Israeli military leaders believe they are winning their battle to keep Iran from establishing a permanent presence in Syria. This has been achieved via a combination of force (air and artillery strikes on Iranian forces in Syria) and diplomacy (convincing Russia to persuade Iran to keep their forces 100 kilometers from the Israel border or suffer Israeli attacks the Russians will not interfere with). Other diplomatic activities involved the Americans and Arab nations. There is general agreement by Israel and their Arab allies that the forces Iran has assembled in Syria and Lebanon are a far greater threat than Hamas. But this war is not yet won and whether it is depends more on what happens in Iran. As a practical matter, no one is really winning in Syria. The Turks are thwarted (by the U.S.) in their effort to destroy the military power of the Syrian Kurds. Turkey still has a problem with over a million potential refugees in Idlib province trying to get into Turkey if the Idlib showdown cannot be settled peacefully). Syria and Iran don’t care if there is a bloodbath in Idlib they just want to get it over with. No wonder Turkey doesn’t get along with Iran and their sidekick Syria. Russia is in Syria mainly to sell its new and expensive weapons. That is done by not doing anything that makes Russia look foolish. That is difficult to do with allies like Iran, Syria and the current Turkish government. Russia does not want to fight anyone who can fight back; especially Israel or the Americans. At the same time, Russia wants to appear unafraid of the Israelis and Americans. ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is still around as are many less fanatic Islamic terrorists.
November 26, 2018: In the east (Deir Ezzor province), SDF (Syrian Kurd rebels) forces repelled a complex and desperate attack by as many as 500 ISIL fighters seeking to protect their last stronghold near Hajin city and the Iraqi border. The attack began on the 23rd and involved numerous attack groups and dozens of suicide bombers advancing out of a widespread fog. The SDF lost 92 dead over three days, the most ever in a single battle. Since SDF began moving against this ISIL stronghold in early September the primarily Kurdish group has lost over 450 dead. The three day ISIL offensive was stopped by stubborn SDF defensive tactics, which had American artillery and airstrikes on call. ISIL lost over a hundred known dead but many of the ISIL bodies are in what is still ISIL territory where airstrikes hit any group seen moving during the battle. Because of that a lot of the ISIL attackers never reached SDF positions. Many of the attackers, especially suicide bombers, got close to SDF forces by claiming to be civilians fleeing ISIL. There are a lot of civilians in this ISIL controlled area. Many of them are wives and children of ISIL fighters but many are not and are discouraged from leaving the area. ISIL wives are often willing to participate in suicide attacks and take the kids with them. Soon SDF forces will advance into this last ISIL stronghold and have to deal with landmines, explosive traps and suicide bombers that appear to be civilians. This is why ISIL is often described as a suicidal death cult. The hundreds of ISIL fighters surrounded near Hajin are all diehard and desperate Islamic terrorists who realize this is their last stand and the possibility of getting out is very low. After this most recent battle and the heavy losses SDF suffered, there is, even more, resolve by the SDF to ensure that none of the ISIL personnel escape. Taking prisoners is unlikely because the trapped ISIL men know about the growing number of captured ISIL men and women being sentenced to long prison terms or execution.
November 25, 2018: Syria is apparently granting citizenship (and Syrian passports) to thousands of Iranian mercenaries like Hezbollah from Lebanon, some Iranians and Shia from other countries Iran recruited to fight in Syria. These newly created Syrians will be wearing Syrian Army uniforms as they take up position near the Israeli border. Israel suspected that Iran was planning this and now has to respond before these Iranian forces can carry out any attacks (as Iran has vowed to do) on Israel itself. Iran is desperate for a win because their recent efforts to hurt Israel have all been very embarrassing failures.
