The Top 3 Syrian security officials assassinated by rebels

the past two weeks, the rebels have inflicted the heaviest losses yet on Assad’s forces in sixteen months of fighting. Not only the quantity, but the quality of losses is telling: the Syrian military has lost dozens of tanks and armored vehicles, and yesterday, for the first time in the war, a military helicopter was shot down by rebels equipped with a shoulder-fired missile.

There are two reasons for this growing effectiveness of the rebels:

  • The rebels have been receiving more and more weapons – and more sophisticated and lethal weapons. The flow of arms is funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and Jordanian military and intelligence officers help in the training. CIA operatives, and Turkish military officers, are also involved, if discreetly, in helping rebel units become more militarily effective.
  • With a growing wave of defections from the Syrian army, the rebels can now field larger formations of trained soldiers who, with the better weapons and training they have received, force the regime to face a much stronger opposition than it did a year ago

The Assad regime can rely on the unquestioning loyalty of only a relatively small fraction of the military, along with Alawite armed militias. These loyal units have been at war for a year-and-half now, and they are also the units that suffer most of the casualties. There is no relief in sight. The increasing brutality of the regime’s anti-rebel operations is an indication of both growing fatigue and deepening desperation.

In the face of a dramatic increase in the number of defectors – and the ranks of the defectors (just this past weekend, nine generals fled to Turkey with their families) – and the sharp increase in the military effectiveness of the rebels, the regime’s desperation – and brutality – are likely to increase. It is in this context that the removal by the Syrian military last week of chemical munitions (mostly artillery shells, but also some warheads for short-range missiles) from storage and their deployment to areas closer to the where the major fighting is taking place, should be understood.

Just as the rebels have seen the support for them increase – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan have been in the rebels’ corner from the start, but over the last two months, the United States and Turkey have become meaningfully more involved at ground level – so has the regime: more Iranian military and intelligence operatives are now attached to Syrian military units fighting the rebels, and Hezbollah has sent a few dozens of its own fighters for small-scale operations against the rebels in areas near the Syria-Lebanon border.