What was yesterday’s prize, became today’s burden

Evin Cheikosman

By Evin Cheikosman:

In a region fraught with ethno-sectarian battles and ancestral claims to various estates, the only beacon of stability is the Kurds. Whether it be the Kurds in Syria or Iraq, they have been solid in their fight against jihadists and calculating in forming new alliances. The Peshmerge, the Kurdish army in Iraq, came to the aid of Baghdad’s army when ISIS barged into Iraq, and welcomed Iraqis into Kurdistan when the Jihadists had taken over their homes. Kurds continually prove to themselves and to the international “community” that they are a secure, adept, intelligent, and extremely fearless people who are beyond capable of running an independent nation of their own. For a while, on and off, Israeli PM Netanyahu saw all of these reasons and even announced to us that he was in support of a Kurdistan. Even Turkey, for a while, was pretty much waving the Kurdish flag along with us. However today, as i write this article, would be alliances have turned dark and the call for a Kurdistan has gotten urgent. But why? Why all of a sudden has Turkey and Israel gotten cold feet? Well, just like any other nation, supporting a Kurdistan, in their mentality, is not in their best interest.

These past weeks the Israeli government has been broadcasting their support for partition of Iraq in favor of an independent Kurdish state. The praise-filled statements go back and forth from Israeli President Peres to Foreign Minister Lieberman and to PM Netanyahu. Recently Peres told U.S. President Obama: “[t]he Kurds have created their own de facto state, which is democratic. One of the signs of democracy is the granting of equality to women.” The Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told US Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris: “Iraq is breaking up before our eyes and it would appear that the creation of an independent Kurdish state is a foregone conclusion.” And Israeli PM Netanyahu gave the utmost explicit endorsement for Kurdish independence in a speech at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies: “[w]e need to support the Kurdish aspiration for independence. They deserve it.” Netanyahu also went on to state the Kurds are “a nation of warriors, that have proven their commitment to political moderation, and they’re worthy of their own political independence.”

Support from Israel has always been present in Kurdish history given the fact that the two share a similar past. In a region where hostilities against any face that is not Arab, Israel has seen and still sees the Kurds as a likely ally. Also, given the animosity between Israel and Iran, becoming a Kurd’s best friend is the most strategic thing to do at this point. Israel honors all these points, and in fact has, since the Gulf war, conducted covert operations in Kurdistan and in Kurdish parts of Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. Of course for obvious reasons these facts are denied, but it is hard not to believe this is true.

After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Israel had forewarned the United States that an Iranian insurgency- a campaign of assassinations and bombings- will form in Iraq if the United States fails to secure the border between Iraq and Iran. The United States neglected to heed Israel’s word and sure enough, an insurgency had spread across the region against the United States in the form of bombings in Baghdad, the Jordanian embassy, and the United Nations Headquarters. At that point Israel realized that the United States was incapable and unwilling to confront Iran and that the only way to protect themselves from this Iranian controlled insurgency is to make friends with those who have eyes and ears on the ground: the Kurds. So Israel, according to a former Israeli intelligence officer, decided to train Kurdish commando units to operate in the same manner and with the same effectiveness as Israel’s most secretive commando units, the Mistaravim.

The initial goal of the Israeli assistance to the Kurds, the former officer said, was to allow them to do what American commando units had been unable to do—penetrate, gather intelligence on, and then kill off the leadership of the Shiite and Sunni insurgencies in Iraq. “The feeling was that this was a more effective way to get at the insurgency,” the former officer said. The Israeli decision to make an imprint in Kurdistan was called “Plan B” and since then it has become a version of multiple plans C, D, and E. As has been stated by Wadie Abu Nassar, a former political science lecturer at the Open University of Israel, “This support (for an independent Kurdistan) is an attempt by Netanyahu to deliver the message that Israel is able to play in the backyards of regional powerhouses Turkey and Iran. So as I had reiterated earlier, all nations act in their own best interest. Israeli history may be proportionate to Kurdish history, but at the end of the day, all that matters to Israel is Israel. No handshake comes clean in this game and Israel is bailing out.

This past Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman described Iraqi Kurdish independence as a fait accompli but said his country was taking no action to help the Kurds achieve formal statehood. Lieberman went on to say that: “Iraq’s future depends on the people who live there and Israel has no interest in getting involved in order to advance this-or-that solution, nor to give advice”. This reversion is a result of U.S. pressure and was made in efforts to steer clear of a potential confrontation from Washington. The U.S. is clearly advocating for a united Iraq and Secretary of State Kerry, who had met with Kurdish President Barzani, made the point that Kurdish aspirations must be deferred in an already delicate balance that is trying to be restored in a chaotic Iraq.

Thus Israel seems to be out of the picture for now, and so does Turkey, a country that reveres its economic relationship with Kurdistan with such high regard. The Turkish government declared its support for a united Iraqi government and had contradicted its previous endorsements of partition. But why? Isn’t Turkey now exporting Kurdish oil to the international market in spite of Baghdadi retaliation? Well, just like in the past, Turkey fears the partition of Iraq would lead to a Kurdistan which will also lead Kurdistan to take southeastern Turkey, a highly populated Kurdish area.

The situation in Iraq has brought two nations, Israel and Turkey, to Kurdistan’s front door, but they have run away and the possibility for a tripartite alliance between a Kurdistan, Turkey, and Israel is but a mere contemplation. Just as the former Israeli intelligence officer, quoted earlier, explained, the Kurdish-Israeli relationship that was present in the past had upset the Turks to no end, and that animosity towards Israel stayed with the Turks until today. So who knows if a tripartite alliance involving the two could have even been realized. Turkey in the past hated Israel for training Kurdish commandos in Iraq for fear that these same commandos could infiltrate and attack in Turkey, a worry that Turkey still has today. So it is no wonder that both parties have backed out of their previous bid for a Kurdistan at pretty much the same time.

It is unfortunate that such strong potential allies have been yo-yoing back and forth in support of a Kurdistan. Nevertheless this has not even become a setback for the KRG. This past Thursday, Kurdish president Barzani called for a referendum on independence that is to be set later this month. Here are some statements made in response to Barzani’s declaration:

“Our message is Kurdistan will add to the stability of the region, Kurdistan will add to the fight against terrorism, Kurdistan will add to the energy security of the world… Kurdistan will be part of solution and progress in the Middle East,” said Hemin Hewrami, head of foreign relations in Barzani’s KDP, while stressing that there would be no backing off from the decision to organise a referendum.

He added, “So the message is will they accept a source of stability and recognise it or will they recognise this chaos that we have in Baghdad, Mosul, Tikrit and other places.”

We all act with our own interests at heart, and Israel and Turkey are prime examples of that. They have reverted back to supporting a united Iraq in spite of their various declarations of Kurdish support because what was yesterday’s prize became today’s burden. Now it is time for the Kurds to do the same.

Evin Cheikosman is a Kurd living in Los Angeles, CA, A recent graduate in International Politics from the University of California, Santa Barbara, she has studied abroad in Berlin, Germany and will soon be traveling to Zhuhai, China on a teaching assignment. Thereafter she will be pursuing a masters degree in foreign affairs. During her free time, Evin posts facts and opinions concerning Kurdish politics on her blog: Minority Politico

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