Israel sees benefits in independent Kurdistan: Experts

A Lebanese Kurd takes a selfie with a portrait of Massoud Barzani, Kurdish regional president, during a recent demonstration in Beirut in support of the referendum vote on Kurdish independence planned for Sept. 25 in the Kurdish region of Iraq. (AFP)
Updated 19 September 2017

Israel sees benefits in independent Kurdistan: Experts

JERUSALEM: Israel has become the only country to openly support an independent Kurdish state, a result of good ties between Kurds and Jews and expectations it would be a front against Iran and extremism, experts say.
Iraq’s Kurdish region plans to hold a non-binding referendum on statehood on Sept. 25 despite the objections of Baghdad and neighboring Iran and Turkey, as well as the US.
On Monday, Iraq’s Supreme Court ordered the suspension of the referendum as legal and political pressure mounted on the Kurds to call off the vote.
Israel became the first and so far only country to openly voice support for “the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to attain a state of its own,” as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week, without specifying where and how.
Netanyahu’s statement came after remarks made earlier in the month by former general Yair Golan, who said he liked the “idea of independent Kurdistan.”
“Basically, looking at Iran in the east, looking at the instability (in) the region, a solid, stable, cohesive Kurdish entity in the midst of this quagmire — it’s not a bad idea,” Golan said at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
He also noted Israel’s “good cooperation with the Kurd people since the early 1960s.”
To Gideon Saar, a former Israeli minister, the Kurds are a minority group in the Middle East that, unlike the Jews, have yet to achieve statehood.
“The Kurds have been and will continue to be reliable and long-term allies of Israel since they are, like us, a minority group in the region,” he said.
“We need to encourage independence of minorities that were wronged by regional arrangements since Sykes-Picot over the past 100 years and have been repressed under authoritarian regimes, like Saddam Hussein’s in Iraq and the Assads in Syria,” Saar said.
The Sykes-Picot agreement was a World War I-era deal between Britain and France laying out boundaries in the Middle East.
Saar too noted Kurdistan’s efforts in pushing back Islamist forces.
“Looking at the Kurds’ location on a map you realize they can be a dam blocking the spread of radical Islam in the region, and in practice we’ve seen them exclusively fighting IS,” he said.
“Throughout the years the Kurds were never drawn to anti-Israeli or anti-Zionist perceptions and maintained good ties with the Jewish people and Israel.”
Ofra Bengio, who heads a Kurdish studies program at Tel Aviv University, noted that Israel supplied covert military, intelligence and humanitarian aid to Kurdistan in the years 1965-1975.
When Jews living in Iraqi cities were subject to harassment under Baath rule in the early 1970s, Kurds smuggled them out of the country to safety, she said.
Former Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani visited Israel, as did his son, current president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region Massud Barzani, and many Israeli officials have visited Kurdistan, Bengio said.
“I don’t know to what extent (Kurdistan) could be an ally since it would be pressed by all kinds of Arab factors, but at least it won’t be hostile toward Israel. That’s certain,” said Bengio, author of the book “The Kurds of Iraq: Building a State Within a State.”
“What’s more important, it would be a buffer against extremist elements — not just Iran, but also others,” she said, noting IS and Iraqi Shiite militias.
A Kurdistan which emphasises “secularity, democracy, moderation and acceptance of the other” would be “a positive element in a region that is becoming increasingly extremist and unstable,” Bengio said.
The US supports the current Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq and relies on its forces in the war against Daesh, but has urged the Kurds to call off the potentially “provocative and destabilising” independence referendum.
To Saar, the former minister, Israeli leader Netanyahu should “use our leverage in the US to strengthen the Kurds in a very crucial moment of their national struggle.”


Turkey says it destroyed ‘chemical warfare facility’ in Syria

Updated 36 min 14 sec ago

Turkey says it destroyed ‘chemical warfare facility’ in Syria

  • Thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces in the Idlib region on Thursday
  • Erdogan may travel next week to Moscow for talks

BEIRUT/ISTANBUL: Turkish ground and air strikes on Syrian government forces and their allies in northwest Syria’s Idlib have killed 48 pro-Damascus soldiers in the past 24 hours, the Syrian Observatory, a war monitor, reported on Saturday.
It said that Syrian government and Russian warplanes continued air strikes on Saturday on the strategic eastern Idlib city of Saraqeb, a focal point of intensified fighting in recent days between Turkish-backed rebels and Damascus.

Meanwhile, Turkish official said Saturday that Turkey destroyed a chemical warfare facility after dozens of its soldiers were killed by Syrian regime fire in the last-rebel enclave of Idlib province.
The Turkish army destroyed overnight “a chemical warfare facility, located some 13 kilometres south of Aleppo, along with a large number of other regime targets,” the senior official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on sources inside the war-torn country, said that Turkey instead hit a military airport in eastern Aleppo, where the monitoring group says there are no chemical weapons.
Thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces in the Idlib region on Thursday, the biggest Turkish military loss on the battlefield in recent years.
The latest incident has raised further tensions between Ankara and Moscow, whose relationship has been tested by violations of a 2018 deal to prevent a regime offensive on Idlib.

Moscow and Ankara expressed hope for a “reduction in tensions” in Syria during high-level Russian-Turkish talks in recent days, Russia’s foreign ministry said Saturday.
“On both sides, the focus has been on reducing tensions on the ground while continuing to fight terrorists recognised as such by the United Nations Security Council,” Moscow’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Officials from both Turkey and Russia also said they want to “protect civilians inside and outside the (Idlib) de-escalation zone and provide emergency humanitarian aid to all those in need,” the ministry said.
On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin expressed their concern over the situation in Idlib during a telephone conversation.
The Kremlin said the two leaders could meet in Moscow next week.
As part of the agreement, Ankara set up 12 observation posts in the province but Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces -- backed by Russian air power -- have pressed on with a relentless campaign to take back the region.
On Friday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in a bid to scale down the tensions.
Erdogan may travel next week to Moscow for talks, according to the Kremlin.
Despite being on opposite ends, Turkey, which backs several rebel groups in Syria, and key regime ally Russia are trying to find a political solution to the Syria conflict.