العلاقات الكردية الإسرائيلية… وقائع تاريخية لخدعة دعائية
A few hours after the end of the Israeli nationalists flag march in occupied Jerusalem on Tuesday, June 15, a prominent ‘Hasbara’ activist posted a tweet saying he was proud to raise the Kurdistan flag alongside the Israeli flag. On Twitter, Andreas Fagerbakke said:
Alongside the tweet, the activist — who is closely followed by a host of Hebrew newspapers and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs — published a picture of the Israeli flag raised next to the Kurdistan flag, in a way that suggested to his followers that the photo had been recently taken during the controversial flag-waving procession.
Using a reverse search technique, Raseef22 found that the photo actually dates back to 2017, and was taken in Iraq, not Jerusalem. It is the same photo that sparked a nation-wide Iraqi movement to criminalize raising the Israeli flag across all regions of Iraq, including the autonomous Kurdistan region.
The Israeli flag has been raised on many occasions in Kurdistan, and the flag of the Iraqi Kurdish region has been raised in Israel, which leaves the impression that there are Kurdish-Israeli relations at the expense of Arabs. Is this a truth?
Two Flags, Two Narratives
The Israeli flag has been raised on many occasions in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, and the flag of the Iraqi Kurdish region has been raised in Israel, which leaves the impression that there are Kurdish-Israeli relations at the expense of Arabs.
This belief has been denied when addressing the issue with Kurdish specialists who assert that relations with Israel are only limited to some parties in Iraqi Kurdistan in addition to certain families, stressing that there is no single party that represents all the Kurds. Accordingly, “it is wrong to say that there are Israeli-Kurdish relations,” but rather, some assert that they are sympathetic with the Palestinian cause.
However, the Israeli semi-official insistence puts us before two narratives about the reality of the relations between the Israeli and Kurdish nations. They are unofficial relations, as until now there is no state representing the Kurds that can take a decision on political cooperation and the exchange of diplomatic relations with Israel, or that can announce its abstention from them.
While Raseef22 observed a state of Kurdish division over Israel, the general outlook in the state of Israel seems different, even though the motives of the two “sympathizing” sides are the same.
The Kurdish flag was also seen raised on a number of separate occasions in Israel.
Kurdish academic Kamran Mantak, professor of contemporary political history, explains this reciprocal action as, “the Israeli people are an indigenous people in the region with a history that goes back thousands of years, and the Jewish religion is a universal, divine (monotheistic) religion.”
He added to Raseef22 that there is a general sympathy towards Israel among Kurdish nationalists, and “the reason for this sympathy is them sharing the suffering and persecution that they suffered at the hands of chauvinist Arabs,” according to the Israeli account.
In a study published by Ofra Bengio, an Israeli researcher specializing in Kurdish affairs and Head of the Kurdish Studies Program at the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, she listed the manifestations of this “similarity” or parallel. She concluded that they are both a relatively few “people” in number (15 million Jews and 30 million Kurds), “They suffer persecution and war, both leading life-and-death struggles to preserve their unique identities, and both are being delegitimized and denied the right to a state of their own.”
She continues, “Both are ethnically different from the Arab, the Persian, and the Turkish neighbors, who constitute the majority in the Middle East.” The researcher claims that “recent studies have shown that the genetic links between Jews and Kurds are much clearer than those between Jews and Arabs.”
The researcher cites a Hebrew legend about the origins of the Kurds, according to which King Solomon (Prophet Suleiman for Muslims) asked the “jinn” subjugated to him to travel to Europe and bring five hundred beautiful women. And when the jinn returned with the loot, they learned that the king had died, so they decided to keep the beauties for themselves. They married them and gave birth to the Kurdish nation.
However, the state of mutual sympathy between a group of Kurds and Israelis is not only based on myths, but also on the fact that the Israeli discourse exploits the Kurds’ struggle towards establishing their independent state to create a link between the Jewish and Kurdish nationalities, despite the fact that Kurdish nationalism has ethnic characteristics and is not based on religion like Israeli nationalism is.
