Syria: Better To Be Feared Than Loved

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October 16, 2013: The UN is having a hard time getting some rebel factions to allow UN chemical weapons destruction teams to reach bases where some of these weapons are stored. Syria appears to have 700 tons of nerve gas (sarin) and 300 tons of mustard gas (first used in World War I). Nerve gas was first used in combat during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). The Syrian chemical weapons are stored at 20 bases, including 4 manufacturing plants (at Safira, Khan Abu Shamat, Homs, and Hama) and UN inspectors have visited 5 sites so far. The UN has authorized a force of 100 chemical weapons inspectors and 60 are already in Syria. The UN plan is to destroy the production plants and chemical warheads and bombs (that have not been filled with chemicals yet) by November 1st. This will be done using tools and bulldozers to literally pull apart and smash stuff. The UN has authorized a plan that is supposed to destroy all Syrian chemical weapons within 9 months. This is theoretically possible but subject to interference by the Assad forces or even the rebels (who have some of the chemical weapons storage sites under siege). While getting rid of the chemical weapons is a good idea, it does not mean Syria will no longer have chemical weapons. The Assads know that once they defeat the rebels they can rebuild the plants that manufacture the nerve and mustard gas and rebuild their pre-rebellion stocks in a few years.

For the rebels, the destruction of these chemical weapons means fewer Syrian civilians getting killed by the Assads but it also means that the West is apparently not going to give them air support. The problem here is the Islamic radical rebel groups, who have a different agenda than most rebels. The Islamic radicals, especially the al Qaeda affiliated groups, want a religious dictatorship in Syria and are not only willing to kill to achieve that but, more importantly, are willing to die to achieve that goal. This makes the Islamic terror militias the most effective in combat. The secular (or Islamic moderate) rebels thought this would be resolved after the Assads were gone but, more and more, the Islamic radicals are clashing with the secular rebel groups right now. This only helps the Assads but the Islamic radicals are on a Mission From God and are not concerned with such technicalities.

Moslem nations are reluctant to become too aggressive against Islamic terrorist groups. Partly that’s because the religious fanaticism of these terrorists is admired by many Moslems, especially more religious Moslems. The Islamic terrorists have many supporters among Islamic clergy (who agree with the establishment of religious dictatorships in Moslem nations, as that was the original goal when Islam was founded in the 7th century). On a more practical level Moslems are reluctant to oppose Islamic radicals because these groups will kill any Moslems who openly oppose them, justifying this by declaring that their opponents are not true Moslems for not agreeing with the goals of Islamic terrorists. This sort of thing has been a problem within the Moslem world for over a thousand years and has resisted all efforts to come up with a solution.

The nearly three years of fighting has created in Syria the largest refugee situation in decades. About a third of Syria’s 22 million people have been forced from their homes and a third of those have fled the country. That means over 2 million Syrian refugees outside the country. The host countries for these external refugees are, Iraq (about 6.4 percent of the total outside Syria), Lebanon (about 35 percent), Jordan (26 percent), Turkey (23 percent), and the rest in numerous other nations in the region (like the 5.5 percent in Egypt) and farther away (Europe has a few percent).

The host countries also have problems with Islamic radicals who enter Syria via nations bordering Syria. At the moment these Islamic radicals tend to behave as they move through the host country, but these men adhere to a cause that considers the governments of all Syria’s neighbors illegitimate and subject to eventual attack. At the moment the host countries are not trying too hard to halt these Islamic radicals, believing that most will go to Syria and die, or fight a bit and then return home to cause mischief. The West is trying to persuade the host countries to halt Islamic radicals moving through their territory, but none of the host nations believe this is practical and would risk turning the host country into a target for Islamic terrorists. Some of the host nations are forcing the Islamic radicals to use smugglers to get into Syria. That means the Islamic radicals must pretend to be anything but Islamic radicals if they want to get past the regular border crossings (usually on the main roads and thus the quickest way into Syria). For this reason, the rebels continue to fight for control of these border crossings and the Islamic terror groups will sometimes fight secular rebels for control of these border crossings to make sure their people get in unmolested.

The suffering of so many civilians has become more of an issue for the rebels. This includes the Syrian refugees pouring into neighboring countries. There the refugees are creating a lot of problems. Despite lots of foreign aid coming in to help support these refugees, they are still an economic burden on the host country. The refugees also bring with them more crime for the locals and the presence of rebels in the refugee camps (either to visit family there or use the camps as a base).

The host countries have adopted aggressive attitudes towards any Islamic terrorists or Assad forces who attack into a host country. Turkey officially adopted this policy on October 3rd, and this sort of thing tends to make both the Islamic terrorists and the Assad forces more careful about causing accidental (or deliberate) damage across the border. The Assad forces don’t want the host nations to intervene on the side of the rebels and the Islamic terrorist groups want to take care of the Assads before they move on to overthrowing the current governments of the host nations.

Over the last week the army has managed to regain control of a key road going from central Syria to the northwest city of Aleppo. The government forces are desperate to break the rebel sieges around many military bases because eventually these troops have to surrender to avoid starvation.

The army has organized a large engineering force because any advance they undertake must be accompanied by the detection and removal of landmines and explosive traps of all sorts. With the help of Iranian advisors and mine detecting equipment, the Syrian army now has several dozen of these mine clearing units. Thousands of mercenaries provided by Iran often lead these advances, as well as providing skilled manpower for the some of the mine clearing units.

The rebels are responding to this improved offensive capability by threatening to launch more attacks in the capital. Another threat, which is unspoken, is more attacks on pro-government civilians. The government forces have long gone after civilians, which is one of the main bits of Assad misbehavior that got the war going in the first place. Now the rebels are warning that they will increasingly avenge pro-rebel civilians killed by Assad forces by killing pro-government civilians and troops from any army or police units believed to be going after civilians. The Assads are not as concerned about civilian losses, as they never were. That’s how a dictator stays in power. “Better to be feared than loved” and all that. The war in Syria is a war against state-sponsored terrorism (the Assad dictatorship) and the religious variety (Islamic radicals, both Sunni and Shia).

The newly formed (in the last month) AOS (Army of Islam) organization now has at least fifty Islamic radical or terrorist groups as members. Less than 15 percent of rebel fighters belong to AOS. There are increasing incidents of AOS and more moderate rebels fighting each other instead of the Assad forces.

October 14, 2013: The main Syrian rebel group, the SNC (Syrian National Coalition) has refused an invitation by the United States and Russia to attend peace talks. Many individual groups in the SNC do not want to negotiate with the Assad government, while the Assad forces are killing Syrians and chasing them out of their homes and out of the country. Many rebels do not believe that Assad will negotiate seriously. For many Syrians the Assads cannot be trusted. The Iranians also refuse to participate in any peace talks.

October 13, 2013: In Damascus two car bombs went off (within minutes of each other) outside the headquarters of the state run TV network. Both were heard on air and the station stopped broadcasting for a while after the second explosion.

In the northwest (Idlib) gunmen kidnapped 7 foreign aid workers. The kidnappers were believed to be rebels and 3 of the aid workers were released within 24 hours.

October 9, 2013: One of Syria’s two refineries caught fire after being hit by rebel mortar shells. The plant was only operating at 10 percent capacity because rebels have captured most of the oil fields in western Syria.

October 6, 2013: UN chemical weapons inspectors officially began operations to confirm the location of Syrian chemical weapons and supervise destruction.

October 5, 2013: A record number (13,000) of Syrian refugees entered Lebanon in the last week. 

 

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