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A Secret Relationship

Hoshnag Ose
Arab nationalists often criticize any potential Kurdish state as a new Israel, even as some of them conduct negotiations with the Jewish state. This behavior points to the blatant double-standards at work across…
8.09.2008

Meanwhile, on the Kurdish side, all relations with Israel are denied and hidden away to prevent antagonizing the Arab world. Indeed, any Kurd attempting to shed light on Kurdish-Israeli relations is accused of treason. Accordingly, uncovering the issue and discussing it is a Kurdish risk.

Despite the fierce rhetoric however, it is clear that a relationship between Israel and Kurds has existed for a long time.

Relations first began in the 1930s when Ruvin Shiloh, a delegate of the Jewish Agency, travelled to the Kurdish mountains and established relations with the family of Kurdish leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani who would maintain good relations with Israel in the years to come. More significantly, Prince Kamiran Badrkhan, a Turkish Kurd, secretly met with Israel’s deputy defense minister, Shimon Peres, in the early sixties.

While, Jalal Talabani, leader of the Kurdish KDP, first criticized Barzani’s dealings with Israel, he later began his own relations with the country.

During the 1973 war, Israel urged Iraqi Kurds to launch a massive military offensive against the Iraqi army but the US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, advised the Kurds against the move warning them of serious defeat if they launched an offensive. However, it has since been suggested that the US advice was misleading and that the Americans held back the Kurds fearing the changing dynamics that would follow a Kurdish military victory over Iraqi forces.

In 1980, Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin acknowledged that his country had been providing the Kurds with military and humanitarian aid for many years. During visits to Israel, Barzani met with Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon and Mossad, in cooperation with SAVAK (the Iranian intelligence agency under the Shah), helped create the Kurdish intelligence service known as Paristan. Israel also provided the Kurds with sophisticated weaponry, military training and funding.

According to Salah al-Kharsan, an Iraqi researcher and author of “Political Movements in Iraq's Kurdistan,” Kurdish-Israeli relations were not only based on personal relationships between Barzani and Israeli figures, but should be seen as a more substantive relationship between the entire Kurdish movement and Israel. Al-Kharsan quotes a letter from Barzani to Israel in which he praises the consistency of Israeli support, saying “many parties promised to provide us with arms but they didn’t, it was Israel, and only Israel, that kept its promise.”

Al-Kharsan confirmed the role of Mossad in the creation of the Kurdish Intelligence Service, the Paristan, and indicated that the head of this apparatus, Massoud al-Barzani, underwent a concentrated training program in Kurdistan and Israel. According to Obaidullah al-Barzani, son of Mulla Barzani, “Israelis were permanently accompanying my father, were always calling Israel by a wireless device and performed espionage acts in Iraq.”

Recently, there have been a number of press reports detailing the growing Israeli role in Iraq, particularly Iraqi Kurdistan. While Kurdish authorities firmly reject these reports, it cannot be denied that if Iraq has become a playground for American, British, Russian, Turkish, Iranian, Syrian and Arab intelligence services, there is little doubt that Mossad has also entered the field.

On the other hand however, it is also clear that since signing security agreements with Turkey in the 1980s, Israel has facilitated Turkish forays against the Kurds. Recent information and a statement by the PKK suggest an active and effective Israeli role during Turkish attacks on PKK bases, including the use of Israeli Heron surveillance aircraft.

There are many reasons behind Israel's hostility towards the PKK. The first is that the PKK is a leftist party which supported the Palestinian movement during the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982 (resulting in the death of 11 PKK members during the war). The second is the good relationship that the party had with the Syrian and Iranian regimes (at least until 1998 when Syria signed a security agreement with Turkey and the PKK head left Damascus).

In light of the above, it can be said that Israel's relations with Iraq’s Kurds has long been an intelligence tool, subject to highs and lows, that has never reached the level of political frameworks and partnerships that Arab nationalists so fear.

For the Kurds, the relationship with Israel has never borne real fruit. And when Israel reaches agreements and treaties with countries like Syria and Iraq, Kurds will most likely be the victims. Despite Arab statements to the contrary, the creation of Iraqi Kurdistan and self-rule certainly did not result from Kurdish-Israeli relations.

Today, many Kurds feel a need to be more Arab than the Arabs themselves regarding their relationship with Israel. However, the time has come for the Kurds to openly declare the nature of their relationship with the Jewish state and to critically review it so as to reach more favorable conditions for themselves.