical groups. But the Saudis have made it clear that the growing number of new weapons moved into Syria are not to be given to the Islamic radicals. The Saudis point out that if too much video gets out showing Islamic terrorists using this new stuff it will be bad for the rebel cause.
The fighting in Aleppo keeps going against the government. Being forced out of the city would be a major defeat and would give the rebels a place to establish a new Syrian government. To avoid this catastrophe the government has been sending reinforcements north. But it isn’t enough because the government has fewer and fewer troops available. Forming civilian militias is of only limited help because these guys are OK at defending their neighborhoods but much less capable, or willing, to move elsewhere and go on the offensive. Most of Aleppo is now controlled by the rebels and the Assad forces may be gone in weeks or months, depending on how desperate they are to hang on.
The U.S. and Western Europe are still restricting their aid to help for refugees and some military advice. There may also be some intelligence passed along on where Assad forces are and what they are doing. But no such aid is given any publicity. The West is in a no-win situation here because the rebels are split into some very different factions. The most feared groups are the Islamic radicals (including al Qaeda), who are the most fanatical fighters and make no secret of their plan to try and establish a religious dictatorship, when the Assads are gone, and continue attacks against the West. The Islamic radicals have the fanaticism but they don’t have the numbers. Resisting such a takeover is the one thing that would unite the other tribal, political, and ethnic factions. This means that the Syrian fighting will go on for some time and the battle with the Assad government is just the first phase. The West prefers that the Arabs deal with their own problem here because many Arabs will blame the West no matter what the West does. Although lacking the powerful military capabilities of the West, the Arab Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, have a lot of money and people with connections inside Syria. The Arabs are also getting deeper into an undeclared religious (Sunni versus Shia) war with Iran. Syria has long been one of the few Arab allies of Syria (because the Assads are members of the Shia minority in Syria) and provides a logistical connection to the Shia Hezbollah militia that controls south Lebanon. Hezbollah was created by Iran three decades ago and has become a destabilizing force in Lebanon. Most Lebanese want Iran out of Lebanon, and getting rid of the Assads is a step in that direction. So the Arab states have stepped up with cash and are buying weapons and other supplies for the rebels and taking care of the refugees (even though some of them are Assad supporters). The Saudis are also making progress in persuading the West to become more active in helping the rebels. The Saudis have made it clear that they can be a big help in dealing with Islamic radical groups in a post-Assad Syria, and that is an attractive proposition to the West. Many Saudis still secretly support Islamic radicals (mainly with cash contributions and new recruits) but the Saudi government has been openly at war with Islamic terrorists since 2003, and does not want to see Syria turned into a sanctuary for them. The Assads were always hospitable to all sorts of terrorists, especially those hostile to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are in this fight to win. They are willing to share the glory with the West, if the West will be a bit more helpful.
Rebels released video showing the impact of four ballistic missiles that hit residential areas of Aleppo on the 21st and killed 141 civilians.
February 26, 2013: Rebels ambushed a Hezbollah convoy near the Lebanon border. This shows how the rebels increasingly control the border areas and highways. This makes road travel much more dangerous for government forces. It also reveals that the rebels are receiving more information from inside the government and Hezbollah forces. The government has a growing problem with disloyalty and deserters. That inside information gets loose and gets government supporters killed. It also further demoralizes those still loyal to the Assads. Rather than take on these militias the rebels are going for the roads. As it is in all wars, logistics (supplies) is the key to victory. The Assads have long maintained their power by controlling the economy and rewarding their supporters. Now, if the Assads cannot get food, fuel, and other necessities to their followers, they will lose the support of the small faction (10-20 percent) of the population they need to remain in power. The rebels are making road travel increasingly dangerous for government forces. The Assads don’t have enough troops to patrol all those roads regularly. The lack of such supplies through the country is causing an increase in disease and unhappiness in general.
February 25, 2013: The government said it was now willing to negotiate with the rebels. Most of the rebel factions are not interested in talking. Russia has tried to arrange such negotiations, without much success. The offer has boosted rebel morale, as it is seen as a sign of Assad desperation.
A large bomb went off in Damascus, in a pro-government neighborhood. A growing number of neighborhoods in Damascus are controlled by the rebels, at least at night. These areas provide a base from which to plan and launch attacks on Assad forces and supporters in the city.
February 24, 2013: There was a riot in a Jordanian refugee camp after an Arab man came in and distributed cash to refugees. When all the cash was gone, some of those who did not get any money attacked the donor and other refugees came to the donor’s defense. Over 200 people were involved in the fracas and two refugees and a policeman were badly hurt.
February 22, 2013: At least four ballistic missiles fell on residential neighborhoods in and around Aleppo. The missiles are not as useful as air strikes or artillery because it takes several hours to ready the liquid fueled models (like SCUDs) and they are less accurate. The one ton warheads can take down entire buildings, which makes for exciting video. But the aftermath, if that building is full of women and children, is rather more chilling. The army used the missiles in this case to destabilize rebel fighters in a neighborhood troops then advanced into. The troops were later forced to retreat.
February 21, 2013: A car bomb went off in Damascus near the Russian embassy and the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party. Over 70 died in this attack.