“Recent studies have shown that the genetic links between Jews and Kurds are much clearer than those between Jews and Arabs. Both are ethnically different from the Arab, the Persian, and the Turkish neighbor, who constitute the majority in the Middle East”
This is confirmed to Raseef22 by Kurdish journalist Dana Taib Menmy, who points out that Israel seeks to propose a state of historical connection, but it is not succeeding in any case. He says. “Most of the Kurdish people in the Kurdistan region of Iraq are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and see Israel as an occupying and oppressive entity, based on the state of interdependence that Israel is trying to claim in particular.”
He adds, “The Kurds were victims of the tyranny of the former Iraqi regime (Saddam Hussein). They experienced what the Palestinians are experiencing now at the hands of the Israeli occupation,” noting that the state of Kurdish sympathy for Palestinian rights became much more prominent during the recent Israeli aggression on Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Gaza Strip during the past May.
It All Starts with Oppression
The relationship between the two nationalities began before the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel on a part of the historical land of Palestine, that is, during the 1930s, and neither Israel nor the Kurdish nationalist parties deny it.
Dr. Kamran Mantak, whose ideas are not far from those of the Kurdish Nationalist Movement, says, “The existence of the relationship between some Kurdish ‘parties’ with Israel is a historical fact that no one can deny, and there is also a relationship between Israel and many Arab rulers. I hope that this relationship will be strengthened for the benefit of the whole region.”
Mantak points out that the relationship between Israel and some Kurdish parties does not mean that there are Israeli-Kurdish relations, and he adds, “There is no party in the world that represents an entire people. Therefore, calling the relations between some Kurdish parties with Israel as Kurdish-Israeli relations is an inaccurate and incorrect designation or label that is being used for political purposes, and is sometimes being used to accuse the Kurds and direct Arab and Islamic public opinion against them.”
Attempts to build these “relations” became quite evident in the 1950s, when the Israeli foreign policy strategy dubbed the Peripheral Alliance (or Alliance of the periphery) was first launched. This strategy confirmed that Tel Aviv should seek alliances with non-Arab countries, as well as with minorities in the Middle East, ending with the largest Arab bloc. Then began the intensive Israeli movements to implement the strategy, which focused on the Kurds of Iraq in particular.
Relations between Israel and some of the Kurds of Iraq began to develop shortly after the outbreak of the Kurdish rebellion (the Aylul revolts) in the fall of 1961. The beginning, as is widely known, was initiated by Israel. The first contacts are believed to have been made by Reuven Shiloah — the first director of the Mossad — in the early 1930s, when he was working as a reporter for the Palestine Post newspaper.
Iraqi Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani accompanied by Israeli President Zalman Shazar during Barzani’s visit to Israel in 1963
During the 1960s, Israeli military advisors trained Kurdish fighters to threaten the Iraqi state, reduce its threat to Israel, and help Iraqi Jews flee to Israel.
In the mid-1960s, Shimon Peres, Israel’s deputy defense minister — later prime minister and head of state — met secretly with Kamuran Ali Bedirxan, a Kurdish leader who had spied for the Israelis in the 1940s and 1950s.
Yaakov Nimrodi, the Israeli military attaché in Tehran under the Shah, was the main channel of communication between Tel Aviv and the Kurds.
The Iraqi official reaction did not attempt to contain the crisis with Kurdish nationalism in Iraq, but rather resorted to escalation against its members. Also in 1966, Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Aziz al-Uqaili accused the Kurds of “seeking to establish a second Israel” in the Middle East with the support of “the West and the East,” just as they had done in 1948.
The first official acknowledgement that Tel Aviv provided aid to the Kurds came out on September 29, 1980, when then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin revealed that Israel “supported the Kurds during their uprising against the Iraqis” in 1965-1975, and that the United States was aware of the fact. Begin added that Israel had sent trainers and weapons, but not military units.
71% of respondents to a poll in Kurdistan voiced their support for establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, and 67% said they see such relations as an important step towards an independent Kurdistan
After the “crushing” of the Kurds at the hands of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 1991, the Kurdish community in Israel (estimated at the time at 100,000) organized a massive relief operation for the Kurds of Iraq.
