The last traditional anti-Israel bastion in the West Asia region, Syria, is under immense armed internal pressure and conflict to bow out, in favour of Western-backed rebels. However, it is not likely that Hafez Al Assad’s regime will be toppled soon.
International strategic and inteligence publication stratfor.com has a story:
December 6, 2012 | 1000 GMT
By Omar Lamrani
The battle for Damascus is raging with increasing intensity while rebels continue to make substantial advances in Syria’s north and east. Every new air base, city or town that falls to the rebels further underlines that Bashar al Assad’s writ over the country is shrinking. It is no longer possible to accurately depict al Assad as the ruler of Syria. At this point, he is merely the head of a large and powerful armed force, albeit one that still controls a significant portion of the country.
The nature of the conflict has changed significantly since it began nearly two years ago. The rebels initially operated with meager resources and equipment, but bolstered by defections, some outside support and their demographic advantage, they have managed to gain ground on what was previously a far superior enemy. Even the regime’s qualitative superiority in equipment is fast eroding as the rebels start to frequently utilize main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, rocket and tube artillery and even man-portable air-defense systems captured from the regime’s stockpiles.
Weary and stumbling, the regime is attempting to push back rebel forces in and near Damascus and to maintain a corridor to the Alawite coast while delaying rebel advances in the rest of the country. Al Assad and his allies will fight for every inch, fully aware that their power depends on the ability of the regime forces to hold ground.
The Battle for DamascusVisit our Syria page for related analysis, videos, situation reports and maps.
It is important to remember that, despite considerable setbacks, al Assad’s forces still control a sizable portion of Syria and its population centers. After failing to take Damascus in Operation Damascus Volcano in July, the rebels are again stepping up their efforts and operations in the Damascus area. However, unlike in their previous failed operation, this time the rebels are relying on an intensive guerrilla campaign to exhaust and degrade al Assad’s substantial forces in Damascus and its countryside.
After the last surge in fighting around Damascus in July and August, the regime kept large numbers of troops in the area. These forces continued search and destroy operations near the capital despite the considerable pressure facing its forces in the rest of the country, including in Aleppo. Once the rebels began to make gains in the north and east, the regime was forced to dispatch some of its forces around Damascus to reinforce other fronts. Unfortunately for the regime, its operations in the capital area had not significantly degraded local rebel forces. Rebels in the area began intensifying their operations once more, forcing the regime to recall many of its units to Damascus.
Aware of the magnitude of the threat, the regime has reportedly shifted its strategy in the battle for Damascus to isolating the city proper from the numerous suburbs. The rebels have made considerable headway in the Damascus suburbs. For example, on Nov. 25 rebels overran the Marj al-Sultan military air base in eastern Ghouta, east of the capital. Rebel operations in the outskirts of Damascus have also interrupted the flow of goods to and from the city, causing the prices of basic staples such as bread to skyrocket.
Rebel Gains in the East and North
Damascus is not the only area where the regime is finding itself under considerable pressure. The rebels have made some major advances in the last month in the energy-rich Deir el-Zour governorate to the east. Having seized a number of towns, airfields and military bases, the rebels have also taken the majority of the oil fields in the governorate. They captured the Al-Ward oil field Nov. 4, the Conoco natural gas reserve Nov. 27 and, after al Assad’s forces withdrew from it on Nov. 29, the Omar oil field north of the town of Mayadeen. Al Assad’s forces now control only five oil fields, all located west of the city of Deir el-Zour. With the battle for the city and its associated airfield intensifying, even those remaining fields are at risk of falling into rebel hands.
The rebel successes in Deir el-Zour have effectively cut the regime’s ground lines of communication and supply to Iraq. They have also starved the regime of the vast majority of its oil revenue and affected its ability to fuel its war machine. At the same time, the rebels are reportedly already seeking to capitalize on their seizure of the eastern oil fields. According to reports, the rebels are smuggling oil to Turkey and Iraq and using the revenue to purchase arms. They are also reportedly using the oil and natural gas locally for power generators and fuel.
