Israeli Interests Vis-à-Vis Kurdish Region

The Kurdish region has been and still is an important region for the regional and extra-regional powers owing to its geostrategic significance and natural resources. In the pursuit of their interests, several states are executing different policies vis-à-vis the Kurdish region. Israel is no exception, but the interests of Israel and its policies towards the region are destroying the peace of the region as Israel has been the only state to support the creation of a new state, Kurdistan, in the Middle East so far.

There is no “Kurdistan” in the Middle East and has never been in history, however, the Kurds live across a large continuous block of the Middle East that spreads across Iraq, Iran, Syria, Armenia, and Turkey. Between 25 and 35 million Kurds live in this region; 16 million in Turkey, 6 million in Iraq, 8 million in Iran, 2 million in Syria, and 2 million in Armenia. The precise origin of the Kurds is uncertain, although some scholars believe them to be the descendants of various Indo-European tribes that settled in the area as early as 2000 BCE.

In the seventh century AD, the conquering Arabs applied the name Kurds (Akrad) to the mountainous people, and history also records that the famous Saladin (Salah al-Din), who fought so chivalrously and successfully against the Christian Crusaders and Richard the Lionhearted, was a Kurd. Early in the 16th century, most of the Kurds fell under Ottoman Turkish rule, while the remainders were under Persian control. Badr Khan Beg, the ruler of the last semi-independent Kurdish emirate of Botan, surrendered to the Ottomans in 1847.

Coming to Israeli interests in the Kurdish region, Israel has geopolitical and economic interests in this region. To achieve its vested interests, it has openly voiced its support for an independent Kurdistan. It has strong economic ties with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). It is estimated that since 2015, Israel met almost 77 percent of oil requirements from the KRG.  These imports are extremely important for the Zionist state, as it does not have access to the natural resources of oil-rich Gulf States. Israeli support to the KRG referendum has geopolitical connotations.

Besides oil flow, an independent Kurdistan commensurate with its late 1950s’ foreign policy’s cardinal ‘Periphery Doctrine’. The doctrine sought Israeli non-Arab allies in the periphery against the Arab Core. As part of this doctrine, Israel reached out to Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani, the father of current Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, several times throughout his time in office. As a result of these efforts, Mustafa Barzani visited Israel twice, once in 1968 and once in 1973.

Thus, the scene of Israeli flags flying in Kurdish towns during the referendum in 2017 along with reported slogans such as “We are second Israel” suggests an alteration of the Kurdish political culture and an apparent break from the past when Kurdish fighters trained and fought alongside members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Beirut in the late sixties, seventies, and early eighties. Since then, Israel has succeeded, with the help of Kurdish leaders like President Masoud Barzani, to infiltrate Kurdish society and end a once strong Kurdish association with the Palestinian cause.

The support has also a historical context. In 1948, many of the Kurdish Jews fled to Israel from the existing Kurdish areas. Though it has little to do with the compassion for the Kurds, Israelis apparently maintain that Kurds are faced with the same sort of situation that Jews faced in the pre-Israel era i.e. high in numbers with no state. Alongside, it is widely believed that since the 1960s, Israel has been discreetly providing money, training, and other military hardware assistance to KRG based on their shared status of ethnic minority status in the Middle East.

Moreover, geopolitically Israel’s support for independence-seeking Muslim State is natural and logical. An independent Kurdistan would provide an advantage to Israel in terms of Israel’s secured oil flow.  Also, Israel believes that an independent Kurdish state can serve as a potential foothold for the Israeli military and intelligence, giving the country leverage against Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. The creation of an independent Kurdish state in the Middle East also fits perfectly into Oded Yion’s 1982 plan for the Middle East, which advocated the split-up of the Arab World along ethnic and sectarian lines to strengthen Israel and expand its hegemony.

Israel has also found an opportunity in the form of the Kurdistan independence issue for diverting the attention of Middle Eastern States from Israel. This shift of focus would allow Israel to further its agenda of speeding up the settlements in Palestinian territories thereby facilitating its move towards ‘Greater Israel’. On the other hand, an independent Kurdistan is perceived to be a “Second Israel” in the Middle East.

At present, the Kurds in Iraq have gained a significant foothold, they have established their defense forces and are running a government named as Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the autonomous Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq. The KRG is fuelling the Israeli-made and sponsored movement in Turkey, Syria, and Iran. Recently, the KRG was criticized by Iran and Turkey for its controversial attempt to print a commemorative stamp to mark a visit by Pope Francis. The stamp was said to have depicted a map that included provinces in Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq.

Kurds-led terror groups are active in Turkey, Syria, and Iran that are creating instability and chaos in these countries. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK is a terrorist organization that is active in southern parts of Turkey and gets its support from Iraqi Kurds. The PKK is involved in carrying out terrorist attacks in Turkey, and its ultimate aim is to establish an independent Kurdish state. Similarly, The People’s Defense Units, also called People’s Protection Units (YPG) is mainly a Kurds-led terrorist organization that is destabilizing northern parts of Syria. In addition, the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK) is also a designated terror group that is inspired by the KRG and PKK, and it has been confronting the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in western parts of Iran.

Independent Kurdistan can only be possible if the nation-state systems fail in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. If it happens, this will create a Pro-Israel state in the Middle East and weaken the opponents of Israel in the region. Iraq and Syria are already facing chaos and instability, now Iran and Turkey are also being targeted in different ways. For instance, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is leading a terror campaign in Turkey especially in the South-East parts of Turkey. The recent fire breakout in almost 120 locations is being seen as a part of the terror scheme. In short, the conflict is still ongoing and there are many events that are yet to be unfolded.

Newsletter SignUp

About Zeeshan Shoukat 10 Articles
The author is a Geopolitical and Strategic Analyst. He writes on Indo-Pak Ties, Geopolitics of Indian Ocean, Evolving Dynamics in the Middle East, and Global Power Politics. He tweets at @_IamZeeshan