Israelis of Iraqi Kurdish origin demonstrated in front of the residence of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir at the time, calling on the US government to protect the Kurds from Saddam.
During his first meeting with the then US Secretary of State, Shamir urged the Carter administration to defend the Kurds. Shortly after that, the Israel-Kurdistan Friendship League was established in Jerusalem with the aim of strengthening relations between Israel, Jews, and Kurds worldwide.
In 2004, Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who exposed the torture scandals at Abu Ghraib prison, published an investigation asserting that Israeli military and intelligence agents (Mossad) are active in the Kurdish regions of Iran, Syria, and Iraq, providing training to Kurdish commando units, and run covert operations that “could increase destabilization within the entire region”.
Hersh also quoted German officials that intelligence services have evidence that Israel is using its influence within the Kurdish communities in Syria and Iran for operational intelligence purposes.
Additionally, Hersh quoted former Lebanese Minister of Information Michel Samaha — who was later accused of plotting to carry out terrorist acts inside his own country — as saying that his government had evidence that Israel was “preparing Kurds to fight in all parts of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran”.
In 2005, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani, stated that “establishing relations between the Kurds and Israel is not a crime because many Arab countries have relations with the Jewish state.”
Jalal Talabani, the “Kurdish” former Iraqi president did not hesitate to publicly shake hands with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak at an international conference in Greece in April 2008. When members of the Iraqi parliament denounced his behavior, Talabani made it clear that the handshake was in his capacity as the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, not the president of Iraq.
According to a 2009 opinion poll conducted in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, 71% of respondents voiced their support for establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, and 67% said they see such relations as an important step towards an independent Kurdistan.
And when the Kurdistan Regional Government held a referendum on independence from the central Iraqi government, Israel was the only country that backed the Kurdish secession, supporting it politically and publicly in the media. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exerted pressure on world leaders to support the Kurdish referendum.
In appreciation of the Israeli recognition, Kurds in Erbil waved the Israeli flag during pro-independence rallies and chanted pro-Tel Aviv slogans.
Following the ISIS attack on northern Iraq in September 2014, Israeli NGOs, in cooperation with the American Jewish Committee, announced that they would provide immediate aid to Christians and Yazidis in Iraqi Kurdistan.
According to the Financial Times, Israel imported up to three-quarters of its oil from Iraqi Kurdistan, which has been an important source of funds as Kurdish brigades battle Islamic State militants. The Financial Times was able to also determine investments made by many Israeli companies in energy, development, and communications projects in Iraqi Kurdistan, in addition to providing security training and purchasing oil.
Israeli intelligence officer Aharon Cohen on a visit to the late Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani at his residence in Iraqi Kurdistan
According to recent reports, there are between 400 and 730 Iraqi Jewish families living in the Kurdistan Region. On October 18, 2015, the KRG appointed Sherzad Omar Mamasani, a Kurdish Jew, as the Jewish representative for the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs. The Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post reports that about 200,000 Jewish Kurds will be repatriated to Iraqi Kurdistan if an independent Kurdish state is formed.
On the Kurdish side, an Israel-Kurd magazine, published by Daoud Bagestani, surfaced in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in 2009 to promote rapprochement between the two peoples.
Israel vs Kurdistan
Despite his support for the establishment of normal and declared relations between the Kurdish nationalism (movement) “and the state of Kurdistan in case it is established” and Israel. History professor Kamran Mantak believes that the biggest loser in this relationship is the Kurdish people, and the biggest beneficiary is Israel and a few Kurdish political parties, “in particular some members of Kurdish political families who are using the Kurdish cause for their own personal gains, as well as some of the corrupt and puppet political regimes in the region.”
Israel supported Kurdish parties during the last century; Israel was supporting what was called the Kurdish revolution, not for the Kurds, but in order to divide the ranks of the Arab countries and keep Kurds away from the fronts of the Israeli-Arab wars
He added, “Unfortunately, Israel used the Kurdish issue as a pressure card against Arab countries and the countries hostile to it. It never once stood with the Kurdish cause sincerely, and did not support the Kurds in their difficult times. On the contrary, Israel stood behind the countries that persecute the Kurds!”
