Nearly 3 years of fighting has left over 120,000 dead, 2 million in exile, and at least 4 million refugees inside the country. About 10 percent of the 22 million population is suffering from acute food and other shortages.
The rebels are losing momentum, in part because of increased Iranian support but also because the Islamic terrorist rebels are increasingly independent of any unified rebel command and frequently fighting secular rebel groups. The Assad forces are unified, including the many local militias formed in the last year with Iranian help. The Iranians are the key to the improved battlefield success of the Assad forces. The rebels are still numerous and willing to fight, but the Assads now believe that they have a chance to beat them down, although at great cost to Syria. The rebels are bitter about not getting NATO air support like the Libyan rebels did in 2011. Arab popular opinion has turned against the West because of this and Arabs don’t seem to appreciate Western dismay at how Islamic terror groups have been allowed to run free in Libya since the NATO air support helped the Libyan rebels win.
Recent gains by Syrian forces are usually led by Hezbollah gunmen. Hezbollah had withdrawn most of its 10,000 gunmen from Syria over the last month but the 3,600 Hezbollah fighters still in Syria are well trained (often in Iran), experienced, and led by some of the best Hezbollah combat commanders. The Assad forces are still demoralized and the presence of these aggressive and capable Hezbollah gunmen makes a big difference. The Assad troops will move forward, despite rebel fire, if they see the Hezbollah men making progress. This sort of thing is getting a lot of Hezbollah men killed or wounded, but Iran sees to it that the families of the dead are paid well and that the wounded receive good medical care.
Despite its own cash flow problems, at home Iran continues to supply crucial support for the Assad government and those efforts are succeeding. Iran has not put a lot of Iranians into Syria but there is a constant supply of cash (in the form of dollars and euros), very effective military, security and other advisors, and some equipment and weapons. The cash and personnel tend to arrive by air on several night flights a week from Iran. These flights cross Iraq, which tries to pretend they don’t exist, but American radar operating in Kuwait and aboard ships in the Persian Gulf can spot these flights, but complaints to Iraq continue to have no effect.
Another factor in the continued success of government forces is the Russian effort to turn the Assad use of nerve gas against civilians into immunity from Western air attack. This was done via some adroit diplomacy in which Russia got Syria to agree to admit they had chemical weapons and allow the UN to supervise the destruction of this nasty stuff. Of course, the West would not risk air strikes against Assad with all those UN people on the ground. Syria admitted having 1,300 tons of deadly chemicals, most of it nerve gas (sarin, first used in combat during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war) and the rest mainly mustard gas (first used in World War I).
The Syrian chemical weapons are stored at 23 bases, including 4 manufacturing plants, and UN inspectors have not been able to visit all the storage sites yet. 2 of these bases are considered too risky for inspectors to reach (because someone, probably rebels, fires on anyone approaching). The UN has authorized a force of 100 chemical weapons inspectors and most are now in Syria. The UN plan is to destroy the production plants and over 1,100 chemical warheads and bombs (that are not filled with chemicals until the last minute to avoid corrosion by the chemicals or leaks from long term presence of this stuff in warheads designed for combat, not the storage of corrosive chemicals) by the end of the year. This will be done using tools and bulldozers to literally pull apart and smash stuff. The UN has authorized a plan that is supposed to destroy all Syrian chemical weapons within 9 months. This is theoretically possible but subject to interference by the Assad forces or even the rebels (who have some of the chemical weapons storage sites under siege). While getting rid of the chemical weapons is a good idea, it does not mean Syria will no longer have chemical weapons. The Assads know that once they defeat the rebels they can rebuild the plants that manufacture the nerve and mustard gas and rebuild their pre-rebellion stocks in a few years. This Russian deal, and its successful blocking of Western air support for the rebels, has greatly angered many senior Saudi Arabian officials, who are now openly calling for dropping the U.S. as an ally and trying to replace that with Chinese backing. That would be difficult because China is a long-time ally and trading partner with Iran. If nothing else, this stalls Saudi efforts to keep up the diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran. The 2 countries are locked in a political and religious struggle over who should control the Islamic holy sites and whether Sunni (as in the Saudis) or Shia (as in Iran) forms of Islam should be dominant. This struggle makes little sense to non-Moslems but it is a big deal with Saudi Arabia (and the other Arab Sunnis) and Iran. The Saudis fear that Iran wants to get nukes so they can bully and intimidate their way into control of all Persian Gulf oil and evict the Saudi family from power in the process. The senior clerics who control Iran make no secret of their desire to make Shia Islam dominant but are vague on the details of exactly how they would make that happen. The Saudis have filled in the blanks, and to them it all means the Arab oil states becoming subjects of a new Iranian Empire.
