In the east (near the Iraq border) al Nusra and ISIL
(Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant)
continue to fight each other with ISIL often getting the worst of it. This is despite the fact that ISIL has plenty of armed men just across the border in Iraq and in the city of Raqqa to the west. But in Western Iraq (Anbar province) ISIL
is struggling to deal with increased pressure from government forces and pro-government tribal militias. ISIL forces are trapped in Fallujah, with the siege of the Islamic terrorists growing tighter and tighter. To the west ISIL is trying to establish a road connection between Anbar and Syria, where it controls Raqqa, the largest city in eastern Syria and the only provincial capital to be captured by the rebels. The revived (by Iranian Shia mercenaries recruited in Lebanon and Iraq) Syrian government is turning its attention to its Sunni eastern areas and the Shia dominated Iraqi government is increasingly aggressive attacking ISIL on both sides of the Syrian border. Both Iraq and Syria believe that ISIL is intent on creating a Sunni religious dictatorship out of eastern Syria and western Iraq. This is a largely desert and thinly populated region. ISIL is actually suffering more casualties in Syria, where its main foe is other rebels, especially large Islamic terrorist groups like al Nusra.
In the south (near the Jordanian border) Al Nusra and FSA units are increasingly hostile with each other. FSA is already at war with ISIL (as is al Nusra) and now there is the prospect of open fighting between FSA and al Nusra. There is also growing hostility between all Islamic terrorist rebel groups. It’s the same old story; every Islamic terrorist group believes its way is the true way. When you are on a Mission From God you tend to believe that your way is the only way. This splintering is old news among Islamic radical groups and no one has ever found an easy way around it. Thus despite there being over 100,000 armed rebels in Syria, the many divisions and growing infighting among the rebels is greatly weakening rebel combat capability. The fact that there are up to a thousand different rebel groups does not help either. As a result many rebel groups, in particular the FSA, are reporting growing desertions and more difficulty in recruiting. It’s believed that currently more rebels are dying each week at the hands of other rebels than in fighting with government forces. The government has over 300,000 troops and militiamen and their forces are much more disciplined and united. Assad and Iranian officials increasingly speak openly of eventual victory and this is no longer a fantasy.
In the northwest (Idlib province, where the Lebanese and Turkish borders meet) rebels continue to advance. This is in contrast to the setbacks the rebels are suffering elsewhere. In part this is because the government is concentrating on clearing the rebels away from Damascus and out of Aleppo. Once that is done, the Assads will march on Idlib. Currently ISIL is not very active in Idlib and al Nusra and secular rebels tend to get along there. Thus the government forces are on the defensive.
The UN has numerous observers wandering around Syria and they have observed government warplanes regularly attacking pro-rebel civilians. Total deaths in four years of fighting are generally believed to be at least 162,000 and possibly over 200,000. It is often unclear if civilians gone from their village are now refugees, or dead and in a mass grave somewhere. This new figure means that in the last year the death rate has been over a thousand a week. At least a third of the deaths continue to be civilians, mainly pro-rebel civilians. The Assads deliberately attack pro-rebel civilians whenever they are encountered. Thus over ten percent of the population (nearly three million people) have fled the country and may never return if the Assads win. The UN has also found that about half the medical facilities (hospitals, clinics and so on) in the country have been destroyed, mainly because the government targets such facilities in rebel areas. The UN is talking about war-crimes prosecutions for the Assads but Russia says it will block anything like that.
The continuing government attacks against pro-rebel civilians has caused more Syrians to flee the country for Lebanon and Turkey. Those two countries are being overwhelmed, unable to build new accommodations quickly enough to house all those seeking shelter. Most of the refugees are ending up in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan and these three countries fear the Syrian government will drive a hard bargain to take them back. The Assads seem content to chase the anti-Assad civilians out of the country and keep them out.
The U.S. has offered to train, equip and partially (no anti-aircraft missiles) more Syrian rebels.
The U.S. has increased its military aid to Syrian rebels, as some of the more moderate rebels have been recently seen using American TOW anti-tank missiles. Such American arms aid has long been limited because of fears that high-tech weapons would fall into the hands of Islamic terrorist groups and later be used for terror attacks against Westerners. The rebels really want anti-aircraft missiles, but Western nations don’t trust the rebels to keep some of these missiles from being used to attack Western aircraft, especially airliners at a major airport in Europe.