While all of eastern Syria may soon fall into rebel hands, rebels in the north have continued to isolate al Assad forces in Idlib and Aleppo governorates, particularly in the capital cities of those two provinces. After overrunning the 46th regiment near Atarib on Nov. 19 following a two-month siege, the rebels are now looking to further squeeze remaining regime forces in Aleppo by taking the Sheikh Suleiman base north of the 46th regiment’s former base.
The Rebels’ Improved Air Defense Capability
Isolated and surrounded, regime forces in the north are increasingly relying on air support for both defense and supply. However, this advantage is deteriorating every day and is increasingly threatened by the rebels’ improved air defense arsenal and tactics.
The rebels first attempted to acquire air defense weaponry by seizing heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft artillery. They captured a number of air defense bases, taking 12.7 mm DShK heavy machine guns, 14.5 mm KPV heavy machine guns and even 23 mm ZU-23-2 autocannons. Over time, the rebels became more proficient with these weapons, and an increasing number of Syrian air force fixed-wing and rotary aircraft were shot down. The rebels also formed hunter-killer groups with air defense equipment mounted on flatbed trucks that provided them mobile platforms for targeting regime air and infantry units.
As more and more regime bases were taken, the rebels were able to bolster their air defense equipment through the capture of a number of man-portable air-defense systems. At the outset of the conflict, the Syrian military maintained a large inventory of shoulder-fired air-defense missiles, likely thousands of missiles ranging from early generation SA-7s to very advanced SA-24s. These missiles were stored in army bases across the country. There are also unconfirmed reports that Qatar and Saudi Arabia may have transferred some man-portable air-defense systems to the rebels through Turkey.
The rebels tallied their first confirmed kill with shoulder-fired air-defense missiles Nov. 27, when they shot down a Syrian Arab Air Force Mi-8/17 helicopter near Aleppo city. The weapon system used in the attack was likely an SA-7, SA-16 or SA-24 captured from the 46th regiment. The surface-to-air missiles are a serious upgrade in the rebels’ air defense capability.
The Fight Continues
Having isolated al Assad’s forces in the north and made substantial advances in the east, the rebels are poised to push farther into the Orontes River Valley to relieve the beleaguered rebel units in the Rastan, Homs and al-Qusayr areas of Homs governorate. For months, regime forces have sought to overwhelm the remaining rebel forces in Homs city, but the rebels have managed to hold out. The rebels are also set to begin pushing south along the main M5 thoroughfare to Khan Sheikhoun and the approaches to Hama. However, first they need to overwhelm the remaining regime forces in Wadi al-Dhaif near Maarrat al-Numan.
Alternatively, the regime is fighting hard to maintain its control over the Orontes River Valley around Homs in order to keep an open corridor linking Damascus to the mostly Alawite coast. Not only is this corridor at risk of eventually being cut off, but the regime is also facing a substantial push by rebel forces into northeastern Latakia governorate from Idlib. Rebels have advanced in the vicinity of the Turkman Mountain, have taken control of Bdama and are now fighting their way down in the direction of Latakia city.
While events in Damascus and Rif Damascus are increasingly worrisome for the regime, al Assad’s forces in the rest of Syria are also under considerable pressure from rebel advances. It is by no means certain that al Assad’s forces are under imminent threat of collapse because they still hold a great deal of territory and no major city has yet been completely taken by the rebels. The retreat and consolidation of al Assad’s forces also allows them to maintain shorter and less vulnerable lines of supply. However, it is clear that the regime is very much on the defensive and has been forced to gradually contract its lines toward a core that now encompasses Damascus, the Orontes River Valley and the mostly Alawite coast. With the regime’s situation rapidly deteriorating, even the attempt to stage a gradual withdrawal to the core is risky.
Its almost two years that the band of rebels took up armed struggle trying to topple the rightful government of Syria. The armed aggression has not waned, even though the fight already stretched into the 20 month and the rebels are supposed to be civillains. Usually, armed rebels do not possess enough weapons and ammunition to carry out open conventional warfare with a well equipped and trained armed forces like Syria.
These rebels are getting assistance for their cause. Foreigners are found to be taking up arms against the Syrian Armed Forces. Not to mention the weapons that have been arming these Free Syrian Army and intelligence report. Even UAVs have been found in the possession of the rebels.
