Syria: Rebels Regain Momentum

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August 7, 2013: The rebels have wisely kept open communications with minority communities in Syria, and this has led to some pro-government militias disbanding. The SNC (Syrian National Council) is the main rebel political organization and it has to spend a lot of effort maintaining unity. The Kurds (ten percent of the population) are demanding more autonomy than many other SNC members are willing to approve. The Palestinians (1.7 percent of the population) are considered unreliable, although a large number of them are pro-rebel. Other minorities, like Turkmen (4 percent), Iraqis (4 percent), Assyrians (4 percent), and Druze (3 percent) have traditionally been well treated by the Assads, in return for loyalty. But many of the minority people are changing their minds. The main support of the government is based on religion. Some 75 percent of the population is Sunni Moslem. The Sunni have long been the main victims of the Assad dictatorship. Most of Syria's neighbors are Sunni, and this has kept anti-Assad attitudes alive. Now, all this hatred is coming out. Shia Moslems, dominated by Alawites (12 percent), with the remainder of the population Druze and Christians, are generally considered the enemy by most Sunni Syrians. The Shia are particularly nervous because the Sunni conservatives openly call Shia (particularly Alawites) heretics and subject to extermination. Even so, some Shia, even some Alawites, now side with the rebels, despite trust issues. While the Islamic radical rebel groups consider all non-Sunnis as the enemy, the SNC takes a more tolerant view and had had some success in persuading minorities (even some Alawites) that a post Assad government would be inclusive and, yes, that would mean more fighting to deal with Sunni Islamic radical attempts to impose a religious dictatorship. Meanwhile, the Islamic terror groups are useful, in a grim way, because they have increasingly used terror tactics on pro-Assad civilians, in some cases killing entire families.

Many American counter-terrorism experts believe that Syria will become a major terrorist threat as long as it is a magnet for Islamic terrorists from all over the world and, that, even if the Islamic radicals are not able to seize control of Syria once the Assad government falls, they will probably have part of the country and will be using that as a base for further attacks. Most of the neighbors (Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon) are already experiencing problems from Islamic terrorist groups in Syria. They expect this to get worse once the Assads are defeated.  

The capture of a military airbase outside Aleppo means that the remaining troops in the city will come under even more pressure. Capturing all of Aleppo would be a major victory for the rebels, who have been fought to a standstill in the last two months by the arrival of Lebanese Hezbollah reinforcements and Shia mercenaries recruited from Iraq and other countries by Iran. That has saved the Assad forces from collapse because the army and other security forces are suffering from morale problems after more than two years of rebel attacks. Most of the Assad forces are tied down guarding Damascus and surrounding areas in central Syria, as well as the coastal area in the northwest. The rebels are dominant in the north (with the Kurds holding the northeast), the west, and the southern border areas. As recent attacks along the coast demonstrated, the rebels can get into “government controlled” areas and launch attacks. This is especially true of the Islamic radical groups, who are into suicide attacks and doing whatever it takes to win.

In Lebanon Hezbollah is under more pressure, and public criticism, from the Christian and Sunni majority because of Hezbollah actively entering the Syrian civil war on the side of the dictatorship. Syria is hated by most Lebanese because Syria considers Lebanon a “lost province” and has never been shy about letting that be known. A new Syrian government will likely be friendlier towards Lebanon (if only because most Lebanese favor the rebels) and Hezbollah is seen as acting like a traitor to Lebanese independence by supporting the Syrian government. Christian leaders have usually been discreet in their public criticism of Hezbollah because that pro-Iranian organization has assassinated several outspoken Christian leaders. But now the public criticism is being heard again and Hezbollah leaders are the ones that are feeling fear.

On the Israeli border Israeli troops have noted less activity from the other side. The rebels appear to control most of the border and are not usually hostile to Israelis. This is largely due to Israeli pledges to respond with lots of force if there is any cross-border violence. On the Lebanese border Hezbollah gunmen have made it much more difficult to get weapons and other supplies into Syria for rebels close to the frontier.

August 6, 2013: In the capital a car bomb went off in a pro-Assad neighborhood, killing 18 and wounding 56. Most of the victims were Christians or Druze. This bomb hit about an hour after one (or perhaps two) large missiles hit a Palestinian refugee neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital. While the Assads have been good to the Palestinians over the decades, many of the younger Palestinians in Syria back the rebels and that has led to fighting in Palestinian neighborhoods.

