Monday, 6 May 2013

American Intervention Is Not Automatic

Israeli intelligence analysts are unsure if Syria is even considering transferring any of its chemical weapons to Hezbollah. There are two reasons for this. First, Hezbollah use of chemical weapons would spark a huge international backlash and, if the attack were against Israel, an invasion of Lebanon directed at destroying Hezbollah once and for all. Second, those using chemical weapons need special training to handle the shells and bombs. Iran may be providing that training to Hezbollah now but Israel has picked up no hints of from its informants in Hezbollah territory or its monitoring of electronic chatter in Lebanon.
Meanwhile the Assads are accusing the rebels of using captured nerve gas against Sunni civilians in order to trigger Western (mainly American) intervention on the side of the rebels. Some UN officials also believe this has happened. This would not be the first time rebels fired on their own people to gain foreign intervention to aid them. It happened several times during the 1990s fighting in Bosnia. Many rebels want the NATO and the U.S. to intervene and are encouraged by the American president saying Syrian use of chemical weapons would be unacceptable and would trigger U.S. military intervention. Now U.S. officials are trying to back away from that casually delivered pledge.
Iranian advisors have apparently convinced the Assads that the best way to survive is to drive as many pro-rebels civilians as possible out of the country. The Iranian Quds Force specializes in teaching non-Iranians about how to use terror tactics and they have improved the tactics and training of existing Syrian secret police and helped select and train Syrian assault troops who can be depended on to slaughter civilians without any hesitation. The new tactics are not meant to concentrate on killing lots of women and children but to force most pro-rebel civilians to get out. Thus the Assad forces raid pro-rebel civilian areas and take away (and sometimes do not return) suspicious civilians for questioning or just to terrify them. This terror comes in addition to the growing shortages, especially of food and electricity. The civilians know there are refugee camps just across the border in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, which are three main destinations and Assad forces don’t interfere with civilians headed for these camps, but do try to stop supplies trying to reach pro-rebel civilians. These refugees also report seeing more Lebanese (Hezbollah) and Iranian men with the Syrian soldiers, either advising or actually leading operations. 
Assad forces, usually local Alawite militias, are driving Sunni Arabs (and any others whose loyalty to the Assads is in doubt) from the coastal region, which is being organized as a last refuge for pro-Assad Syrians. 
Rebels continue their battles for military bases they have besieged for months. While Syria moves its dwindling forces to clear rebels away from Lebanese border areas and around the capital (Damascus), troops under siege are told to hold out, even as food and ammo supplies dwindle. As a result of this more and more of these bases are falling. Rebels are taking advantage of all this by increasing their efforts to persuade Assad troops to switch sides. This is made easier by the fact that cell phone service continues to operate in most of the country. The rebels call soldiers who others (soldiers who have already defected or pro-rebel family who want the guy to changes sides) have supplied phone numbers for and try to arrange a defection. Even some Alawite soldiers are susceptible to this sort of persuasion. The rebels have even established “hot lines” (manned 24/7) that soldiers can call if they are interested in changing sides. 
In terms of casualties April was about as mad as March (which was the worst month so far), leaving over 5,000 dead. There are now over five million refugees, with nearly 30 percent of them outside Syria. Nearly 80,000 Syrians have died during two years of fighting, plus several hundred thousand wounded. In addition to the dead, there is the growing number of people inside Syria at risk from starvation and disease because of food, power (electric and vehicle fuel) and medical shortages. The rebels and the government accuse each other of deliberately blocking supplies for each other’s supporters. 
May 5, 2013: Israeli aircraft again bombed convoys trying to move Iranian-supplied anti-aircraft missiles or long range rockers to Hezbollah controlled areas in Lebanon. The Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft system missiles would make it more difficult (but not impossible) for Israeli aircraft and helicopters to operate over Hezbollah controlled territory. These Russian missiles, which are mounted on an 8x8 truck, were bought by Syria with Iranian money and some were shipped to Iran. Each Pantsir-S1 vehicle carries radar, two 30mm cannon, and twelve Tunguska missiles. The 90 kg (198 pound) Tunguska has a twenty kilometer range while the Pantsir-S1 radar has a 30 kilometer range. The missile can hit targets at up to 8,400 meters (26,000 feet) high. The 30mm cannon is effective up to 3,200 meters (10,000 feet). The vehicles used to carry all the Pantsir-S1 can vary, but the most common one used weighs 20 tons and has a crew of three. 
The longer ranged Fateh-110 rockets are also a serious matter. Three years ago Israel told Syria that if Hezbollah uses the new Fateh-110 missiles that they were receiving from Syria Israel will bomb Syria. The three ton, solid fuel, ballistic missiles have a range of 250 kilometers and carry a half ton warhead. These missiles are also manufactured in Syria (and called M-600). The Iranian version appears to be based on the Chinese DF-11. Iran has been airlifting in more Fateh-110s to Syria, apparently meant for Hezbollah. These longer range missiles, that can reach all of Israel’s major cities, are a primary target for Israeli forces in any future war with Hezbollah. 
Syria claimed that the Israeli air attacks today were also directed as some military facilities around Damascus. There are believed to be the locations of weapons research and development activities.
Hezbollah is making public statements about how it will not allow groups hostile to Hezbollah and Iran take control of Syria. 
Western nations are providing more aid for the rebels, while at the same time trying to avoid arming the four thousand or so Islamic radical fighters among the rebels. About half of these are foreigners, mostly from countries with a lot of Islamic conservatives (like Saudi Arabia, which is believed to have over 300 of its citizens fighting for Islamic terrorist groups in Syria). Keeping any kind of aid from the Islamic radical militias is difficult because there is a lot of trading between rebel groups, in addition to smugglers and traders inside Syria who will sell to anyone who can pay. Like most wars, victory in Syria will go to the side that is best supplied and Western military leaders have persuaded their political bosses that this applied inside Syria too. There are no exceptions to this rule in Syria.
May 4, 2013: In Damascus a car bomb went off in a pro-Assad neighborhood killing 13 people. 
May 3, 2013: Two rebel rockets hit the Damascus airport, damaging an airliner and starting a fire in a fuel storage area. These attacks have been getting more frequent and more accurate. Many foreign airlines have stopped serving Damascus as a result. Russia and Iran will soon be the only foreign aircraft seen at the airport. 
Israeli warplanes attacked a convoy headed for Lebanon and apparently carrying missiles for Hezbollah. 
April 29, 2013: In Damascus a roadside bomb, directed at the Syrian prime minister failed to get its target, but six other people died.

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