Birds of Prey Circling Over Syria
Birds of Prey Circling Over Syria

Anyone who spends some time in the hills of Galilee or the Golan Heights is familiar with the arresting sight of flocks of ravens, eagles, vultures and other birds of prey, circling the same spot in the sky for hours. Their objective is clear: down below that circle lies the body of a cow, sheep or other animal, whose movements attest to its approaching death. The birds follow the death throes carefully, flying lower and lower as the signs of life become fainter. As soon as the animal ceases to move, they pounce on their prey to begin gouging out its flesh, using their sharp beaks.

While the raptors are aloft, they follow one another in a line, keeping their distance from each other. Once they swoop down on their prey, however, they begin to fight over the best parts of the meal, especially if their collective appetite exceeds the size of the animal's carcass.

The situation is Syria these days is uncannily similar to this macabre-cum-pastoral scene. The country is on its deathbed, and an entire flock of predator birds has already begun gouging whatever bits of flesh it can, all the while fighting over the better parts of the carcass – in this case, the country's various regions.

First in line is the Kurdish minority of northern Syria, which freed itself from the central government and established its own self-rule during 2012, boasting a small, independent army that received weaponry, arms and training from the Peshmerga, Iraqi Kurdistan's militia. Cognizant of Turkey's disapproval of an autonomous Kurdish region, their spokesmen have been repeating over and over for the past four years that they have no desire to separate from Syria and only demand that the state recognize their needs, culture and language.

As time passed, however, the Kurds began to realize that the country of Syria is a thing of the past, and that the new reality – especially since the advent of Islamic State's control of the eastern part of the country – is that they are on their own and must fend for themselves by establishing an entity that can protect them from Islamic State to the south and Turkey from the north. This, like the mini-state in northern Iraq, is a de facto state, even if it is not declared one, and is anathema to the Turks, who are doing their best to destroy it.

The second bird of prey is the long list of Syrian militias, some Islamist-Jihadist (led by Jabhat al Nusra), some nationalist  (such as the Free Syrian Army) and some local. These militias began operating in the poor neighborhoods of Daara, Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo, and received generous aid from the Gulf States, led by Qatar. Later, during 2013, they gained control of the borders with Turkey and Iraq and allowed the Jihadists to enter Syria freely. Today they control large swaths of land in northern Syriia, in the Aleppo-Idlib area and are advancing westward towards the coast, where two million Allawites live, proclaiming their plans for the mass murder of that minority's men, women and children. In the south, facing the Golan, they control a wide area, threatening Damascus from the south.

Opening the borders to the Jihadists hastened the decline of Assad's regime, but also sowed the seeds of the next debacle, as the flow of foreign Jihadists were able to connect with Islamic State – the third raptor – when it invaded Syria in 2014. This "state", founded in Iraq in 2004 as a branch of Al Qaeda after the Western Coalition invaded and toppled Saddam Hussein, became increasingly extremist in its Islamist-ideology as well as its operational Jihadism, forcing the most stringent version of Islamic Sharia law on all the areas it conquered in Iraq and Syria while recording its "trendy" beheadings of nonbelievers on camera.

Today, Islamic State controls 60% (!) of Syrian territory, mainly in the arid and thinly populated eastern and central areas of the country, but is threatening to spread westward in order to seize Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo, while battling both the Kurds in Kobane and Hasakah and Jebhat al Nusra in its strongholds. It is worth remembering that Jabhat al Nusra was part of Islamic State for about two weeks in June 2004, but left due to a dispute over the attitude to non-believers. It is quite possible, in my opinion, that Islamic State will use its notorious methods to "persuade" the group to rejoin the ISIS ranks, especially since they have so much in common.

