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Middle East

A Discrete Friend of Iraqi Kurds Voices Open Support for Independence

By Deniz Serinci 30/6/2014
Netanyahu: ‘We should... support the Kurdish aspiration for independence.’ Photo: AFP
Netanyahu: ‘We should... support the Kurdish aspiration for independence.’ Photo: AFP

COPENHAGEN, Denmark – With Iraq spinning out of control under a jihadi-led Sunni rebellion and the autonomous Iraqi Kurds expanding territorial control and moving closer to independence, Erbil is attracting support from a discrete friend: Israel.

"We should... support the Kurdish aspiration for independence," Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told a think tank in Tel Aviv on Sunday.  He called the Kurds "a nation of fighters (who) have proved political commitment and are worthy of independence.”

The support for independence – a perennial aspiration of Iraq’s estimated five million Kurds – clashes with US policy in Iraq, which has opposed any expansion of Kurdish autonomy out of fear that would mean a step toward independence.

Kurdistan and Israel have maintained quiet business, intelligence and military ties, with Israeli leaders often praising the Kurds, many of whom see the Jewish state as a model for their own future homeland.

Netanyahu made the call for Kurdish independence as part of a broader alliance with moderate forces across the region.  

In a meeting last week, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liebermann called Kurdish independence as “a foregone conclusion.”

"Iraq is breaking up before our eyes and it would appear that the creation of an independent Kurdish state is a foregone conclusion," Lieberman's spokesman quoted him as telling Kerry at a meeting in Paris last Thursday.

A day earlier, praise also came from Israeli President Shimon Peres, when he visited the White House.

"The Kurds have, de facto, created their own state, which is democratic. One of the signs of a democracy is the granting of equality to women," Peres said.

Sardar Sharif, a doctoral researcher in international relations at the University of Dohuk who has studied the Kurdish-Israeli ties, explained that  Israel has maintained discrete military and business ties with the Kurds since the 1960s, and that former Iraqi-Kurdish leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani had helped Jews leave Israel for Israel.

"The Israelis and the Kurds had a common enemy, namely the Arab states that were hostile to them," said Sharif.

The Israeli-Kurdish relation has been secret until now because the Kurds have wanted it, “because Israel is not popular in the Middle East,” Sharif said.

”Our silence - in public, at least – is best. Any unnecessary utterance on our part can only harm them (Kurds),” senior Israeli defence official Amos Gilad was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

Eliezer Tsafrir, a former Mossad station chief in Kurdish region in the 1960s, said secrecy regarding the nature of ties had been a Kurdish request.

"We'd love it to be out in the open, to have an embassy there, to have normal relations. But we keep it clandestine because that’s what they (the Kurds) want,” he told Reuters.

According to Sharif, the Israelis have an interest in getting a new and powerful ally in the Middle East, where they feel alone against the Arabs – as do the Kurds.

"Israel was hoping to get a moderate, secular Muslim ally in Turkey, but the relationship was strained after 2010. Now, they aim at the KRG," said Sharif, referring to an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish activists in May 2010.

In addition, the Israelis are concerned about Iran's growing influence in the “Shiite crescent” -- Iraq, Syria and with the Hezbollah in Lebanon.

"The Israelis are hoping for a new ally in the Middle East that could mitigate Iranian influence in the region,” Sharif told Rudaw.

Tobias Havmand, an international journalist who has reported from around the Middle East, believes that a new alliance picture is emerging in the Middle East and Israel is trying to navigate, so that they can overcome their isolation and win new partners.

"An independent Kurdistan would be a thorn in the side primarily Iran, Israeli's arch-enemy, and Israel needs regional allies. It's easier to make a strategic alliance with the secular Kurds than with Arabs and Persians," he said.

But it is still quite risky to ally with the Israelis, because it can give a little backfire, experts warn.

"Israel is still the object of hate number one in the region, and being too closely associated with them opens a popular popular flank of isolation and hostile demonstrations of nations and people who already have problems with Kurdish independence," said Havmand.

Sharif agreed and believed the Muslim and Arab world will perceive the Kurds relationship with the Israelis as treason.

“But the Kurds will perceive this view as hypocrisy, as the Muslim-Arab countries in secret also trade with Israel.

“Why is it halal (permitted) for them, but haram (forbidden) for us, the Kurds will ask?” he said.


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SerAAsen | 30/6/2014
The Arabs or any body else have no say on who will recognize Kurdistan as an independent state, it is up to them, as far as building relations with members states of UN, all will depend on mutual interests, just like the Arab countries today, who have Israel embassies and all types of relationships with Israel , Egypt , Jordan, Qatar ,,and others,,,, why should it be Ok for Arab and forbidden for others,,,,,the issue here is not Israel, it is Kurdistan, I believe the first country who should recognize Kurdistan's independent should be Egypt, followed by the rest of the Arab countries and why not,,,, the question is WHY KURDISTAN SHOULD BE A PART OF IRAQ ? WHAT DO WE HAVE IN COMMEN WITH IRAQ ARABS? WHY SHOULD BAGHDAD DECIDE HOW WE CAN LVE? WHAT LAW PERMITS OTHERS TO PUT KURDISH PEOPLE UNDER OTHERS CONTROL? ENOUGH IS ENOUGH,,,,WE CAN EXCEPT TO SLAVE OF THE ARABS ANY MORE. LET THE WHOLE WORLD UNDERSTAND THIS.
United Kurd | 30/6/2014
Kurds should have relation with Israel because they are part of Middle East. We can not hate Israel because Arabs, Turks or Persian hate them. We have not been harm by them but in the contrary we were supported by Israeli when the nazi-style bahasist arabs had committed 3 kind of genocide such as arabisation of kerkuk, unfall, Halacha and forced deportation of kurdish famillies to the desert. Freedom for Kurdistan ;)
Peshmerga | 30/6/2014
Her biji Israel. Kurdistan & Israel have been allies since the 1960's, and will be able to continue their relations publicly once independence is declares within a few months from now. Arabs, Turks and Persians: go cry now. Cry until you run dry. There's nothing you can do about the new realities. Barzani once told Serok Apo: ''Let's create a small Kurdistan first. Once we have small Kurdistan, the liberation of Greater Kurdistan will follow.'' Serok Apo didn't understand what he meant, but he does now. The Turks, Arabs and Persians must not think that we will settle for ''little Kurdistan'' (Rojava and Bashur). Rojhalat and Bakur WILL follow, even if it means continuing our struggle for another 1000 years. All our enemies will die knowing that either their children will not rest because of the powerful Kurdish rebellions that take will place, and will take place until the liberation of Kurdistan, or they will die knowing that they lost the war. There is no other possibility. Victory for Kurdistan is inevitable.
Salahadin power | 30/6/2014
If the Kurds want to have relation with Tehran, Bagdad and Ankara while they exterminate their own people but not to have relation with Israel then the Kurds in general will be considerate as a "monkey" nation. Jordan has embassy in tel-aviv, Ankara has an embassy, Egypt has also an embassy so why is it forbidden to Kurds to have a relation with Israel??????
yek K. | 30/6/2014
When Arabs, Turks and Persians need us they say we are Muslims and thats why stay together. But when we need them they say we are Kurds and have no rights. Double minded snakes!

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