February 5, 2013: The government has threatened to retaliate against Israel, using some of its SCUD missiles. This threat was mostly for show, as Israeli anti-missile systems would defeat a few missiles and a larger effort would trigger a major Israeli counterattack. The Assad military has been rendered even less able to resist an Israeli ground attack by over a year of fighting rebels. Syrian chemical weapons and ballistic missiles still remain, but use of the chemical warheads would bring retaliation from the U.S. and intervention by some other NATO states. A further complication is that both the government and the rebels agree on hatred of Israel. Since Israel was created in 1947, the Arab world has intensified its existing anti-Semitism to create a belief that everything wrong in the Arab world (poor economy, bad leaders, lack of cultural or scientific accomplishment) was the fault of the Jews. These attitudes makes no sense to Westerners (and a growing, but still small, number of Arabs) but are still core beliefs among Arabs. So both the rebels and the government condemned the Israeli air attacks, which were a propaganda gift for the government who could now accuse the rebels of working for Israel. Most Syrians hate the Assads more than the Israelis, although once the Assads are gone Israel will resume its position at the top of that list. Israel understands that and fears that Islamic radical groups will be a major part of a post-Assad government and force the adoption of a more violent anti-Israel attitude (by supporting more active terrorism operations against Israel) in Syria. Many in the West have come to consider anti-Israeli terrorism as acceptable (as righteous resistance to Israeli oppression of the Palestinians and other Arabs). Most Western counter-terror organizations know better but in places like Europe it’s become more acceptable to hate Israel and support those that do that with terrorism.
The bad weather (record cold and snow), supply shortages, and combat fatigue have led to many informal truces between rebels and government troops. This has been aided by the government program of arming and equipping Alawite and other pro-government minority populations. These militias have been more resolute in defending their towns and villages. The army is still suffering from desertion and poor morale, especially when troops hear that their families are now living in rebel controlled areas. This trend has encouraged the government, which is still facing gradual destruction. The government is running out of money and losing more territory every day. Rebels are still advancing around Aleppo and still holding parts of Damascus.
The government and the rebels are allowing the UN to restore some essential services (like water and food supplies) in heavily fought over areas in the north and Central Syria. About half the population is now suffering from the side-effects of the fighting, which includes loss of utilities (water, sewage, electricity) and essential supplies (food and medical). There are also over 100,000 pro-rebel prisoners in government prison camps and jails. These captives are not being treated well and many are in danger of dying.
The rebels have begun restoring government in some areas. This is happening despite the inability of many rebel factions (especially Islamic radicals and others) to cooperate with each other. The rebels generally cooperate to get food and other supplies to civilians but are now setting up police services, jails, and courts. Despite this, more and more Syrians are trying to get out of the country. There are over 700,000 refugees in neighboring countries. Most of them are living in tents, but at least have access to food, water and medical attention. In the next few months, as the weather gets warmer and the situation more desperate inside Syria, the number of refugees is expected to sharply increase.
Iran is now allowing Syria to buy supplies in Iran and ship them via truck through Iraq or via ship to the Syrian ports. Last month Iran gave Syria a billion dollar line of credit. This was a gift and Syria is hoping to get a billion dollars-worth of goods a month from Iran. Without this aid the government forces will disappear a lot quicker. Sanctions have made it difficult to buy supplies from its usual suppliers. The Iraq route has become more risky, as Iraqi Sunnis have been harassing and blocking these shipments. Moreover, most of the eastern Syria is Sunni and under the control of rebels. But via bribes (cash or goods) and a few routes kept clear by government troops many trucks get through. The sea route is still the safest but it takes nearly a week longer. Inside Syria there are growing problems getting supplies to the many army units and militias.
At least 5,000 people died last month, most of them civilians. The death toll for the two year old rebellion is approaching 70,000. Even more demoralizing has been the damage done to the economy. Many farms may not be able to plant crops in the next few months and a growing number of factories are destroyed or idle because trucks cannot get in with raw materials or out with finished goods.
January 30, 2013: In the pre-dawn hours Israeli warplanes attacked a chemical/biological weapon research center outside Damascus as well as a convoy approaching the Lebanese border (carrying missiles for Hezbollah). Israel did not admit it made the attack until February 3rd. The attack was apparently made to disrupt any efforts to put chemical warheads on Syrian missiles and use them against Israel. Despite Israeli anti-missile defense, if one chemical armed missile got through it could cause thousands of casualties. The air attack near the Lebanese border was to prevent Hezbollah from getting modern Russian anti-aircraft missiles, which could hamper Israeli air operations over southern Lebanon.
The leader of the Western-backed SNC (Syrian National Coalition), Mouaz al Khatib, has angered some of his supporters by approaching the Russians to offer the Assads safe passage out of Syria in order to end the rebellion (and Assad rule of Syria). The Russians feel that the Assads are doomed and many Syrians are willing to make a deal with the Assads to end the fighting. Many rebel groups oppose this but that won’t be a problem until a deal is struck and the SNC tries to carry it out.