February 21, 2012: The government refuses to use its ultimate weapon - massive retaliation. In 1982, faced with a smaller uprising, the father of the current Syrian dictator ordered the town of Hama leveled, killing over 10,000 people and eliminating the main stronghold of the rebels. This, plus massive arrests and the threat of more pro-rebel towns being destroyed ended the rebellion. This time it's different. The rebellion is more widespread while the Internet and cell phones keep the world aware of every government atrocity. This time, the opposition represents the majority of Syrians, who believe time is on their side. But the Assad family dictatorship is not willing to give up easily. Depravity and delusion keep the Assads going, plus the fear of what they will lose if the rebels win. Decades of exploitation and oppression by the Assads and their allies (mainly Alawites and other minorities) has caused bad feelings that, so far, the rebels have kept in check. But the Assads portray the rebels as lusting for bloody revenge. Even without that, the prospect of huge financial loss and prosecution (for war crimes or just massive theft and corruption) is enough to keep the Assad coalition together. But there appears to be a fear that, if the security forces were ordered to dial up the violence to 1982 levels, the Assads would lose some of their allies and encourage the rebels in general and foreigners to intervene.
Secret police, accompanied by large numbers of infantry, are entering rebel neighborhoods in Damascus, Hama, and Homs and searching for weapons and rebel leaders. The government has brought out thousands of civilian volunteers and put them on the payroll as informants. Groups of these men can often be seen in pro-rebel neighborhoods, observing and taking notes. Meanwhile, outside cities like Homs, the government appears to be preparing to move large numbers of infantry and armored vehicles into rebel held neighbors and fight for control.
Even with this restraint the government has increased its use of lethal force on unarmed civilians. Nearly a thousand people have died in the last week and after 11 months of protests nearly 7,000 have been killed (most in the last four months). The government does not want pictures of large numbers of bodies in one place showing up. Police and army commanders have been ordered to make sure that does not happen. Most of the casualties are occurring in the rebel held city of Homs, which is surrounded by troops and increasingly the target for mortar, tank, and artillery fire. The shells land in residential neighborhoods, causing more casualties every day. The city normally has a population of a million but many have fled because of the shelling and the fact that for the last few weeks no food has been allowed in.
China has pulled back from its unconditional support for the government and Russia is calling for a "peaceful solution." But all the Assads offer are vague assurances of a new constitution and reforms that leave the Assads in power. Meanwhile, the longer this standoff between government and rebels continues the more civilians are killed and the more foreign powers are encouraged to intervene. This is already in the works, with the Arab League meeting on the 24th to discuss how far they are willing to go. Arab League officials have been meeting with leaders of the Syrian opposition and are bombarded daily with grim videos coming out of Syria. Russia and China are taking a lot of heat for their cynical use of their veto power to block any strong UN action against Syria. That is now seen as a green light for nations to proceed without UN approval and the UN leadership is not warning anyone away from that.
The revolution is increasingly seen in Damascus, the capital and home to many Assad supporters. In addition to more anti-government demonstrations, armed rebels have been seen moving around openly in some neighborhoods. Other armed rebels are moving more discreetly in pro-government areas and killing government officials.
Although Turkey has provided sanctuary for Syrian rebels, it's now been revealed that Syria has managed to bribe Turkish security officials to cooperate in monitoring, or even returning, rebel leaders. This revelation has become a major scandal in Turkey and suddenly it's not so easy to take a Syrian bribe.
The U.S. is concerned that al Qaeda is operating in Syria. It's true that Iraqi Sunni Arabs have been entering Syria to join the fighting, and some of these men probably belonged to terrorist groups in Iraq. But it's also true that Syria has suffered several incidents of terror attacks over the last five years. These were believed to be carried out by one of the many Islamic terror groups that Syria has given sanctuary to over the decades. The fighting in Iraq after 2005, brought a lot more Islamic terrorists to Syria but not all of them continued on to Iraq. Some of these guys were al Qaeda, and the al Qaeda leadership has openly backed the Syrian rebels. But keep in mind that al Qaeda trashed its reputation in Iraq during the last decade because of so many attacks on civilians. Al Qaeda may be temporarily welcomed by the Syrian rebels but as soon as the Assads are gone any popularity for Islamic terrorists will dissipate. Many of these thugs still work for the Assads and have been sheltered by them for decades.
Iraq has increased border patrols and increased the number of checkpoints in an effort to reduce the armed Iraqis headed for Syria.
February 19, 2012: In the northwest, near the Turkish border, a judge and prosecutor were ambushed and killed by rebel gunmen.
February 18, 2012: In the northwestern city of Aleppo rebel gunmen killed a member of the city government.
The Swiss government seized a shipment of cell phone monitoring equipment headed for Syria. This gear would be used by soldiers and policemen to track individual cell phone users. The Syrian rebels rely heavily on their cell phones for communication.
February 17, 2012: An Iranian destroyer, accompanied by a supply ship, arrived in Tartus to participate in a joint training program with the Syrian Navy.
February 16, 2012: Switzerland has closed its embassy in Syria and advised all Swiss citizens to get out of Syria.