In a move that placed him at odds with US policy, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday took his first public stand in support of Kurdish independence.
He also warned that Israel must prepare for a possible infiltration of ISIS forces via Jordan by building a security barrier along that border that would run from Eilat all the way up to the Golan Heights.
Throughout a speech in Tel Aviv to the Institute for National Security Studies on the regional threats facing Israel, Netanyahu explained that recent events have shown the dangers of a security strategy that is overly dependent on Western powers.
It is important to build a regional axis of cooperation with moderate forces in the Middle East, Netanyahu said, explaining why he supports Kurdish independence.
“With respect to the Kurds, they are a warrior nation that is politically moderate, has proven they can be politically committed, and is worthy of statehood,” Netanyahu said.
The Kurds have seized on recent sectarian chaos in Iraq to expand their autonomous northern territory to include Kirkuk, which sits on vast oil deposits that could make the independent state many dream of economically viable.
But Iraqi Kurds, who have ethnic compatriots in Iran, Turkey and Syria, have hesitated to declare full independence, one reason being the feared response of neighboring countries.
Last Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Iraqi Kurdish leaders and urged them to seek political integration with Baghdad.
But Netanyahu split with Washington on the issue of Kurdish independence even as he urged the US to adopt Israel’s position on Iran and strip Tehran of its ability to enrich uranium when the P5+1 countries begin another round of nuclear talks this week.
Netanyahu was clear that a nuclear Iran was the greatest threat facing Israel. But, he said, regional events have shown that it is also in danger from more conventional terrorist and extremist forces sweeping the region, such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“Who knows what will happen tomorrow. The ISIS might attack Jordan within in a very short period of time. So we have to be prepared to stop the fanaticism and the terrorism that might infiltrate us from the east along the Jordan so that it won’t reach the Tel Aviv suburbs,” Netanyahu said.
His statements were the clearest he has made to date about the possible danger to Israel from the al-Qaida splinter group, which stunned the world with the speed by which it has taken control of large swaths of Iraq in the last month.
Israel and Jordan have good and stable relations and the border between their two countries has peaceful for many years.
But events in the last month regarding ISIS’s advancements means that Israel must beef its defenses on its eastern border, Netanyahu said.
“The first thing we need to do is to build a security fence on our eastern border to build it gradually from Eilat all the way to join the security barrier we have been building on the Golan Heights,” Netanyahu.
Such a barrier won’t stop missiles from flying overhead or attempts to dig tunnels underneath, he said, but it would make it much for difficult for terrorist groups to infiltrate into Israel.
“Imagine what would have happened with the Jihad forces in Sinai if we had not created that security barrier on the Egyptian border,” he said.
The threat from ISIS and the events of the last month have shown Israel that it must maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley in any future final-status agreement with the Palestinians for a two-state solution, Netanyahu said.
“No one can guarantee the security of the state of Israel except the IDF,” Netanyahu said as he dismissed the possibility of a western force or a western-trained force as an alternative.
The history of the US in Iraq has shown that at some point the western forces leave, the prime minister said.
“We can no longer trust that local forces trained by the West will curb and stop the Islamic penetration,” he said.
Therefore, he said, “in any future settlement with the Palestinians, Israel will have to continue controlling from a security point of view the territory from the Jordan River.”
The Palestinians believe that the Jordan Valley should be part of their future state and have dismissed any Israeli plans for an IDF presence there.
Maintaining an IDF presence in the Jordan Valley and the Palestinian territories, Netanyahu said, is not incompatible with Palestinian sovereignty, comparing it to the presence of US forces in the sovereign states of Germany and South Korea.
If the IDF leaves Palestinian areas, the Palestinian Authority will collapse, he warned, adding that such a collapse would be dangerous for Israel.
Netanyahu’s vision of a two-state solution, he said, is one in which the Palestinian state would be demilitarized, with security matters in the hands of the IDF.
Without this, he said, the two-state solution “won’t stand the test of time.”
Reuters contributed to this report.