The UN has warned the Syrian government to halt the violence or risk civil war. Actually, there already is a civil war, with thousands of army deserters organized into small guerilla groups all over the country. The desertions continue and it's only a matter of time before rebel and government forces are fighting it out on an equal basis. Already, rebel troops are holding towns and villages against repeated army assaults. Most of these are near the Lebanese or Turkish border. Syria admits that over 2,000 troops and police have been killed during the ten months of unrest. Defecting army officers report that desertions are growing, despite increasingly strict measures to prevent them. One defecting general claimed that over 20,000 soldiers had deserted so far. While many of these men just go home, or flee the country, up to half of them immediately or eventually join resistance groups. Defecting officers and officials also report that the Assad government appears determined to fight until someone prevails. It's a death match.
The desertions have reduced army strength to about 280,000. Most units are not allowed off their bases anymore, because of fear of desertions. Most troops, as with most deserters and most Syrians, are Sunni Arabs. A small Shia minority has run the country for decades, and is much hated because of this corrupt and violent rule. The government is increasingly dependent on a few largely Shia (or non-Sunni) units, along with secret police, some paramilitary militias and foreigners (Lebanese and Iranians) to do the nasty work (killing and terrorizing civilians). But the word has gotten around (thanks to cell phones and the Internet) that the government has fewer reliable units to do the killing. This makes the government terror tactics much less effective. Meanwhile, the armed rebels are becoming bolder in their attacks. Instead of just defending towns and villages, and ambushing troops and police, the rebels are also firing rockets and long-range machine-gun fire at military bases. One indicator of the growth of armed resistance is the price of weapons on the black market. Those prices have doubled in the last year, and smugglers, especially from Lebanon, are sneaking as much stuff as they can into Syria.
The Syrian opposition is having a hard time forming a united front. Disputes between religious and secular groups are the major obstacle. The religious groups want religious law, and possibly (according to the more conservative groups) a religious dictatorship for the post Assad government. The secular groups, who are a majority, want nothing to do with that.
The Syrian government has lied, to the Arab League and the world, about the violence against its people. Syrian officials blame "outsiders" for all the violence. The usual suspects, Israel and the CIA, are invoked. While this encourages government supporters (less than 20 percent of the population), it increasingly enrages the rest of the world. The dictatorship of Basher Assad seems to have decided to fight through the opposition, betting on the inability of the UN or Arab League to organize and use military intervention. Assad and his followers also believe that they can eventually beat the Syrian opposition into submission. Assad and his people are making a big bet, because if they are wrong many of them will die, as well as losing their wealth and powerful jobs. The Arab League will hold a meeting on the 21st to determine if their policy towards Syria should change.
More government officials are defecting, including senior military and intelligence officers. Turkey has made it easy to do this by providing sanctuary for Syrian defectors and refugees. Iraq and Lebanon are less welcoming because of Iranian influence. The Shia Hezbollah army in Lebanon is subsidized by Iran and controls most of the Lebanese border with Syria. Iraq is controlled by a Shia government that is nervous about what a Sunni government in Syria would do. While both Syria and Iraq are Arab nations, Syria is largely Sunni and Iraq largely Shia. There has been tension, and often war, between Shia and Sunni for over a thousand years. But many Iraqi Shia are not fond of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and his branch of the Baath Party. Syria gave sanctuary to Iraqi Sunni terrorists after Saddam Hussein (and his branch of the Baath Party) were deposed in 2003. Thus the situation is, as they saying goes, "complicated."
More Hezbollah (Lebanese Shia fighters) have been reported inside Syria, where they are attacking anti-government civilians. Russia has been delivering weapons via ship and Iran has been trucking weapons and ammo in via Turkey. But the Turks have begun inspecting Iranian trucks headed for Syria, and seizing those carrying military supplies. Defecting government and army officials confirm that much aid, including cash, is coming from Iran.
Israel is preparing to handle large numbers of Syrian refugees who might force their way across the border. Israel believes that the government violence against protestors might reach a level where many Syrians will flee the country any way they can.
January 15, 2012: The government renewed its pledge to work with the Arab League, despite having openly and obviously lied to Arab League officials and deceived Arab League observers (sent to Syria on the Syrian pledge that violence against civilians would stop and the observers would confirm it). The government will continue to lie to the UN and Arab League because that kind of blowing smoke has worked in the past. The UN cannot get approval for military intervention, because Russia refuses to let down its old ally, and major arms customer, the Assad family. The Arab League is also divided on whether it's a good idea to apply the "Libyan Solution" to Syria. Too many other Arab League members (especially Algeria) might be eligible for the Libyan Solution down the road.
January 11, 2012: Arab satellite media outlets, like al Jazeera, revealed that two satellite jamming stations in Iran are jamming Arab satellite news signals in Iran. The government there does not want its people to see the success of the opposition in Syria and be encouraged to do the same.
January 10, 2012: President Basher al Assad gave a speech via TV and radio in which he accused foreign enemies of causing all the violence that has occurred during the last ten months. This was apparently mostly for his followers because few outside, or inside, Syria believe this.
January 9, 2012: The Arab League agreed to enlarge its observer force (of 165) in Syria. This was denounced by anti-government groups in Syria. A growing number of observers are agreeing with that. They are leaving the observer force, and Syria.
January 8, 2012: Russian warships arrived at the Syrian port of Tartus for a six day visit.
January 6, 2012: For the third time in less than a month, a large bomb went off in the capital, killing at least 30. Most of the victims were soldiers. No one took credit for this attack, and opposition groups accused the government of staging these bomb attacks so they could make the opposition look bad and rally government supporters.