The West already issued ‘warnings’ as precursor to their intervention in the Syrian rebellion.
Syria says chemical scare “pretext for intervention”
By Erika Solomon
BEIRUT | Thu Dec 6, 2012 8:39am EST
(Reuters) – Western powers are whipping up fears of a fateful move to the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war as a “pretext for intervention”, President Bashar al-Assad’s deputy foreign minister said on Thursday.
He spoke as Germany’s cabinet approved stationing Patriot anti-missile batteries on Turkey’s border with Syria, a step requiring deployment of NATO troops that Syria fears could permit imposition of a no-fly zone over its territory.
“Syria stresses again, for the tenth, the hundredth time, that if we had such weapons, they would not be used against its people. We would not commit suicide,” Faisal Maqdad said.
U.S. President Barack Obama and other NATO leaders have warned that using chemical weapons would cross a red line and have consequences, which they have not specified.
Assad would probably lose vital diplomatic support from Russia and Chinathat has blocked military intervention in the 20-month-old uprising that has claimed more than 40,000 lives.
A senior Russian lawmaker and ally of President Vladimir Putin said Syria’s government is incapable of doing its job properly, a sign that Moscow may already be trying to distance itself from Assad.
“We have shared and do share the opinion that the existing government in Syria should carry out its functions. But time has shown that this task is beyond its strength,” Vladimir Vasilyev, who heads President Putin’s party group in the State Duma lower house, was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
Syria’s Maqdad said Western reports the Syrian military was preparing chemical weapons for use against rebel forces trying to close in on the capital Damascus were simply “theatre”.
“In fact, we fear a conspiracy … by the United States and some European states, which might have supplied such weapons to terrorist organizations in Syria, in order to claim later that Syria is the one that used these weapons,” he said on Lebanon’s Al Manar television, the voice of Hezbollah.
“We fear there is a conspiracy to provide a pretext for any subsequent interventions in Syria by these countries that are increasing pressure on Syria.”
Exactly what Syria’s army has done with suspected chemical weapons to prompt a surge of Western warnings is not clear. Reports citing Western intelligence and defense sources are vague and inconsistent.
The perceived threat may be discussed in Dublin on Thursday when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meet international Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi to try to put a U.N. peace process for Syria back on track.
The talks come ahead of a meeting of the Western-backed “Friends of Syria” group in Marrakech next week which is expected to boost support for rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Brahimi wants world powers to issue a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a transitional administration.
In addition to the possible use of chemical bombs by “an increasingly desperate” Assad, Clinton said Washington was concerned about the government losing control of such weapons to extreme Islamist armed groups among the rebel forces.
U.S. officials said Washington was considering blacklisting Jabhat al-Nusra, an influential rebel group accused by other rebels of indiscriminate tactics that has advocated an Islamic state in Syria and is suspected of ties to al Qaeda.
An explosion in front of the Damascus headquarters of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent killed at least one person on Thursday, Syrian state television said.
It blamed “terrorists from al Qaeda” — a term often employed to refer to rebel forces.
Meanwhile, activists said the army pummeled several eastern suburbs of Damascus, where the rebels are dominant, with artillery and mortar fire. The suburbs have also been cut off from the city’s water and electricity for weeks, rebels say, accusing the government of collective punishment.
Rebels say they have surrounded an air base 4 km (2-1/2 mikes) from the center of Damascus, a fresh sign the battle is closing in on the Syrian capital.
They also said they were battling soldiers on the road to Damascus International Airport, 20 km (12 miles) out of the capital where several airlines have canceled flights due to security concerns.
Maqdad, in his interview on Thursday, argued that reports of such advances were untrue: “What is sad is that foreign countries believe these repeated rumors.”
But residents inside the capital say the sound of shelling on the outskirts has become a constant backdrop and many fear the fight will soon come to Damascus.
The Western military alliance’s decision to send U.S., German and Dutch Patriot missile batteries to help defend the Turkish border would bring European and U.S. troops to Syria’s frontier for the first time in the civil war.
