A KURDISH peshmerga soldier stands at a lookout near Bashiqa in northern Iraq.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In recent years numerous Israeli politicians, including Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former president Shimon Peres, have expressed support for Kurdish rights to self-determination.
There are many reasons Israel should foster ties and cooperation with the Kurds, including support of an independent Kurdish state in Northern Iraq when Kurds decide to take the next step toward statehood.
First, the Kurds and Israel have common enemies. The peshmerga fighters belonging to the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq have proven to be the most effective power against the onslaught of Islamic State.
The Kurds organized under the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) are one of the few opposition forces effectively opposing the Revolutionary Guards. In the last several months the PDKI has renewed attacks, killing dozens of Iranian soldiers.
Working with the Kurds is also part of the “peripheral strategy,” begun by David Ben-Gurion, in which Israel seeks out diverse allies in the region.
The creation of a Kurdish-ruled autonomous region in Iraq is part of a larger phenomenon of the rise of sub-state groups in the region. In Iran they are loosely organized under the aegis of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran.
In Syria, Kurds are carving out their own areas from what was, but probably will never again be, a unitary Arab state.
Creation of another non-Arab autonomous area in the Middle East would help preserve the lives and rights of minority groups. It would also make Israel’s situation less anomalous. Indeed, anti-Israel voices in the region have in the past referred derogatorily to Kurds’ aspiration for a state by calling it a “second Israel.”
SUPPORTING THE Kurdistan Regional Government and Iranian Kurdish rights is the moral thing to do.
The Kurds, who are mostly Muslim, see Israel as an ally.
Kurdish society is freer and more tolerant than most neighboring societies. Women’s rights are respected – women are even integrated into the Kurdish armed forces as they are in Israel’s.
The reporting of The Jerusalem Post’s
Op-Ed Editor Seth Frantzman and Magazine Editor Laura Kelly from the front lines against ISIS in Iraq has revealed the Kurds’ strong affinity with Israel. Mustafa Hijri, the 71-year-old leader of the PDKI, said, “We [Israel and the Kurds] have common enemies, but more countries support Israel.”
Hijri was hinting that the Kurds – at least those organized in the PDKI and in the KRG – need Israeli support.
The KRG recognizes in Israel its best supporter in the West for the project of a Kurdish state. Former president Shimon Peres raised the issue with US President Barack Obama in a June 2014 meeting. Strong support from Jewish and Israeli opinion leaders is of great importance.
The Kurds prefer that this networking take place behind the scenes as much as possible. Seeking statehood while having hostile neighbors makes the leaders of the KRG cautious about publicizing anything that has to do with their relations with Israel. Nevertheless the KRG has taken steps in the last year to acknowledge Jewish heritage in the Kurdish region.
Financially, Israel can help the Kurds by buying Kurdish oil when other countries are less willing to do so.
True, any economic support that Israel could offer is dwarfed by the potential from Sunni states such as Turkey and the Saudis. Still, Kurdish interests – and those of Israel – are increasingly dovetailing with those of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, at least with regard to the shared opposition to Iranian expansionism.
Israeli relations with the Kurds will of necessity remain complicated and largely clandestine. Complicated because Israel has to deal with four different Kurdish players in four countries that host Kurdish communities and political organizations: In Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, each of which pursues a very different political agenda.
Clandestine because the Kurds often cannot afford to be seen as maintaining overtly close relations with the Jewish state. But fostering ties with the Kurds not only serves Israeli interests, it is a rare opportunity for moral clarity. Supporting Kurdish national self-determination is to choose good over evil.