The West could end the Syrian War quickly by providing air support and much more weapons and other aid on the ground. That doesn’t happen because Western politicians fear later media accusations (true or not, makes no difference) that this support aided Islamic radicals and their goal of attacking the West and turning the world into an Islamic religious dictatorship. Arab public opinion (which tends not to get much attention from the Western media) sees this reluctance as a Western plot to get more Arabs killed.
What tends to be missed in all this is the fact that all revolutions are messy and there are always fanatic factions ready to keep killing after victory is won. Headline hunting politicians treat the fanatics as something to run away from when, in reality, you are going to have to deal with them eventually, so you might as well get on with it and take care of the mess now. History will view timid and media shy Western leaders as short sighted and the cause of much more misery in the long run.
The real cause of all this grief is that the Islamic radicals running Iran (the only real Islamic dictatorship on the planet) have come to the aid of the Syrian government and, while this has not defeated the rebels, it is prolonging the killing and that will leave more people dead and destitute in the long run. Some Western officials are admitting that this Iranian intervention could prolong the fighting by years. Those who don’t act are ultimately held responsible along with those who do. In practice, the current trend in the West is to tolerate a longer war, and several hundred thousand additional dead Syrians, rather than risk short term embarrassment and criticism in the media because of an intervention. Western states are democracies run by politicians who are more interested in the short term (getting reelected) than the long term implications of their decisions.
In the last month or so the violence has increased, and over a thousand people a week are dying in what is still a low-level war of ambushes, snipers, terror bombings, and the use of rockets and mortars by both sides and artillery and air strikes by the government to mostly kill or wound civilians. This in turn has caused a medical care crises because many of the casualties occur in areas where the economy has broken down and the fighting interrupts delivery of emergency food and medical supplies. The UN is having a hard time finding enough donors to pay for all the aid that is required to save lives. Syrian needs are now taking up about a third of the UN aid budget (that is spent on 24 countries). Meanwhile, many of the refugee camps are turning into rebel support areas (because most Syrians back the rebels and thus most of the refugees are pro-rebel). This is a common phenomenon and means the aid groups will be calling for an “international force” to protect them from harm (by Syrian government forces attacking the camps or rebel factions going after each other in the camps). Aid donors know what they are being asked to pay for and a lot of them are opting out of this one.
The recent removal (by popular demand and the army) of the Islamic radical led government in Egypt has led Egypt to crack down on Islamic radical groups recruiting men to fight for Islamic terror groups in Syria. The new Egyptian government still supports the rebels in Syria and favors the more democratic and less religious fanatic ones. But that’s about it. The Turks remain distracted by internal unrest against the Islamic moderates, who have run the country (quite well) for the last decade. The Turkish government is no friend of Islamic radicals, but it is accused by many Turks of becoming autocratic and tyrannical. Most Turks would rather not get deeply involved with Arab disputes. Historically, Turks regard Arabs as a source of trouble and not much else.
The newly elected (earlier this month) head of the SNC (Syrian National Coalition, the umbrella group for most rebels) has met with leaders of Arab Gulf states (the most active supporters of the rebels) in an attempt to get more weapons and, most importantly, air support. The Arab states have the money and connections to get weapons for the rebels but still feel they are unable to supply air support themselves. On paper this should not be so. The Gulf states (especially Saudi Arabia and UAE) have spent several hundred billion dollars over the last two decades to buy the latest Western warplanes and train pilots. But the Gulf states did this mostly to defend themselves from Iran (the traditional regional bully) and have concentrated on preparing for that, not on providing air support for Syrian rebels. Moreover, like the Europeans, the Arab air forces lack the specialized support aircraft, and skills, the Americans end up providing to make recent support operations over Libya and Mali work. So, the Gulf states are also trying to persuade the West, and America, to do another round of air support. The West is still reluctant and fearful of bad publicity.
There is growing anti-Assad and anti-Hezbollah violence in Lebanon. This takes the form of ambushes and assassinations, most of them directed at Assad supporters (who are a minority in Lebanon).
July 21, 2013: Syrian Kurds released the al Qaeda leader they had recently captured, in return for al Qaeda releasing 300 Kurdish civilians they were holding hostage.
July 20, 2013: Syrian Kurds claim to have captured the leader of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), an Islamic terrorist group formed recently by the Iraq branch of al Qaeda. Some Islamic radical factions have been very angry with the Kurds in the northeast and have been trying to force the Kurds to obey orders from Islamic radical groups. Most of this is being caused by foreign fighters, especially those from Iraq (the Iraqi al Qaeda, which has long had a hostile relationship with Iraqi Kurds). The Syrian Islamic radicals are more conciliatory with the Syrian Kurds. The problem, as always, has been the lack of unity among rebel factions. With the rebel al Qaeda groups, there is also a nasty feud going on. A month ago the head of al Qaeda (bin Laden successor Ayman al Zawahiri) declared the recent merger of the new (since January) Syrian Jabhat al Nusra (JN) with the decade old Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) as unacceptable and ordered the two groups to remain separate. The reason for this was that the merger was announced by ISI without the prior agreement of the JN leadership. The merger formed a third group, ISIL. That was the problem, as many JN members then left their JN faction to join nearby ones being formed by ISIL. JN leaders saw this as a power grab by ISI leaders and most of the JN men who left to join ISIL were non-Syrians. Many of these men had worked with ISI before and thought they were joining a more powerful group. But ISIL was apparently just an attempt by ISI (which is having a real hard time in Iraq) to grab some glory, recruits, cash, and power by poaching JN members. JN appealed to Zawahiri for help and got it. That’s not the first time al Qaeda has had to slap down misbehaving Iraqi Islamic terror groups and won’t be the last. But it’s not a problem unique to Iraq. This sort of factionalism never ends well. It destroyed the Islamic terrorist coalition in Iraq back in 2007, and recently did the same in Mali. It’s got Islamic radical factions killing each other in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Syria the Syrian led Islamic radical groups are not actively fighting the Iraqi led factions, but they are leaving the Iraqi terrorists to fight the Kurds by themselves and the Syrian Kurds have united their own factions. This month that has meant a series of defeats for the Iraqi led Islamic terrorists. The government has tried, without much success, to take advantage of the fighting between the Kurds and al Qaeda. Both rebel factions will still turn and go after any government forces that show up.
Meanwhile, in the northwest a dispute between rebels under the command of the FSA (Free Syrian Army) and a faction controlled by the Iraqi al Qaeda continues, mainly because one of the al Qaeda gunmen killed an FSA leader sent to deal with the problem. Al Qaeda has become a major problem for both the rebels and the Assads.
July 19, 2013: Four Turkish troops were wounded by gunfire from the Syrian side of the border. Turks fired back, causing several casualties on the other side. The Turkish government subsequently announced that its security forces, especially the army, would be more quick, and violent, in responding to attacks like this.
July 16, 2013: Syrian rebels fired on an Israeli patrol and the Israeli troops fired back. There were no casualties.