He explains, “Israel was supporting some Kurdish parties during the last century, for example, Israel was supporting what was called the Kurdish revolution, not for the sake of the Kurds, but in order to divide the ranks of the Arab countries and keep them away from the fronts of the Israeli-Arab war during the 1967 war (the Six-Day War) and the October War (the Yom Kippur War) in 1973. But after it sorted out its problems with the Arabs to some extent and gained its footing, it conspired with America, the regime of the Shah of Iran, and some Arab regimes in 1975 to overthrow the Kurdish revolution.”
He points out that Israel was accused of helping Turkey arrest Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
He explains, “Israel had to take Turkish sensitivities into account in its relationship with the Kurds. Ankara considered the PKK a deadly enemy. Jerusalem felt obligated to distance itself from the Kurdish leaders in Turkey, and of course the PKK, so as not to antagonize the Turks and jeopardize their private relations.”
In May 1997, at the height of Turkish-Israeli relations, Netanyahu in his first term declared Israel’s support for Turkey in its struggle with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. He went even further than that, asserting that there will be no peace with Damascus unless it ends its support for ‘the PKK’s terrorism’.
But in his second term, when he was not on very good terms with Ankara due to the position of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Hamas in Gaza, he attacked Turkey’s military operations against the Kurds in Syria on Twitter. In the tweet, he wrote, “Israel strongly condemns the Turkish incursion into the Kurdish areas in Syria, and warns of ethnic cleansing against the Kurds at the hands of Turkey and its proxies. Israel is ready to provide humanitarian aid to the brave Kurdish people.”
Kurds Outside Iraq Hold a Different Opinion
Prior to his arrest, the head of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey Abdullah Öcalan was known for his strong stance against Zionism and the State of Israel. He is of those who believe that if there is a historical coincidence or parallel, it would be the one between the Palestinian and the Kurdish suffering, and he made statements that the Israelis considered as very close to anti-Semitism.
Early during the end of 1979, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party transferred many of its fighters, as well as its central command to Palestinian refugee camps on Lebanese territories, where they trained with the Palestinians and even took part in the fighting against Israel.
In 1982, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party proved its strength in the fight against Israeli occupation forces in Lebanon, which made both the Lebanese and Palestinians allow it to establish a major camp in the Bekaa Valley, which became its headquarters from then on.
Following the Israeli invasion and the subsequent attack on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon, the PKK fighters moved to Syria, which had allowed them to train in its territory because it was in the midst of hostilities with Israel and Turkey.
In the opinion of independent Kurdish journalist Dana Taib Menmy, the relations of some Kurdish parties and Israel was not beneficial at all to the Kurdish people, but rather “they were the cause of many calamities and woes for the Kurdish people and nation in general in each of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran.”
He tells Raseef22, “Yes, the relationship with Israel was and still is beneficial for some of the ruling Kurdish parties in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where Israel buys Kurdish oil. This ambiguous relationship has given excuses for the militias loyal to Iran to launch several missile attacks against certain targets in the city of Erbil.”
He goes on to say, “Israel claimed that it supports the region’s referendum of independence from Iraq in September 2017, but after the referendum, the falsehood of Israel’s claims became quite evident when it retreated after Iraqi forces regained the oil-rich city of Kirkuk from the control of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.”
Menmy asserts that Israel is a strategic ally of Turkey, and Israeli technology is used by Turkey to kill Kurdish civilians and fighters in both northern Iraq and northern Syria, ending with the question: What did the Kurds benefit from Israel?
On a final note, Mantak comments, “In short, Israel’s relations with some Kurdish parties did not serve the Kurdish cause in any way or form, but rather has harmed it a great deal. I believe that it is the duty of Arab media professionals and intellectuals to convey these facts to their peoples. Instead of accusing the Kurds of having relations with Israel, the Arab peoples should open their arms to the Kurds and support their just cause.”