January 28, 2013: Iran has declared that any country that attacks Syria is attacking Iran. That is an unusually frank admission of the relationship between Iran and Syria, but it will not have much impact. Iran has been at war with the rest of the world for decades. Because the Iranian military never recovered from its disastrous 1980s war with Iraq, Iran has used Islamic terrorism as their primary weapon. Their threat to fight would, at worst, mean fewer restraints on Iranian sponsored Islamic terrorists. But others can fight this way. The Sunni Arabs in the region are increasingly at war with Iran and don’t want open warfare. As weak as conventional Iranian forces are, the Iranians have been defeating Arabs for thousands of years and are currently calling for Shia (Iranian) control of the Moslem holy places in Saudi Arabia. This has caused a growing unofficial war between Iran and the Gulf Arabs. The Sunni Arabs stick it to the Iranians in more subtle ways. For example, the Sunni Arabs of western Iraq (one of the few parts of Iraq where Sunnis are the majority) have blocked the road to Jordan. This was one of the few land routes Iran could use to ship supplies to their Assad allies in Syria. Most of eastern Syria is under Sunni control and is not safe for cargo from Iran. The Gulf Arabs are the main financial supporters of the Syrian rebels (who are mostly Sunni Arabs) but have been reluctant to provide advanced (bought from Western nations) weapons because of the corruption and chaos within the rebel movement might see those weapons end up in the hands of Islamic terrorists. The rebel coalition is trying to remedy this lack of trust by imposing more discipline among the many rebel factions. This has proven very difficult.
The Sunni minority in Lebanon (where they are outnumbered by Shia, Druze, and Christians) is also very supportive of the Sunni rebels in Syria. That means help in getting supplies across the border and the local al Qaeda franchise in Syria (Al Nusra Front) has sent dozens (at least) of fighters to Syria. This is in contrast to the Iran backed Hezbollah militia (which controls southern Lebanon) which has sent hundreds of fighters to support the Syrian government.
Russia announced that the Assad government’s refusal to even attempt reforms is probably a fatal mistake. This is another step closer to Russia saying their Assad ally is doomed. The Syrian government and rebels agree on one thing: that reforms won’t settle anything. The rebels insist that the Assads have to go and the Assads make it clear that their objective is victory or death. The Assads are willing to make deals with some rebel factions (like the Kurds or Palestinians or even some Sunni groups) but not the main rebel coalition. In other words, it is very much a fight to the death.
At least a quarter of the Syrian population needs aid. This includes food, fuel, electricity, medical care, and for over a million this includes housing. The fighting has crippled the economy and is wrecking the infrastructure (roads, buildings, and so on) as well. Most of the 700,000 Syrians who have fled the country are living in tents, during uncharacteristically bad cold weather (complete with rare snow storms throughout the region). The number of Syrians in need will grow the longer the fighting continues because the economy is being hurt more and more every day the fighting continues. Over 10,000 Syrians a month are fleeing the country and aid groups are having a hard time coping.
Outside the capital the rebels are getting closer to the airport, which is being heavily used by Syrians and foreigners who fear that the rebels will soon be able to close the airport. Most of the fighting is around the cities of Aleppo (which is mostly in rebel hands), Damascus (which the government is moving more troops to because it is the capital and because the rebels keep closing roads to the capital), and Homs (in central Syria). There are still skirmishes along the borders (with Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and even Israel). The rebels are systematically driving government forces from the borders, making it easier for the rebels to get supplies and more difficult for the government to smuggle stuff in. The Assad government is under several sanctions that block a lot of inports. Over 60,000 have died in 22 months of escalating violence. Up to 3,000 a month are dying, most of them civilians. Many more are wounded and the government forces continue to suffer defection and desertion losses. The rebels also have a problem with men quitting to take care of families or simply because of combat stress. Some pundits describe it as a stalemate but the Assads are dead men walking. The Assads can delay defeat, they cannot avoid it. Defeat is not a matter of “if” but “when”.
In most of the country government officials are either gone or have joined the rebels. Rebel efforts to establish a new government are being thwarted by various Islamic radical groups who insist on imposing sharia (Islamic) law. This is opposed by most Syrians and the Islamic radicals threaten violence if they don’t get their way. So far there have been some confrontations but not many violent ones. The trend is clear and eventually the Islamic radical groups will use force to carry out God’s Will.
More members of the Assad family are fleeing the country. The president’s mother and sister are known to have fled recently and many other women and children of the Assad clan are being sent abroad. Syrian unity is also leaving the country. The Kurds in the northeast, who never got along with the Assad government or Arabs in general, have become independent and many want to stay that way after the rebellion is over. Joining the autonomous Kurds of northern Iraq is a nightmare for most Turks, Syrians, and Iranians. A half million Palestinians may find themselves without a home in Syria after the rebellion and several hundred thousand Alawites in the east (along the short Syrian seacoast) are also making separatist noises. All this is in addition to the battles between pro-democracy and pro-religious dictatorship (the Islamic radicals) groups in the rest of Syria.
January 27, 2013: Israel repeated its threat to use air attacks against Syrian chemical weapons storage sites if there is any sign that these weapons are being turned over to terrorist groups (including the Lebanese Hezbollah). The U.S. has made a similar threat in the past, but the Israelis are more intense about this because they have long been the potential primary target for Syrian chemical weapons.
January 26, 2013: In Turkey the first NATO Patriot missile battery (from Holland) on the Syrian border entered service. The Patriots are not there so much to stop Syrian air attacks but to protect about four million Turks within range of Syrian ballistic missiles (SCUDs and the like). Some Turkish nationalists have demonstrated against the foreign troops “defending Turkey” but most Turks appreciate the effort. The Netherlands, Germany, and the United States are each sending two batteries to cover the Syrian border.
January 25, 2013: In the northern city of Ibib rebels seized a prison, released 300 prisoners (most of them rebels), and found 30 others who had been executed by the guards before they fled.
January 24, 2013: The government has formed a militia force, mainly composed of Shia, called the National Defense Army. The government has increasingly been depending on loyalist militias to keep rebels occupied. The armed forces are shrinking and they are desperately needed to keep the rebels from taking the major cities (Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, and so on). The Shia militias were mainly organized for self-defense but if the Shia town or neighborhood being defended is closed by a pro-rebel population, attacks will be made. While many militiamen are former soldiers, many are not. But the government supplies them with weapons and ammo and gives them permission to misbehave. A lot of the atrocity stories coming out of Syria involve these pro-government militias.
January 21, 2013: In Hamma a suicide car bomb killed at least 30 pro-government Shia militiamen. The Islamic radical groups are increasing their bomb attacks on pro-government civilians and militias.
January 19, 2013: Rebel and Kurdish gunmen, both defying their leadership, continued shooting at each other in Ras Ayn (a town on the Turkish border). This is happening mainly because many Kurds are trying to remain neutral and some rebel groups regard this as siding with Assad.