Turkey was taken by surprise when Syria fell into the hands of two other birds of prey, the Kurds and Islamic State, entities which Turkey most definitely does not want on its borders.
Turkey, the fourth bird of prey, invested much effort into overthrowing Bashar Assad's regime, which it considers heretic Allawite rule, spurred by the desire to revenge the mass murder of Sunni Muslims perpetrated by his father in the late 1970's when he wrested control of the country. Erdogan was furious when Bashar began following in his father's footsteps, massacring demonstrators from March 2011 onwards, and helped all the anti-Assad groups for four straight years.

Turkey was taken by surprise when Syria fell into the hands of two other birds of prey, the Kurds and Islamic State, entities which Turkey most definitely does not want on its borders. This explains why Turkey has begun stepped-up military and diplomatic activity over the last few days, in an attempt to create a buffer zone in Syria along the two countries' common border. On the surface, this zone is supposed to contain the Syrian refugees who have been flooding Turkey to the tune of two million so far, but the real intent is to control a part of Syria that will prevent the Kurds from establishing their rule on Turkey's southern border.

There is a fifth raptor – Hezbollah. This Shiite organization is dismayed to see Syria falling to Sunni birds of prey and is very fearful that the conquerors will not stop at the borders (which they do not recognize anyway) and will instead continue westward to behead Lebanese Shiites. Hezbollah has already overrun Syrian-Lebanese border municipal areas, including greater Arsal, Hermel, Kutsir and Homs in an attempt to stop the Jihadist forces while they are still in Syria, well before they reach the Lebanon Valley, home to many Shiites who live near the city of Baalbek.

The sixth bird of prey – the Druze of southern Syria – is awakening after years of loyalty to Assad's regime to discover that Syria is disintegrating and that the regime's army units, once deployed in southern Syria to protect the Druze from a bitter fate at the point of Islamist knives, are leaving to defend sensitive areas that the regime deems more important, like Damascus and the Allawite coastal area. The Druze are beginning to understand that only their own determined political entity, armed, trained and independent, can succeed in protecting them, both on Druze Mountain and in the Khader enclave on the Hermon mountain. Israel and Jordan remain in the background, but are most definitely ready to offer as much aid as they are able to.

The seventh predator is Iran. There are thousands of Quds Force fighters, part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, in Syria. In two arenas, the Qalamoun Mountains and Idlib, it is the Iranians who are calling the shots for the Syrian Army and Hezbollah. General Kassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force, is on the spot, with his rich battle experience, gained in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980's as well as from the help he proffered the Shitte militias in Iraq when they fought the coalition headed by the USA from 2003 onward. Despite his hands being smeared with the blood of American troops, he is well-coordinated with the US, which sees the Iranians in Syria as the last hope for accomplishing something that heads off Islamic State. This is also part of the reason the US was so eager to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran. '

Rumor has it that the Iranians have begun transferring Iranian families to the Allawite region, but this information should be taken with a grain of salt so far. On the other hand, however, Syria does have sites that are holy to Shiite Islam and under the guise of protecting them, Iranians can take control of parts of Syria.  After all, who is to stop them?

The last and eighth bird of prey is Russia. That country is doing its best to help Assad, mostly in the form of masses of weaponry flowing from Russia through the port of Tarsus to the thinning ranks of the Syrian Army. Russia will not see a penny from its investment in Syria, and it may even lose its seaports, the last ones it has on the Mediterranean Sea. Russia may decide to take over – "temporarily": of course – the cities of Tartus and Latakia "in order to protect the inhabitants", a euphemism for Russian interests in those seaports.

This is the saga of Syria's fall to a flock of circling raptors. But there is one more. The US government has just appointed a new special envoy to Syria, Michael Ratney, a seasoned diplomat who speaks Arabic and has filled many positions in the Middle East including that of General Consul of Jerusalem. His most important mission will be to make order among the various birds of prey, making sure that the American eagle also gets some of the meat left on the Syrian carcass.

Written for Arutz Sheva, translated from the Hebrew by Arutz Sheva Op-ed and Judaism Editor, Rochel Sylvetsky