The civil war that began in 2011 has now killed about 200,000. Over three million have fled the country and at least as many fled their homes and took refuge elsewhere in Syria. Until recently most of the media criticism for all the carnage was directed at the Syrian government. The UN and most world governments were especially critical of Syria for their use of chemical weapons in 2013 but since then the rebels, particularly ISIL, have been getting most of the public criticism for atrocities.
In the Mediterranean an American ship completed the destruction of Syria’s most dangerous chemical weapons (mainly nerve gas). Earlier this year UN chemical weapons inspectors found that Syrian chemical weapons used in the well-publicized August 21st 2013 attack that killed over 1,400 civilians were also used four other times between March and August in smaller scale attacks. This led to a Russian brokered deal to have Syria surrender all its chemical weapons and be spared NATO air attacks. Using a special American “chemical weapons neutralization” ship plus similar facilities on land in Finland, Britain and the United States, nearly all of the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile has been destroyed. By the end of the year all these weapons should be neutralized (reduced to harmless, or much less harmful chemical components).
Al Nusra (the largely Syrian Islamic terrorist rebels) and ISIL
(the largely Iraqi Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant)
continue to fight each other but increasingly al Nusra and ISIL are cooperating against Syrian troops.
ISIL has established a road connection between Anbar and Syria, where it controls Raqqa, the largest city in eastern Syria and the only provincial capital to be captured by the rebels. The revived (by Iranian Shia mercenaries recruited in Lebanon and Iraq) Syrian government is still a formidable foe for the rebels and continues to attack ISIL controlled Sunni eastern areas. Both Iraq and Syria are now at war with the new ISIL caliphate (religious dictatorship out of eastern Syria and western Iraq). This is a largely desert and thinly populated region but is largely safe from air attack and foreign interference.
Al Nusra and FSA (the largely secular Free Syrian Army) units are no longer the allies they once were. The coalition the two long maintained has come apart under ISIL pressure. FSA has always been the principal target of ISIL, with al Nusra a secondary target. Over a year of hostility between all Islamic terrorist rebel groups has evolved into an ISIL dominated coalition that includes many groups that used to profess allegiance to al Nusra or FSA. ISIL made these men an offer they couldn’t refuse; work with us or we will kill you. It’s the same old story; every Islamic terrorist group believes its way is the true way. When you are on a Mission From God you tend to believe that your way is the only way. This splintering is old news among Islamic radical groups and ISIL found a way around it by pointing out that they, FSA and al Nusra all had their differences but that they all wanted to destroy the Assads and their Shia led coalition that had ruled Syria for decades. In effect, ISIL agreed to ignore religious differences with FSA and al Nusra until the Assads were destroyed. After that, well, in this part of the world its one damn thing after another.
With this compromise (aided by a convincing ISIL threat to kill those who refuse) there is now a greater degree of unity among the 100,000 or so armed rebels in Syria. At this point over half of these men are firmly under ISIL control. The previous infighting among the rebels had greatly weakened their combat capability. The fact that there are up to a thousand different rebel groups does not help either. For much of 2014 many rebel groups, in particular the FSA suffered growing desertions and more difficulty in recruiting. Until recently more rebels were dying each week at the hands of other rebels than in fighting with government forces. The government has over 300,000 troops and militiamen and their forces are much more disciplined and united. Assad and Iranian officials increasingly speak openly of eventual victory and this is no longer a fantasy. Now the rebels have formed a new ISIL led coalition to oppose Iran and the hated Shia.
Outside the capital (Damascus) the army continues to clear rebels out of the many neighborhoods they have been active in for the last three years. ISIL had not shown much presence here until recently. But now al Nusra, FSA and ISIL rebels are cooperating to make terror attacks in Damascus and resist government efforts to clear rebels out of the suburbs. In the north the new FSA/Nusra/ISIL coalition means more resistance to government attempts to retake the city. There are also more attacks on historical sites ISIL considers heretical. Many Syrians oppose the destruction of these shrines and historical monuments, but the coalition means there is not much armed opposition to this destruction anymore.
Not all al Nusra and FSA units have gone along with the ISIL coalition and some of these have offered to assist the United States in carrying out air strikes in Syria against the Assads or ISIL. The U.S. recently began intensive air reconnaissance over Syria and this is usually a prelude to air strikes against ISIL. Since 2011 American spy satellites have spent a lot of time watching Syria, but the aircraft (especially UAVs) gather a lot more information, enough to plan and carry out air strikes on ISIL and their allies. The U.S. has admitted that is considering such air strikes and made it clear it would not coordinate them with the Syrian government. Al Nusra or FSA were not mentioned.