The actual deployment could take several weeks.
“Some countries now are now supplying Turkey with missiles for which there is no excuse. Syria is not going to attack the Turkish people,” Maqdad said.
But a veteran Turkish commentator, Cengiz Candar of the Radikal newspaper, said Ankara fears Syria’s 500 short-range ballistic missiles could fall into the wrong hands.
The government is “of the view that Syria was not expected to use them against Turkey, but that there was a risk of these weapons falling into the hands of ‘uncontrolled forces’ when the regime collapses”, he wrote.
Armed rebels ‘comprises of civilians’ don’t usually able to escalate the war, so close to a city like Damascus. Unless the Western ‘partners’ have been directly arming the rebels and means to sustain fights, especially by non combatants.
It is pertinent that the West, especially United States and UK back the effort to topple the Syrian government. This government has been consistent against the criminally instituted and certifiably anti-Arab State of Israel. Infact, it is the other state besides Iran which is a major threat against Israel.
Majority of Syrians are not with these rebels. In several cities where there is a large funeral for civilian collateral victims of the rebel attacks, reports on clashes between majority of the population versus supporters of the rebellion.
The rebels, who call themselves Syrian National Council operate from West friendly Arab states such as Qatar. It is believed that there is only 10,000 FSA rebels, which include foreign nationals comprises of British, Turkish, Libyans, Tunisians, Eqyptians, Iraqis, Yemenis, Paskitanis and Afghans. That is a demonstration that the rebellion in Syria is an extension of the West-sponsored ‘Arab Spring’, designed to weaken the Arab influence in the region.
The rebels will eventually turn Syria into a pro-West democracy, where Israel’s security would be more affirmed. Syria and Israel engaged in open war against each other in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. Syria also backed the Hezbollah in Lebanon, which caused a major security threat against Israel especially in the 80s.
United States already forewarned Syria against using chemical weapons. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Mekdad assured that even if Syrian government had chemical weapons, it would not be used against their own people in their effort to defeat the armed West-backed rebellion.
Chemical weapons fear is a cloak for intervention, says SyriaPublished on Thursday December 06, 2012
ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/GETTY IMAGESA wounded rebel fighter lies in the back of a pick up truck making it’s way to a hospital through traffic in the northern Syrian city Aleppo on Dec. 6.Erika Solomon
BEIRUT—Western powers are whipping up fear of chemical weapons as a pretext to intervene in Syria, President Bashar Assad’s government said on Thursday, after several Western countries said they feared Assad might use poison gas.
“Syria stresses again, for the tenth, the hundredth time, that if we had such weapons, they would not be used against its people. We would not commit suicide,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Maqdad told Lebanon’s Al Manar television, the voice of the pro-Assad Hezbollah movement.
“We fear there is a conspiracy to provide a pretext for any subsequent interventions in Syria by these countries that are increasing pressure on Syria.”
As darkness fell in the embattled capital, the highway to Damascus international airport was closed by fighting, witnesses said. Rebels said they would not storm the airport but would encircle it to stop flights supplying the army.
Fighting in Syria’s 20-month civil war has intensified around the capital in the past week, prompting Western commentators to speak of an “end-game” that could soon see Assad toppled soon.
Several Western countries have issued coordinated warnings this week to Assad’s government not to use chemical weapons, many citing secret intelligence that U.S. officials said showed the Assad government might be preparing to use poison gas.
Syria has not signed the international chemical weapons treaty that bans the use and storage of poison gas, but has repeatedly said it would never use such arms on its own people.
NATO also decided this week to send U.S., German and Dutch batteries of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles to Turkey’s border with Syria, meaning hundreds of American and European troops deploying to the frontier for the first time.
Western countries have so far resisted conducting the sort of intervention in Syria’s civil war that saw NATO air strikes help topple Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi last year.
Germany approved the Patriot missile mission on Thursday. NATO says it is a defensive step to prevent cross border missile strikes on alliance member Turkey, but Syria fears it could be a prelude to imposing a no-fly zone over its territory.
With conditions worsening on the ground, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi were in Dublin on Thursday to try to put get a UN peace process on track.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Assad to refrain from using chemical weapons under any circumstances.