For the second time in a week Jordanian police have arrested Syrians trying to smuggle weapons into Jordan. This shipment contained anti-tank missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and assault rifles and was believed to be for Islamic radicals in Jordan who want to overthrow the monarchy (as they have been doing for decades). Five men were arrested when the weapons were seized. Jordan has allowed U.S. and Arab Gulf State weapons to be smuggled from Jordan into Syria and fears that some of these weapons are ending up with Islamic radical rebel groups that sell some of them to Islamic radicals inside Jordan.

Nearly two million Syrian refugees are living outside the country in UN camps. The UN is losing control of these camps as criminal gangs and Islamic radical groups are more active among the refugees. The gangsters steal foreign aid supplies and attack women while the Islamic radicals recruit teenagers for combat and terrorism. Organizing some kind of police force has been difficult, as it usually is in these (all-too-common) refugee camp situations.

August 5, 2013: In the north, outside Aleppo, rebels captured Minnig military airport after more than six months of effort. The airport has not been used for months because of rebel fire, but the government kept sending in more troops to try and hold it. This was because the airport sits astride a road from Turkey to Aleppo and blocked a rebel supply route. That is no longer the case.                              

August 4, 2013: Two Islamic radical militia groups launched an unexpected attack near the coast, deep in Alawite territory. The rebels claim to have killed over 200 armed Alawites in the first two days of the operation while admitting to losing 60 of their own. This attack quickly captured six villages but within two days government forces arrived and recaptured two of the villages. Even if the rebels are chased away in the next week, this attack has been very bad for Alawite morale, as the coastal area is mostly Alawites and has seen very little rebel activity. Now the government will be forced to send hundreds (at least) of troops to the area to provide security and organize (and arm) more local militias. The rebels say they want to capture the home village of the Assad clan, where dynasty founder and father of Hafez Assad is buried. The government cannot allow that to happen.  

August 3, 2013: A Syrian warplane bombed a refugee camp in Lebanon (the Bekaa Valley), killing at least nine civilians. There are 600,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the camps are often bases for rebel fighters.

North of Damascus rebels captured a small military base containing quite a few weapons (French-made Milan anti-tank missiles and similar Russian Konkurs missiles, as well as unguided 122mm rockets and small arms).

August 2, 2013: In the northeast Kurdish militiamen continue to battle Islamic terrorist groups. Most of these battles are with Islamic terrorists from Iraq, where armed hostility towards Kurds goes back a long way. The Islamic terrorists have taken to kidnapping Kurdish civilians.

August 1, 2013: In the central Syrian city of Homs rebel rockets hit an army position and ignited a large ammunition supply. The series of explosions that followed left over 40 dead. The army has been fighting to take Homs for over a year and in the last month has been reinforced by a “foreign legion” (of Iran sponsored volunteers from Lebanon and Iraq). Government forces have destroyed nearly 70 percent of the city and driven the rebels back. The city has been surrounded for over a year but the army cordon was not impenetrable. Every night, and even occasionally during the day, supplies were smuggled into the city and people (often wounded) were gotten out. The army sometimes detected these efforts and attacked the smugglers.

July 31, 2013: U.S. intelligence officials believe that the July 5th Israeli air strike on the Syrian naval base at Latakia failed to destroy all the anti-ship missiles stored there. Some of those missiles had been moved before the Israeli attack. The Israeli attack was on a warehouse holding new anti-ship missiles recently received from Russia. These high-speed P-800/Yakhont missiles have a range of about 300 kilometers and a 200 kg (440 pound) warhead. Israel responded with this attack and an accelerated installation of new Barak 8 anti-aircraft/anti-missile systems and their three 1,075 ton Saar 5 class corvettes (a prime target for the Yakhont). Israel has indicated that these attacks will continue, despite opposition from the United States.

July 30, 2013: Syrian Islamic terrorists released a video on the Internet urging Islamic terrorists in Dagestan to remain where they are, instead of trying to come to Syria to fight alongside other Islamic terrorists against the pro-Russian Assad dictatorship. The Syrian Islamic radicals point out that the fight against Russia in Russia is very important and Islamic terrorists from the Caucasus are the most active in that struggle. Exactly why this appeal was made is unclear. It may be the result of the Islamic terrorist force in the Caucasus being greatly weakened by those going to Syria.

 

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