This is not likely to change the situation in Syria much as the rebels are now split into three warring factions; the non-terrorist (largely secular) rebels (the FSA/Free Syrian Army), the al Qaeda approved Islamic terrorists (led by al Nusra) and the al Qaeda disapproved Islamic terrorists, which is mainly ISIL
The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have attempted to patch up their differences over Syria. Saudi Arabia has replaced senior officials who were arming any groups willing to fight the Assads (including many very anti-West Islamic terrorist groups). This was done in part because these groups (especially ISIL) also want to overthrow the Saudi monarchy. At least 1,500 young Saudis have already gone to Syria to fight, many of them joining ISIL and many of those that survived and returned have been discovered plotting against the monarchy. The Saudis are also dismayed by the continuing civil war among the rebel groups and are seeking to work out a deal with Iran over Syria.
Despite growing annoyance most Iranians continue to tolerate the huge expense of propping up the pro-Iran dictator of Syria. This costs Iran over a billion dollars a month and is responsible f0r the Assad dictatorship being able to reverse rebel gains over the last year. That money paid for thousands of Lebanese Hezbollah militiamen and Iraqi Shia volunteers. However that edge is proving difficult to maintain. Despite offering lots of Iranian cash, fewer of these Shia men are willing to die for the Assads. So Iran has turned to Afghanistan where it is offering Shia Afghans in Iranian refugee camps residency permits and $500 a month to fight in Syria. Iran would also pay thousands of dollars in “compensation” to the family of the young man if he was killed in Syria. More money is paid to Syria veterans recovering from wounds and pensions for those crippled by their wounds. This is an attractive offer because many Afghan Shia prefer life in Iran. Only 15 percent of Afghans are Shia and these Shia are a particular target for Sunni Islamic terrorists (like the Taliban). Moreover, despite all its economic problems the standard of living (and degree of law and order) is higher in Iran. This offer, especially the residency permit (because Iran is trying to force the last few hundred thousand Afghan refugees from the 1980s back into Afghanistan) is attractive and is expected to attract Shia living in Afghanistan. There is a lot of illegal movement back and forth across the Iran-Afghan border so it is no problem for the Shia men to get into Iran and sign up. Iran denies it is hiring Afghans to fight in Syria, just as they deny hiring anyone. For the Syrian government these Shia mercenaries have been crucial, especially the Lebanese Hezbollah. This paramilitary force is one of the most effective in the region and the non-Hezbollah Shia volunteers are at least enthusiastic. The problem is that most of these men fight for six months or less before returning home. Getting them to sign up for another tour of duty is difficult. This is particularly troublesome when it comes to Hezbollah because the Syrian rebels are backed by most Lebanese. Thus the presence of Hezbollah in Syria is very unpopular in Lebanon, even among many Shia. Despite that Hezbollah leaders continue to back their Syrian intervention.
A growing number of Syrian rebels, and pro-rebel Syrian civilians are beginning to suggest the unthinkable; seek an alliance with Israel. For over half a century nearly all Arab states have waged a military (not successful) and media (increasingly successful) campaign to destroy Israel. But many Syrians have noted that their own government has done far more harm to the Syrian people than Israel ever did. It’s been noted that if you bring a badly injured Syrian to the Israeli border the Israelis will provide medical aid and, especially for women and children, take the injured to an Israeli hospital and return them to the border when they are well. Israeli warplanes have carried out several attacks on Syrian government efforts to move advanced weapons to Lebanon. While this is done to prevent those weapons from being used by Hezbollah, which is based in southern Lebanon, it also reminds Syrians that the Israeli Air Force can do pretty much whatever it wants to do in Syrian air space. If the rebels were allied with Israel the rebels could finally get some air support. The Israelis could also provide more access to logistical and medical support (paid for largely by the Arab and Western nations already backing the rebels). Despite obvious difficulties (like death threats from Syrian rebels who still believe all the anti-Israel propaganda) such an arrangement would go a long way towards achieving a long-sought peace deal between Israel and Syria, at least if the rebels won. It is unlikely to happen.
Turkey and European nations are feuding over who is responsible for stopping European Moslems from illegally (according to European laws) going to Syria to fight (usually for Islamic terrorist rebels). Turkey currently maintains a list of over 4,000 European Moslems European governments have requested be barred from crossing into Syria and Turkey has caught over 500 of these people and sent them back to Europe. But European governments complain that many still make it into Syria via Turkey. Worse yet, European intelligence agencies are finding that they do not know who all these Syrian “combat tourists” are and more are showing up after they quietly return and are caught in Europe planning terrorist attacks or recruiting more young men to fight in Syria. The Turks point out that they handle over 30 million tourists entering each year plus millions of people coming on business. Turkey believes Europeans should simply bar suspected Islamic radicals from leaving their European countries in the first place. Europe is not willing to go that far, even when they are warned (usually by the parents) that a young European Moslem is planning to go to Syria to fight. While Turkey did, for nearly two years, look the other way as foreign visitors crossed into Syria (to topple the Assad government, something the Turks favor) that is no longer the case but Turkey is not willing to spend a lot more money and effort to block European Moslems from Syria. Moreover, the Turks point out, if they simply make it more difficult to keep European Moslems from crossing legally, the wannabe terrorists can pay a smuggler to get them across. So the Turks are pressing European nations to deal with the problem at its source and not pressure Turkey to fix European mistakes. Meanwhile many other nations with large Moslem minorities (like the U.S.) are finding that some of their citizens have been fighting in Syria and returning home with a bad attitude.
