December 3, 2012: The government has deployed more troops and artillery in the capital (Damascus) to try and stop the rebel advance that now threaten pro-government neighborhoods and downtown (the business district and major government buildings). Meanwhile the government has lost its last base between Aleppo and the Turkish border. Troops continue to retreat from all borders, making it easier for the rebels to bring in weapons and other supplies (especially medical and food for civilians and fighters).
Islamic radical rebels, including some who claim links with al Qaeda, are doing a disproportionate amount of the ground fighting and suffering most of the casualties. More importantly, the Islamic radicals are able to carry out suicide bombings, usually using cars or trucks, inside government controlled areas. There are not many of these bombings, but each one gets a lot of media attention and further demoralizes government supporters. The Islamic radical groups coordinate their operations with the more numerous non-radical rebel groups but make everyone nervous with talk of how the Islamic extremists will take over once the government is defeated. The last thing most Syrians want is another civil war with Islamic terrorists after this one is over against the Assads. But that is what is developing, and the Islamic radicals have this sense of destiny and certainty that does not tolerate debate. The more moderate Syrian National Coalition (SNC) that represents most of the opposition groups is now discussing allowing a UN peacekeeper force in after the Assads are overthrown. That would give the SNC more muscle against an Islamic terrorist effort to take control of post-Assad Syria. The SNC is also concerned about how many of those Islamic terrorist gunmen are from outside the country. The largest foreign contingent is from Iraq, where the Sunni Arab minority has been fighting (without much success) ever since Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003. Syria is a majority of Sunni, but the Syrian and Iraqi Sunnis have never gotten along, at least over the past thousand years or so. There are also Lebanese Sunni fighters coming in, and some of them are Islamic radicals. But these are less of a problem than the Iraqis and other Sunni gunmen from Arabia.
Rebels now claim that army defectors, armed with army Russian made SA-16 surface-to-air missiles, downed Syrian aircraft on November 27th and 28th. It has been assumed that such missiles were supplied by Arab Gulf states that have admitted supplying weapons (but never give specifics). But the rebels are now capturing more weapons from the Syrian military, by overrunning bases. The rebels say they are using rebels, who used to be soldiers trained to use these missiles, to instruct other rebels on how to use these missiles to shoot down helicopters and other aircraft.
Iraq continues to allow Iran to fly weapons and military personnel into Syria via Iraq. Two months ago Iraq gave in to foreign pressure (especially from the United States) and agreed to inspect all Iranian aircraft passing through Iraq on their way to Syria and check for weapons. Iran protested but agreed. The problem was who guarantees the effectiveness of the Iraqi inspectors. Corruption is rampant in Iraq and bribes have been known to interfere with the eyesight of inspectors. In practice Iraq did not inspect most Iranian aircraft, and those that were forced to land for inspection were found to be clean. There is ample evidence on the ground that weapons, spare parts, and all manner of military equipment are being flown in from Syria via Iraq.
Several Arab airlines announced resumption of flights to Damascus, where the airport had been closed for three days because rebels controlled the main road from the city. Government forces have regained control of the road but the rebels are still in the area, and it is feared that if the rebels got mortars within range of the airport the next closure will last a lot longer. Many airlines have not resumed flights and are waiting to see flight operations go for those that have. There are several military air bases for Iran to use for its weapons flights.
The number of Syrians who have fled the country is now about 700,000 and with the weather getting colder, and food more scarce, the number is expected to keep increasing. The rebels feel that they will win, they just don’t know when. The government forces are demoralized and slowly falling apart. The question is when will the government forces collapse. No one is sure when but there is little doubt that the Assads will eventually fall. Help from Iran, Russia, and China has not been decisive and has caused these three countries a lot of diplomatic damage.
December 2, 2012: Lebanese troops, for the first time, exchanged fire with Syrian rebels on the border. Normally, the Lebanese border patrols and rebel fighters stay away from each other, but this time the Syrian rebels kept coming, despite signals to stay away. This may have just been a case of bad communications and mistaken identity. Then again, some Lebanese troops are Shia and support the Syrian government. Lebanon had a horrific Shia-Sunni civil war from 1975-90, and has been trying to avoid another one ever since. Iran has helped keep a new civil war a reality, by spending billions to support the Shia Hezbollah militia (which basically runs southern Lebanon).
In the central Syrian city of Homs, two car bombs went off in a wealthy neighborhood (full of government supporters) killing 15 and wounding many more.
December 1, 2012: Internet and cell phone service was restored in Syria after being shut down for two days. The government blamed the rebels but the rebels pointed out that the “off switch” was in areas controlled by the government. Apparently the government thought they would gain more than they would lose by depriving the rebels (and everyone else in Syria) of Internet and cell phone service. But after two days it became clear that there was not a decisive government advantage here. Both sides have some satellite phones but that was not enough. Chinese and Iranian security advisors probably pointed out that, with the Internet and cell phone networks down, there was less information to be collected on where the rebels were and what they were saying to each other.
In the east troops recaptured the al Omar oilfield, three days after it was seized by the rebels. Over the last month the rebels have seized, and held, most of the oil facilities in eastern Syria.
Germany has agreed to send two Patriot anti-aircraft missile batteries to Turkey and the Netherlands will send one. These are a NATO contribution to defending fellow NATO member Turkey from Syrian air raids. It will take about a week before the three batteries begin arriving in Turkey.
November 29, 2012: In the south (Daraa) a terrorist bomb killed a senior Baath Party official and three of his bodyguards. Increasingly, terrorist attacks are targeting senior government officials. Many of these men have already sent their families out of the country and, as the situation worsens for the government, more senior people are inclined to flee as well.
Outside the capital rebels shut down the main road to the airport and flight operations were halted. Inside the capital the government appeared to have ordered all Internet and cell phone service cut throughout the country.
November 28, 2012: In a pro-government neighborhood of east Damascus two car bombs went off, killing at least 34 people and wounding many more. Every time this happens more Assad supporters pack up and leave the country.
The SNC met in Egypt to try and form a transitional government but were unable to do so. The many tribes and other factions all have a different idea of who should get what and a disinclination to compromise.
November 27, 2012: For the first time the rebels downed a helicopter with an anti-aircraft missile.