The Kurds Way

star-kurdistan200px-Coat_of_Arms_of_Kurdistan.svgShould Israel openly back the Kurds?

With the national focus on the hideous murder of Eyal Yifrach z”l, Naftali Frenkel z”l and Gilad Sha’ar z”l and the later no less abhorrent murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir R.I.P. another issue of far-reaching importance has more-or-less slipped under the radar. This gives me a chance to write about the Kurdish ‘solution’ almost before it reaches the blogsphere.

Prime Minister Netanyahu became the first and probably/hopefully not the last to call for an independent Kurdistan and President Peres – another first – agreed with Bibi that the future is with the Kurds. They may even sell us oil. Well, well, well!

Stick with your friends, no matter how flawed they may be, so that they will help you fight your real enemies.
…Oh, and don’t try to save Iraq as a single political unit: It’s a lost cause, unless you or anyone else is willing to invest massive military forces, which you’re not. Support the independent and democratic de-facto state of the Kurds instead.

Shimon Peres’s parting advice to Pres. Obama

Two recent events inspired me to think about the consequences of Israel openly embracing the Kurds. The events were one hundred years to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo and the jihadist ISIL† creating, or is that recreating, the Caliphate‡ in Iraq and Syria.

San Remo conference 1920

San Remo 1920
Jews? OK. Arabs? Very OK. Kurds? Forgotten.

Actually, it was not so much the start of the First World War as much as its consequences, in the following decade. At the San Remo Conference 1920 a new world was created. Zionists tend to remember it for the promise of a Jewish homeland. San Remo and not the Balfour Declaration, as friends and enemies mistakenly claim, is the initial legal authority for the creation of Israel.

However, we tend to forget the other results of the conference. The Ottoman (Turkish) Empire was divided up – something that arguably didn’t disadvantage the average Turk. New Arab states, were created including importantly for this discussion, Syria and Iraq, ultimately with appointed rulers who were not even local inhabitants. The Kurdish people, non-Arab Muslims with a distinct language, history and culture, missed out completely. Their lands, collectively described as  Kurdistan, inhabited mostly by Kurds were divided among the Turks, Iranians, Syrians and Iraqis.

Fast track to 2014

Dry Bones - Israel and the Kurds

Dry Bones – Israel and the Kurds

Almost without anyone realising it or acknowledging it the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq has become a functioning, effectively independent, democratic state with foreign policy and armed forces– the Peshmerga.

By most accounts the Kurds are quite friendly to Israel. By most accounts the Kurds are quite hostile to the Arabs, to the extent that the second language of Kurdistan, at least for anyone under thirty is not Arabic but English!

The Kurds in Syria, although they have had much less time to organise, have apparently taken advantage of the chaos to become effectively autonomous, themselves. They stay out of the rebellion but protect themselves if necessary. If Syria remains fractured it is not hard to envisage an independent Kurdistan in Syria with at least the possibility of uniting with the Iraqi Kurds.

This brings us to the new ‘Caliphate’ just south of the Kurds. ISIL’s control of Mosul is a regional threat, not only from the intention to expand nor the probability they will become a base but also because they are sitting on an immense reservoir of oil – and that translates to money to continue jihad.

Will the Kurds see the threat to themselves and capture Mosul, something that the Iraqi forces, mainly Shiites loyal to al-Maliki seem incapable of? Mosul was once Kurdish territory and had a substantial and ancient Christian population. Saddam Hussein relocated Sunni to the area to ensure the oil remained in his hands. By one way of thinking the Kurds will be recovering ancestral territory. The Christians have since fled, largely to the Kurdish region but what a Kurdish takeover will mean to the remaining Sunni is unclear.

It may be a swamp they don’t want to enter but on the other hand perhaps they will have no choice.

Israel’s role in all this

I believe Israel should not wait, but rather seize this opportunity to act, and ensure federalism prevails in both Syria and Iraq by supporting the Kurds. The Kurds would never allow a future [federal] state in Syria or Iraq to threaten Israel. This is also an opportunity for Israel to stop Iran and cause its regime to implode by providing support to democratic groups in Iran such as the Kurds, Azeris and Baluchis with the goal of regime change and a federal state in Iran.

To sum up, by supporting the Kurds throughout the region, Israel could help create an Israel-friendly Kurdish entity stretching from the Mediterranean all the way into Iran, and serving as a buffer between it the Shiite Crescent on one hand, and a radical, jihadi Sunni Crescent on the other.  The Kurds are willing, but Israel needs to take action.

Dr. Sherkoh Abbas,
President of the Kurdistan National assembly of Syria

kurdistan_CROPPEDThere are no certainties in a future scenario with the Kurds. They are Muslims, of course but they have no particular beef with Jews or Israel. That takes them, hopefully, out of the cycle of shame* that requires Arab revenge for every Israeli victory. Not having been defeated by the Jews they have less to prove.

We often forget that Israel has had long-term productive relations with Muslim countries before. Israel; Iran, before the overthrow of the Shah, and Turkey, before Erekat were major allies. Even now, despite provocation from the current Turkish government, Israel and Turkey are important trading partners.

The details have to be worked out and there are no guarantees but right now supporting a stable, democratic and most importantly functioning Kurdistan could be our best options. We mustn’t reject it out of hand. Chances like this don’t come often.

Extra credit

Caliphate at various periods

The Caliphate, 622–750
Expansion under Muhammad, 622–632
Expansion during the Rashidun Caliphs, 632–661
Expansion during the Umayyad Caliphate, 661–750

ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham), now officially calling themselves simply the Islamic State, are the same organisation.
‡ The Caliphate is an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader known as a caliph – i.e. “successor” – to Muhammad. The succession of Muslim empires that have existed in the Muslim world are usually described as “caliphates”. Conceptually, a caliphate represents a sovereign polity (state) of the entire Muslim faithful (the Ummah, i.e. a sovereign nation-state) ruled by a single caliph under the Constitution of Medina and Islamic law (sharia). The implication is that their aim, whether fantasy or not, is to reconquer for Islam more of the Levant region, including Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait, a part of southern Turkey—including Hatay, part of the former Aleppo Vilayet of Ottoman Syria—and Cyprus,
* See an explanation of Honour/Shame culture. By contrast Israel and the West are said to function on a Guilt culture. The Jews are famous for it. 🙂


About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
This entry was posted in 5MFI Blog and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.