March 21, 2013: Clothing can be a weapon. The government is issuing army combat uniforms to the civilian militias that many Alawite, Christian, and other minority communities are forming to defend themselves from rebel attack. This makes it appear that more soldiers are still loyal to the Assads than is actually the case. Dictatorships are often run by the nation’s minorities, with the help of other minorities, and this is very common in the Middle East. But when the majority gains control (as happened in Iraq a decade ago) the fighting can get very nasty. The pro-Assad minorities are demoralized, as they sense that the government is losing. For minority communities away from the borders, flight is less of an option because the main roads are increasingly blocked by rebels. This is causing more shortages in Damascus and other government controlled towns and cities. Most of these places now have a rebel presence and few Assad supports have avoided hearing the gunfire and explosions. Then there are the increasing shortages and rising prices for essential goods. The end is creeping closer. Rather, this is the end of the beginning, because after the Assads are overthrown the rebels have to fight the Islamic radical groups that want to establish a religious dictatorship. Most Syrians do not want that but they will have to fight to prevent it.
Israelis near the Syrian border can hear artillery and gun fire more frequently and it appears that the rebels are on their way towards gaining control of the entire 76 kilometer long Israeli border. That border is only 60 kilometers from Damascus. Israel has sharply increased its troop strength along this border.
The fighting has cut the heavily used truck routes from Europe to the wealthy Arab Gulf states. This is causing delivery delays as shippers scramble to find ships to move these goods. The problem is that so many of the roads are now controlled by rebels, who are not under any central command and cannot be ordered to let foreign trucks just pass through. There is also the risk of getting caught in the fighting, as the government and rebels attack each other’s roadblocks and checkpoints.
The government and the rebels are accusing each other of using chemical weapons against a rebel held village outside Aleppo. No one has produced any conclusive proof and the United States believes this is all about scoring propaganda points and not actual use of chemical weapons. The government apparently still has control over all its chemical weapons but fears that if the rebels seized any, they would use them against civilians so foreign nations (like the U.S.) would make good on their promise to intervene if the Assad government used chemical weapons. Such deceptions are not uncommon in wars like this and have become increasingly common in the past two decades, as everyone becomes more skilled at playing the media and world opinion.
Jordan makes no secret of its disdain for the Assad government and its belief that the Assads will soon lose their battle with the rebels. Jordan is more concerned with the Islamic radical groups among the rebels. These guys make no secret of their goal, the establishment of an Islamic state in post-Assad Syria. This would be a problem for Jordan, whose monarchy has long been the target for numerous Islamic terrorist groups.
Pro and anti-Assad groups in Lebanon are becoming increasing violent in defense of their beliefs. Most Lebanese hate the Assads and their backer Iran (because of interference in Lebanese politics). The Hezbollah militia, which controls southern and much of central Lebanon, represents the minority Lebanese Shia and have long depended on support from Iran and Assad controlled Syria. Many Lebanese fear Syrian related disputes could lead to another civil war (the last one, from 1975 to 1990, saw the creation of Hezbollah). What happens in Lebanon is important because a growing number of Hezbollah gunmen are being encountered inside Syria making up for the declining number of soldiers and militiamen the Assads can rely on.
Britain and France are threatening to defy the EU (European Union) and begin supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels (and hopefully not the Islamic terrorist groups). The U.S. would likely follow if Britain and France took the lead here.
March 19, 2013: The Western-backed SNC (Syrian National Coalition) elected a prime minister (Ghassan Hitto). While smart and respected, Hitto was opposed by many SNC delegates because he has lived in the United States since the 1980s (and is a naturalized American citizen) and has no government experience (he is a computer engineer who has spent over a decade running tech companies). But Hitto has long been active in the anti-Assad exile community and did get 71 percent of the votes (among 49 delegates). Hitto’s (and the SNC’s) biggest problem is little or no support from the Islamic radical rebels (about 20 percent of the armed resistance) and the Kurds (at least ten percent of the rebels).
March 17, 2013: Syrian warplanes bombed a rebel base just across the border in Lebanon. This was the first Syrian air strike inside Lebanon and was widely condemned.
Rebels captured a small army base near the Israeli border. The base had become a headquarters form local pro-government militia and for that reason the rebels laid siege to it five days ago.
March 16, 2013: An army general and twenty soldiers defected to the rebels in two separate incidents. The general said he had been trying to defect for some time but that the Assad secret police and intelligence services have increased surveillance of senior military officers and government officials to prevent defections. The general said that morale in the army was low and that few pro-Assad Syrians believed that the Assads would survive this war.