In the east (Deir Ezzor province) ISIL continues to sell oil from captured oil fields in the area. The sale is handled by Iraqi and Turkish brokers. This is done at a high (over 70 percent) discount because the oil can be identified as Syrian (via chemical analysis) and the brokers must be careful who they sell it to. Moreover, the oil must be moved out of Syria by truck which is more expensive than the Syrian pipeline which goes to a port on the Syrian coast. Since the current world price of oil is over a hundred dollars a barrel ISIL can still clear over $15,000 per truckload. ISIL is believed to be earning a million dollars or more a day from this oil trade.
On the Lebanese border al Nusra continues battling Hezbollah movement of men into Syria as well as Hezbollah operations on the Syrian side of the border. Now al Nusra is being joined by some ISIL units and Hezbollah has responded by calling on all Lebanese to help stop ISIL from getting into Lebanon. This is an exaggeration but Hezbollah has long demonstrated real skill as exploiting the media and the recent universal condemnation of ISIL brutality resonates with Christian and Sunni Lebanese. These two groups may help Hezbollah defend the border but fighting inside Syria will continue to be mostly Lebanese Shia working for Hezbollah (and a few Syrian Lebanese who joined Syrian Islamic terrorist groups.)
Turkey and the European nations have stopped months of feuding over who is responsible for preventing European Moslems from illegally (according to European laws) going to Syria to fight (usually for Islamic terrorist rebels) and agreed to cooperate. The main cause of the dispute was the Turkish practice, after the Syrian rebellion began in 2011, to allow anyone seeking to cross to join the rebels to do so. Western nations, unlike Islamic ones, did not believe that supporting Islamic terrorists, even if they were fighting for the Syrian rebels, was a wise move. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Arab Gulf states disagreed and the Arabs armed and financed the Islamic terrorist rebels while Turkey looked the other way as young Moslem men travelled via Turkey to reach the Islamic terrorist rebels in Syria and took refuge in Turkey when they needed it. Now Turkey has changed its policy and carefully screens all those seeking to enter Syria. This may not be necessary at some border crossings because ISIL is moving towards the Turkish border and any border crossing ISIL captures the Turks will close.
ISIL now faces a foreign coalition containing many powerful Moslem nations, particularly Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In the Middle East Islamic radicalism, and its murderous offspring Islamic terrorists, comes in many different flavors. Most are mutually antagonistic and will often kill each other as eagerly as they go after kaffirs (non-Moslems.) Nearly all these radical movements now condemn
(al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria) and condemn ISIL for being too extreme. To the West these seems absurd, and many Moslems agree. But radical Islam is what Islam began as and to this day there are always Moslems who embrace the concept of extreme Islamic radicalism and Islamic terrorism as being the ultimate form of Islam. Thus while Saudi Arabia bans all other religions in its territories and regularly beheads people accused of sorcery and other religious offenses, the Saudis condemn ISIL. One reason for this is that ISIL considers the Saudi government weak and not Islamic enough and worthy of being replaced (after a righteous bloodbath of the current Saudi royal family) by someone more suitable (like ISIL). Al Qaeda also condemns ISIL, initially for not ignoring al Qaeda orders to tone down the barbaric treatment (mass murder and torture) of the enemy. Iran condemns ISIL because all Shia (meaning all Iranians) are heretics to ISIL and deserving of summary execution. Iran-backed Hezbollah is now using that ISIL threat to justify Hezbollah grabbing more power in Lebanon, where Shia are a third of the population but far more powerful politically because Iranian cash, weapons and training have made Hezbollah too strong for the elected Lebanese government to suppress or even oppose. In Syria, the minority (more Shia) Assad government, fighting a Sunni rebellion since 2011, now calls on their current Sunni enemies (Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arabs, plus the Sunni majority in Syria) to join with them in destroying ISIL. Whatever else ISIL has done it has united many other Sunni factions and the Shia in the region into an uneasy anti-ISIL coalition. But even after ISIL is gone, Islamic radicalism will still be there. For most Moslems this radicalism is like the weather; every Moslem talks about but Moslems cannot seem to do anything to eliminate or even control it.
September 3, 2014: In the east (Deir Ezzor province) stopped a bus and after determining that the passengers were from a tribe hostile to ISIL, killed all fifteen passengers.
September 2, 2014: ISIL released a second video showing one of their men beheading a captured (in 2013) American journalist. ISIL demanded that the U.S. halt its air attacks in Iraq or more hostages would die. The next one would apparently be a British man and Britain replied that it, like the United States, would not be intimidated by such barbaric behavior. ISIL still considers these killings a victory because they show the world how badass ISIL is and that encourages donations and new recruits from Moslems partial to Islamic terrorism. This is a minority (at least ten percent) of Moslems but with 1.5 billion Moslems out there, that’s still a lot of supporters.
September 1, 2014: On the Lebanese border al Nusra released five Lebanese soldiers it had captured during a cross border raid in August. Earlier al Nusra threatened to kill the soldiers if Lebanon did not stop Hezbollah from operating in Syria. Someone apparently explained to al Nusra how politics works in Lebanon and how Hezbollah pretty much does what it wants. Now al Nusra wants to improve relations with the Lebanese military who are more frequently seen on the border. The Lebanese soldiers tend to stay on their side of the border while Hezbollah maintains thousands of fighters inside Syria aiding the Assad forces.