November 24, 2018: In the north (Aleppo), fighting between government and rebel forces lead to a government-held residential area being hit by what appeared to be rockets with warheads containing poisonous gas which many in the target area suspected was a noxious industrial chemical, probably chlorine. At least fifty people in the area fell ill and received medical treatment but none have died. Chemical tests are being carried out to find out what happened. The government blamed the rebels and the rebels blamed the government. This is the second incidence of chemical weapons use this year. The last one was in April outside Damascus as government forces sought to drive rebels out of a suburban area. Syria has often been accused of using primitive (World War I type) chemical weapons that attack the respiratory system. These older chemical weapons are often nothing more than industrial chemicals (like chlorine) in large (and dangerous) doses. But the April attack and one before it apparently also included some nerve gas. In the last two years, the U.S. has twice bombed Syrian forces in retaliation for Syrians using chemical weapons and threatens to do so again if the Syrians use chemical weapons in Idlib or anywhere else. Syria apparently plans to do so in order to reduce casualties among their own troops. Thus the belief that the Aleppo incident was the work of government forces, not rebels and done in such a way as to avoid retribution (as was the case in April). Russia believes that industrial chemicals (like chlorine) don’t count as chemical weapons (according to the 2013 Russian brokered deal to rid Syria of chemical weapons) and the Iranians apparently don’t care. The evidence indicated that the April attack involved a combination of chlorine and a nerve gas. Israel fears Iran is permitting Syria to use these chemical weapons to test their effectiveness and the degree of international outrage. The Aleppo attack will not be investigated as thoroughly as the April one because there are no outside observers and the Syrians can control what information gets out. Russia believed the Syrian version of what happened in Aleppo and broke the truce and launched several airstrikes on rebel positions in Aleppo and nearby Idlib province.
November 22, 2018: In the east (Deir Ezzor province), SDF forces captured Osama Abu Zeid, who was known to be ISIL founder and leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s deputy and one of the few men who knows where Baghdadi is. Zeid was caught east of the Euphrates River, possibly headed for Iraq.
November 21, 2018: In the east (Deir Ezzor province), SDF reinforced their forces based east of the provincial capital in order to protect the Tanak oilfield from ISIL attack. The 300 reinforcements increased the SDF defenders to about 650. The Americans sent some artillery and air controllers. The attacks, which began on the 23rd were larger and more numerous than expected.
November 20, 2018: Iraqi F-16s again hit ISIL targets in Syria, destroying an ISIL base and a warehouse used for storing weapons and ammo in two separate attacks. At least 40 ISIL members were killed. Iraqi artillery units also fired across the border at ISIL forces spotted approaching the border.
November 19, 2018: In the northwest (Aleppo province) the formerly Kurdish controlled (until March 2018) town of Afrin was the scene of Turkish forces fighting several hundred members of Al Sharqiya Martyrs. This group is technically working for the Turks but went rogue and was openly plundering areas the Kurds had retreated from. The hours of fighting left 25 dead, most of them rebels, and the remainder of the 200 or so Al Sharqiya Martyrs were arrested or fled. While the Turks can depend on secular Syrian rebels, like the FSA, many of the Islamic terrorist rebels are tempted to make a deal with the Turks and then go rogue because many of the Islamic radical rebels still see themselves on a mission from God and thus free to do whatever they like because the Turks aren’t real Moslems and you can lie to them. This is a big problem for the Turks who are trying to get most of the thousands of Islamic terrorist rebels surrounded to surrender and disperse. That will be a less than acceptable solution if many of these rebels return to being active Islamic terrorists. The Syrians don’t that and neither do the Russians or anyone else (even Iran). At the same time, the Turks don’t want a major battle to deal with the many Islamic terrorists in Idlib province because that would get a lot of civilians killed and many more desperately trying to get into Turkey.
The United States sanctioned four companies and many individuals involved in smuggling Iranian oil to Syria. This announcement was a warning to Iran that their illegal dealings with Iraq were also not as secret as the Iranians and Iraqis had hoped. Sanctions on Iraqi companies and individuals can be very effective and costly to the Iraqis involved.
Israeli officials revealed that the Russians had recently proposed to the Americans and Israelis that Iran was willing to withdraw its troops and mercenaries from Syria in return for the United States lifting some of the sanctions. Such a deal is would be difficult to implement. Israel and the U.S. do not trust Iran to observe the terms of any such deal and it is unclear just how many sanctions Iran wants to be lifted. The Syrian government and the Turks have a say in this but the big problem is trust and the fact that Iran is in big economic and political trouble back home because of how the corrupt religious dictatorship has mismanaged the economy for decades. Within a week the Americans made it clear that they had no intention of lifting sanctions for anything Iran does in Syria.