May 26, 2014: A wanted (by the United States) Hezbollah leader (Fawzi Ayoub) was killed in an ambush in Syria. Ayoub moved to Canada in 1988 (during the Lebanese civil war), became a Canadian citizen in 1992 and later moved to the U.S. for a while and got involved in Islamic terrorism and Hezbollah.
Jordan expelled the Syrian ambassador, mainly for trying to stir up support for the Assad government and anger at the growing number of Syrian refugees in Jordan. Syria responded by expelling the senior Jordanian diplomat in Syria.
May 25, 2014: In the central Syrian city of Homs a car bomb went off in a pro-government neighborhood, killing at least ten people and wounding over 40. Al Nusra was believed responsible.
May 23, 2014: Rebels in Homs agreed to a three day ceasefire in areas they controlled so that aid could reach civilians and pro-rebel civilians could leave the city.
May 18, 2014: The Defense Minister of the main Syrian rebel group, the SNC (Syrian National Coalition) has resigned, citing lack of foreign support (especially anti-aircraft missiles) as making his job impossible. He had resigned once before (in March) but was persuaded to stay at his post. There is a l0t of frustration and dismay at the lack of support from the West, especially compared to what happened in Libya in 2011. The Syrian rebels overlook the fact that Libya has since then turned into an Islamic terrorist sanctuary and that’s what Western nations cannot ignore.
A senior Syrian general (the head of the Air Defense forces) was killed in fighting outside Damascus. The dead general was involved in keeping rebels away from a major Air Defense base outside the capital.
May 16, 2014: ISIL widened the rift between themselves and other Islamic terrorist rebels by seizing and publically beheading Muthana Hussein, a popular Syrian-born rebel leader. Hussein was accused of being anti-al Qaeda. Actually Hussein gets along with al Qaeda just fine, just not with splinter groups like ISIL. Hussein was a key leader in the largest rebel coalition (the Islamic Front), all of whom are religious and most of whom are all for some kind of “Islamic State” in Syria. There are four smaller Islamic coalitions. There’s the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, Al Nusra, the Mujahideen Army and ISIL. Killing Hussein like that, and putting the video on the Internet, was really dumb and just encourages more Islamic radical rebels to seek the destruction of ISIL. For the Assads, having enemies like this is better than having any of these maniacs as allies.
May 15, 2014: Many of the Syrian government forces that defeated the rebels in the central Syrian city of Homs are now being moved to the Israeli border, apparently seeking to clear that area of rebels.
In the north, near a border crossing into Turkey near Aleppo, a large car bomb went off killing over 40 people. There area has been the scene of fighting between rebel groups.
May 14, 2014: In the northwest (Idlib province) rebels tunneled under a major army checkpoint and detonated tons of explosives. This killed dozens of soldiers and is the second time in a week that the rebels have used this tactic in Iblib province.
Saudi Arabia is trying to lessen the tension with Iran and asked the Iranian foreign minister to visit Saudi Arabia for “talks.” The Saudis have been the major backer of the Syrian rebels and are well aware that the Iranian mercenaries have been very effective and the Saudi backed Islamic terrorist rebels are now spending a lot of time fighting each other. It may be time to make a deal with Iran regarding Syria.
May 12, 2014: In Aleppo rebels refuse to restore the water supply to the city and both rebel and government controlled areas are without running water. There are still over a million people living in the city and government forces have halted the two years of rebel advances and are taking back parts of the city. Without running water you have a humanitarian disaster that even the government forces will have to cope with. Apparently that is why the rebels have unleashed the water weapon. The water was cut off a week ago.
May 11, 2014: Israel closed several areas in the Golan Heights near the Syrian border. It was feared that increased fighting on the Syrian side might spill over into Israel, even if in the form of bullets and mortar shells landing in Israel.
May 9, 2014:
In early May 2014 Saudi Arabia revealed that a month earlier it had broken up an ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria) operation inside Saudi Arabia. This group had 62 members (59 Saudis, a Yemeni, a Pakistani and a Palestinian) who were planning several attacks and assassinations in Saudi Arabia. So far 35 of the 62 have been arrested and the rest are being sought along with new suspects revealed after interrogating those already in custody.