In the last two days the Syrian Air Force carried out dozens of bombing missions, mainly against targets around Damascus and Aleppo. Syrian warplanes and helicopters are in the air daily, but several times a month the air force carries out a “surge” of dozens, or even over a hundred attacks.
August 31, 2014: Near the Israeli border forty peacekeepers from the Philippines escaped capture by al Nusra gunmen and made it into Israel. The UN has 1,223 peacekeepers (Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines) monitoring the Syrian/Israeli border. The UN troops have been there since 1974 to monitor a ceasefire between Israel and Syria. Israel defeated Syria in 1967 and took the Golan Heights from Syria. In 1973 Israel defeated a strong effort by Syria to regain the Golan Heights. Since then the UN has watched over an uneasy peace.
An Israeli Patriot anti-aircraft missile shot down what appeared to be a Syrian Army UAV that was probably checking out rebel (al Nusra) activity along the border and strayed into Israel. Since this could have been an Iranian made UAV used by Hezbollah (who have threatened to equip some of these UAVs with explosives for attacks in Israel) the Israelis have orders to shoot first and investigate later. Later in the day a mortar shell fired from Syria landed on the Israeli side, causing no damage. There was also some gunfire from the Syrian side, directed at some reporters and UN peacekeepers in Israel. There were no injuries and al Nusra later admitted it was their men who were responsible. Al Nusra has taken control of two border crossings in the last few weeks and does not want war with Israel. Most of the mortar and gunfire hitting Israel from Syria is believed to be an accidental side effect of fighting between al Nusra and Syrian troops.
August 30, 2014: Two mortar shells fired from Syria landed on the Israeli side of the border, causing no damage.
August 28, 2014: Near the Israeli border 44 peacekeepers from Fiji were surrounded by al Nusra rebels.
August 27, 2014: A mortar shell fired from Syria landed on the Israeli side of the border, wounding an Israeli civilian. Earlier in the day gunfire from the Syrian side wounded an Israeli soldier. Israel always fires back when these cross-border incidents occur. This time Israel also reinforced the area around a Syrian border crossing that was captured by al Nusra. That, in effect, closes that border crossing.
August 24, 2014: In the northeast (Raqqa province) ISIL captured the Tabqa airbase after five days of heavy fighting that left nearly 400 Islamic terrorists and nearly as many defenders dead. ISIL then publically executed 250 Syrian soldiers they captured. Videos of the executions were posted on the Internet and this caused a stir among Assad supporters who wanted to know how the well defended air base could have been allowed to fall. Tabqa was the last government controlled military base in Raqqa province. Tabqa was captured with what appears to be over a dozen intact helicopters and aircraft. In June ISIL had captured some SCUD ballistic missiles elsewhere in Raqqa. It is not known if ISIL has anyone who can operate any of the aircraft or weapons or if the weapons were indeed operational when captured.
August 21, 2014: In the east (Deir Ezzor province) ISIL continues to fight Shueitat tribe, which had rebelled against ISIL rule in July. So far over 700 members of the tribe have been killed, some by beheading or worse. The local tribesmen were not happy with ISIL efforts to force a strict Islamic lifestyle on them. Also unpopular was the ISIL attitude that anything the Islamic terrorists did was above reproach. That resulted in a July edict that anyone who said (in person or via the media or Internet) anything hostile to ISIL would be severely punished. At first there were some executions of prominent critics, including five who were crucified and many more who were beheaded. In late July this led to several battles in villages as the tribesmen fought ISIL and initially won. At first ISIL leaders sought to negotiate the problem but that did not work out to the satisfaction of ISIL. So in the last few weeks ISIL tried force and killed enough tribesmen to obtain a surrender and promise of subservience, for now, from most of the unhappy tribesmen. Some tribesmen continue to resist.
August 20, 2014: The U.S. government has banned American airlines from flying their aircraft over Syria (which many airlines do, at high altitude, because other routes are much more expensive in terms of time and fuel).
August 19, 2014: ISIL released a video showing one of their men beheading a captured (in 2012) American journalist. ISIL demanded that the U.S. halt its air attacks in Iraq or more hostages would die. The next one would apparently be an American journalist captured in 2013. ISIL is also believed to be holding an American aid worker as well. After this video was released the U.S. revealed that it had carried out a raid into Syria several months previously to rescue the three Americans held by ISIL. Dozens of ISIL fighters were killed but the Americans were not there. It was later discovered that ISIL agents in Turkey had found out about many Syrian refugees in Turkey being asked about the captured Americans. This prompted ISIL to move the three several days before the American raid.
August 18, 2014: Over the weekend the Syrian Air Force carried out more than a hundred bombing missions, mainly against targets around Damascus and Aleppo as well as in the northeast (Raqqa province).