November 17, 2018: In the southeast (Suwayda province) Syrian army and Iranian mercenaries forces pushed ISIL out of their last stronghold in the region. For three months the Syrians have been fighting ISIL fighter dug in atop hills in the desert area. Suwayda province is one of the four that border Jordan and ISIL has been trying to use the remote area as a base since early 2017. In mid-2017 the Syrian forces pushed ISIL away from the Jordanian border and began over a year of fighting to push ISIL out of the province. That campaign apparently ended with the ISIL force not just retreating but dispersing into much smaller groups or individuals and attempting to get out of the country. Some of the ISIL members headed for the Jordan and Saudi borders. It is suspected that this is another negotiated retreat with ISIL abandoning most of their weapons and equipment in order to avoid a violent pursuit. Syrian and Russian warplanes are able to enforce the agreement by patrolling the escape routes and attacking any group of travelers that appear to be armed or simply too large. Turkey and Iraq have been seeing a lot more of the “dispersed” ISIL, some of them with their wives. The foreign ones are being caught at the Turkish border as they try to return home to Europe.
November 16, 2018: In the northwest (Idlib province), Islamic terrorists trapped in the province attacked Turkish forces killing 22 defenders. The Islamic terrorists used suicide bombers and gunmen and were quickly repulsed. The next day Syrian and Russian forces used artillery and airstrikes to hit the bases of the attackers. Islamic terrorist losses appear to be over fifty dead during the two days of violence.
November 14, 2018: Israeli commercial satellite photos show that the Russian S-300 air defense systems delivered to Syria six weeks ago are still not operational.
November 12, 2018: In the east (Homs province) an Iranian automobile assembly plant, built just before the 2011 civil war began, managed to survived years of fighting and production was resumed in 2016. Components were brought in from Iran by ship but production never returned to pre-war levels (60 cars a day). Few Syrians can afford a new car so production limps along at less than six cars a day and many of those gather dust in a warehouse awaiting buyers. With the return of economic sanctions on Iran, it has become economically difficult to justify keeping the factory open. But it is a symbol of Iran helping Syria so the Iranian government covers the losses. Iran has also announced that it will build and operate a branch of an Iranian university in Syria that will teach secular and religious subjects for undergraduates and graduate students. Iran is also financing a revival of the long-sought railroad from Basra in southern Iraq to the Syrian port of Lattakia. The railroad will be owned by Iraq, which will eventually repay Iran for the construction loans. Iran will be able to use the railroad to get all sorts of cargo to the Mediterranean coast at low cost.
November 11, 2018: The Kurdish led SDF agreed to resume its offensive against ISIL. At the end of October, the SDF had halted their offensive against an ISIL stronghold near Hajin city. The SDF had to move more of their forces to the Turkish border where the Turks were again threatening to attack SDF controlled Syrian territory. The United States negotiated a deal with the Turks that reduced the Turkish threat to the SDF by placing American observations posts near the Turkish border to serve as a buffer between Turkey and Kurdish controlled areas of northeast Syria. With that agreement the SDF could move more troops south to deal with the remaining groups of ISIL there.
November 7, 2018: In the northwest (Idlib province) the new (since 2012) the Russian RKhM-6 CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) detection vehicle showed up in a combat zone for the first time. Based on the BTR-80 14 ton 8x8 wheeled armored vehicle, the turret is augmented a similar structure containing sensors for various toxic materials. There is also thermal imaging sensors. CBRN vehicles were more common during the Cold War but still exist in smaller numbers. Russia is using the RKhM-6 to patrol the truce zone. This is the last area where Islamic terrorist rebels might possibly use CBRN type weapons.
ISIL released a recruiting/morale building video on the Internet that detailed their operations for the last six weeks. The numbers seemed inflated, which isn’t unusual for Islamic terrorist press releases. Yet some of what the video claimed did correspond to reality. Thus ISIL reported that 80 percent of their attacks were occurring in Syria and Iraq. Nearly half of ISIL activity was in Iraq (and a few provinces at that) while nearly a third were in Syria (mainly in the east). Nearly all the attacks reported can be classified as terrorism. This reflects a known trend that began in early 2018 as ISIL increased its guerilla-type attacks.