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Ban also underscored in a letter to Assad “the fundamental responsibility of the Syrian government to ensure the safety and security of any such stockpiles.”
The UN chief called Ambassador Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, on Thursday to discuss his concerns about recent reports of Syrian plans to possibly use chemical weapons, Nesirky said.
Ban reiterated to Uzumcu “that any use of such weapons would be an outrageous crime with dire consequences,” Nesirky said.
Uzumcu told Ban the organization is monitoring developments and has made numerous approaches to Syria to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, Nesirky said.
Russia, backed by China, has so far blocked UN resolutions against Assad in a war that has killed more than 40,000 people. But there are signs that Moscow’s patience with its ally may be wearing thing.
A Russian lawmaker and ally of President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said “time has shown” that Syria’s government has lost the strength to function as it should.
Rebel spokesman Abu Nidal said the army was pinned down along the airport highway by nightfall on Thursday by rebel fighters manoeuvring to mount a blockade. The airport is not closed but commercial traffic has almost ceased.
“We know that arms have been going to the regime through the civilian airport,” he said. A blockade would be “a good tool to put more pressure on the regime, which is part of strategy of trying to drain their strength”.
Western powers have shown no enthusiasm for armed intervention in Syria, preferring economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure and limited aid to rebel forces, who get most of their guns and ammunition paid for by sympathetic Arab powers.
Britain said on Thursday it will increase practical support for the rebels to include training and equipment such as body armour and night-vision goggles. But they will not get the anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles they are crying out for.
Exactly what Syria’s army has done with suspected chemical weapons to prompt a surge of Western warnings over the past two days is not clear. Reports citing Western intelligence and defence sources are vague and inconsistent.
Clinton said on Wednesday Washington was concerned both about the possible use of chemical arms by “an increasingly desperate” Assad, and about the government losing control of such weapons to extremist armed groups.
While Western countries support the rebel aim of toppling Assad, they are also uncomfortable with some rebel groups, which espouse radical Sunni Islamist views. The prospect of some rebels obtaining chemical weapons could be more frightening to Western policymakers than Assad.
U.S. officials said the Obama administration was considering blacklisting Jabhat al-Nusra, an influential rebel group accused by other rebels of indiscriminate tactics that has advocated an Islamic state in Syria and is suspected of ties to Al Qaeda.
An explosion at the Damascus headquarters of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent killed at least one person on Thursday, Syrian state television said. It blamed “terrorists from Al Qaeda”—a term the government often employs to refer to rebel forces.
Opposition activists said army artillery pummelled several eastern suburbs of Damascus, where the rebels are dominant. Suburbs have been cut off for weeks from water and electricity, rebels say, accusing the government of collective punishment.
Residents of the cosmopolitan capital—until now largely spared the ravages of a war concentrated in the provinces and other cities—speak of a city under siege.
“I wanted to run a simple errand, to pay my cell phone. It should have taken 7 minutes but it took 25 because they’ve blocked the main road and the detour road,” said one woman. “So we took a route all the way round the city that was very crowded with the traffic of everyone trying to get home. People are very resentful—and the VIPs must be very scared.”
Rebels say they have also surrounded an air base 4 kilometres from the centre of Damascus, a fresh sign the battle is closing in on the Syrian capital.
Maqdad denied that. “What is sad is that foreign countries believe these repeated rumours,” he said.
Rebel and state claims about the military situation cannot be verified independently. But residents in the capital say the sound of shelling on the outskirts has become a constant backdrop and many fear the fight will soon come to Damascus.
Fighting was reported on Thursday in the rural outskirts of Damascus and in many parts of the country. A crucial supply line for the army, the Damascus-Aleppo road, was hit by clashes.
With files from Reuters, the Associated Press
Syrian Deputy Prime Minister also remarked that chemical weapons would be deployed by the West or Israeli agents against the Syrian rebellion, to create the justification for humanity reasons forthe military intervention against Syrian armed forces and the inadvertent attack to topple Bashar Al Assad’s regime.
In the past, United States and United Kingdom have lied for the justification to attack Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein in 2003.