28 Jul 2012

Your guide to what the hell is going on in Syria

Syria FAQs. Your very own cut-out-and-keep guide to what the hell’s going on..

What will happen in Aleppo?

Probably what happened in Damascus – the rebels will lose.

The Syrian army has a range of heavy weapons at its disposal and completely outguns the rebels in every department of modern warfare.

By air they have utter dominance and it’s not much difference on the ground.

It took a week to clear rebel fighters from the capital. Much the same looks likely in Aleppo.

If rebels can maintain effective resupply to certain suburbs the fighting may continue in these zones much as it has in Homs, to the south.

This might just be feasible because the rebels do control large swathes of lightly populated countryside areas.

But the rebels look to be doing well on TV?

That’s because they are winning the propaganda war better than the real war.

The regime is stuck in Stasi-like cold war habits and simply bans filming with their army which means you rarely see what they are doing outside Syrian TV or occasionally Russian/Chinese TV reports.

YouTube propaganda clips of rebels destroying one tank tell you little or actively mislead about the conduct of protracted urban assaults.

So life must be hell in Aleppo right now?

Actually yes and no. It’s as if rebels are in Hammersmith, Hackney and Tottenham if you like.

But over in Chelsea they are still poring over various types of balsamic vinegar in the delicatessen even though you can hear the shelling. This is not meant to be flippant but to give you a sense of how it is.

You can sit in the Safri Hotel in Homs 10 minutes’ walk from the fighting and enjoy a meal as if nothing were going on. It depends entirely upon which part of the city you are in.

The regime is not simply shelling entire city zones and never has.

They know where the rebels are fighting and that is where the warfare takes place. The rest of the city will look and feel strikingly normal to you. Inside the fighting area of course it is terrifying and exceptionally dangerous.

But why is the Syrian army shelling its own people?

You could just as easily ask why are the rebels using the Syrian people as human shields? It’s a dirty civil war and the rebels sometimes choose to fight in residential areas.

Equally, to the best of my knowledge, the regime has not obviously posted warnings to civilians to get out with safe passage before an assault, though it was pretty obvious what was coming to Aleppo and many did indeed get out as the tanks rolled north.

So what do Syrians want?

Hard to tell. But for sure this is not Egypt – there are no Tahrir Squares or vast protests against the regime.

There is no discernible sign in any of the big cities – Homs, Aleppo and Damascus for example,that the people even wish to rise up against the regime.

The state is firmly in control- there are secret and overt police and army on pretty much every major street and junction in these cities.

The police state is alive and well. Most people appear either to support the regime still or they are hedging their bets and don’t want to confront men with AK47s as yet.

The safe bet is that regime support remains considerable across many urban areas.

So what happens?

It goes on – for a long time. Slowly the rebels get better weapons from the Saudis and Qataris and non-military help from certainly the CIA and possibly British special forces along the southern border zone in Turkey.

But this will be slow. One or more of three things have to happen for the turning point to be reached:

1. Defections from the Syrian Army become mission-critical

2. Russia turns off the arms supply tap to the regime

3. The Assad politburo decides that the game is up

And whilst there is movement towards all three – none is yet realised.

Follow @alextomo on Twitter

Tweets by @alextomo