Russian efforts to organize a peace conference in Switzerland next month are not going well. Iran and many rebel groups are not willing to show up. NATO is putting a lot of pressure on the rebels to participate but the rebels and their Arab supporters are angry at the U.S. and Europe for not supplying air support.
In Gaza Hamas is having growing economic problems because the new government in Egypt has cut off the lucrative smuggling operations. Hamas angered Egypt by not controlling smaller Islamic terror groups that were based in Gaza but attacking Egyptian forces in Sinai. So Hamas has turned to Iran and agreed to allow Iran to set up intelligence and terrorist support operations in Gaza for a price. The price is still being negotiated.
Al Qaeda terrorists from Iraq are not just fighting in Syria but western Iraq (Anbar province) as well. This has turned Anbar into a major combat zone for the Iraqi government.
In Saudi Arabia the senior clergy ordered clerics to remind those attending mosques that joining Islamic radical groups in Syria was not mandatory. Clerics were also told that urging young men to go to Syria was forbidden. All Islamic clergy in Saudi Arabia are government employees but managing them, especially the more radical ones, is like herding cats.
October 28, 2013: Turkish F-16s bombed Syrian rebels who had been firing rockets into Turkey. The Turks are also trying to control the flow of radicalized young men travelling to Syria via Turkey. The Turks are accused of encouraging this but in reality do not want to hamper the flow of foreign recruits for the rebels. The Turks have a hard time determining who is an Islamic terrorist volunteer and who just wants to help the rebels. Most volunteers for Islamic terror groups are coached to say things to Turkish officials that will hide their radical beliefs.
October 27, 2013: Syria has kept its promise to provide the UN with all details on Syrian chemical weapons.
October 26, 2013: In the northeast (Yaaroubiyeh) Kurdish rebels drove Islamic terrorist rebels away from a border crossing facility on the Iraq border. The road going through this border post is a key supply route for all rebels in Syria.
October 25, 2013: 1, or perhaps 2, car bombs went off next to a mosque in a rebel held town near Damascus, killing at least 40 people. The government says it was a rebel bomb that went off accidentally, while the rebels accuse government forces of setting up 2 car bombs near the mosque and detonating them. Iran has the people (their Quds Force) who can organize terror attacks and there are suspicions this is what is going on here.
October 23, 2013: Rebels cut a key natural gas pipeline south of Damascus that supplied electricity generating plants. This led to a major blackout in Damascus and nearby provinces. It will take 2 days to make repairs. This is not the first time rebel attacks have cut power but this was the largest power cut so far.
October 22, 2013: In northeastern Lebanon 5 rockets from Syria landed harmlessly near a Lebanese village just across the border.
In the south (Deraa) a senior rebel commander (Yasser al Abboud) was killed while leading an attack against an army position. Abboud had been an officer in the army but went over to the rebels early on.
October 21, 2013: On the Syrian border 2 mortar shells fired from Syria landed on the Israeli side but caused no casualties or property damage.
In northeastern Lebanon 8 rockets from Syria hit a Hezbollah base. There was some damage but Hezbollah would not release any details. Hezbollah is facing more anger and attacks inside Lebanon as most Lebanese support the Syrian rebels.
The U.S. warned American journalists in Syria to take precautions because there were indications that someone was planning to kidnap American journalists in Syria.
October 20, 2013: Outside Damascus a car bomb was used against an army checkpoint, killing 16 soldiers. Later in the day in the central Syrian city of Hama a rebel car bomb was used against an army checkpoint and killed 31 people, most of them soldiers. The government retaliated by having aircraft bomb rebel held neighborhoods. This tactic of “instant retaliation against rebel civilians” is believed to be another bit of advice from the Iranians, who use this approach themselves back in Iran.
October 17, 2013: A senior army intelligence officer was killed in eastern Syria by a rebel sniper. In retaliation the government sent warplanes to bomb rebel neighborhoods.
October 16, 2013: A government car bomb (actually an incapacitated vehicle fitted with explosives and a remote control trigger by soldiers) killed 21 people in a town near the Jordan border. The army is using more of these booby traps to terrorize pro-rebel civilians.
In the north Turkish troops exchanged fire with al Qaeda rebels who had been seen firing into Turkey.