Why Israel is in love with Kurdistan - At least they are not Arabs.
The “Middle East” invented by British and French colonial powers almost a century ago is fast dissolving as ISIS carves a vast piece of real estate from the suburbs of Aleppo to Tikrit and from Mosul to the Jordanian/Iraqi border.
Artificial geography, established in the midst of World War I, via the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, is at risk; and it’s no accident the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) itself, although dreaming of a Caliphate, is also graphically emphasizing the point. Those states carved out of the fragmented Ottoman Empire are all at risk. In this geopolitical vortex the ultimate free electron is definitely the notion of a Greater Kurdistan.
“Iraq is breaking up before our eyes and it would appear that the creation of an independent Kurdish state is a foregone conclusion.” The analysis might have come straight from ISIS – but in fact came from none other than former bouncer and unreformed Zionist, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
What the invariably truculent Lieberman told US Secretary of State John Kerry this week pertained mostly to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, an autonomous region that - quite handily – is also exporting oil to Israel (the KRG angrily denies it.)
By all practical purposes, Kurdish Peshmergas are now also in control of heavily disputed, oil-rich Kirkuk – after the ignominious withdrawal of Baghdad’s predominantly Shi’ite army as ISIS was advancing. The wily KRG president Massoud Barzani has been adamant; “We will bring all of our forces to preserve Kirkuk.”
Talk about being handed over The Big Prize on a plate; the KRG has been trying to control Kirkuk by all means necessary since the 2003 Shock and Awe. In any future scenario Kirkuk would be the absolutely fabulous gas station fueling the wealth of a prosperous Kurdish nation. Baghdad is confronted with yet another quagmire.
It’s no secret in the “Middle East” that Tel Aviv and the Kurds have had a fruitful working relationship – in military, intel and business terms - since the 1960s. It’s a no brainer Israel would instantly recognize a possible new Kurdish nation-state. No wonder Israeli President Shimon Peres, also this week, told US President Barack Obama, “the Kurds have, de facto, created their own state, which is democratic. One of the signs of a democracy is the granting of equality to women.”
At least they are not Arabs
So why this sudden interest in the welfare of Kurdish women? Something fishy is afoot. Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal is heavily peddling Kurdish independence. What is Tel Aviv really up to here?
The consensus narrative in Israeli media is that Kurdish independence is “good for Israel” because Kurds, well, they are not Arabs, Persians or Turks. Kurdistan – at least Iraqi Kurdistan – is seen by Tel Aviv as a “non-hostile entity” that, crucially, is not exactly touched by the plight of the Palestinians.
From a strictly Israeli point of view, Kurds are regarded as moderate, secular Muslims who have been victims – and that’s the key operative notion – of Arab chauvinism, be it on nationalist or hardcore Islamist terms. At least in theory, Kurds won’t antagonize the notion of “Jewish self-determination.”
And even more crucially, projecting ahead, a Greater Kurdistan would be the ideal buffer state acting in tandem with larger Israeli strategic interests; in one go, it would simultaneously amputate Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Even an independent Iraqi Kurdistan would be not only the proverbial “friend of Israel” but also a viable, prosperous state; Irbil, for instance, even though it is not Arab, wants to market itself as the Arab Capital of Tourism. And all this in a region Tel Aviv regards – paranoia included – as a basket case of failed states. What’s not to like?
Ankara’s double game
So expect from now on all sorts of made-in-the-shade moves by Israel to advance the Balkanization of Iraq into a Sunni state, a Shiite state and an Iraqi Kurdistan. There’s no question the KRG has been for all practical purposes independent since the First Gulf War in 1991 – boasting its own military (the Peshmerga) and now its own (Baghdad-contested) oil exports.
Yet the whole saga is also overloaded with myth – such as the supposedly irreconcilable gulf between Arabs and Kurds in Iraq. For nearly 10 years there has not been a single credible poll stating that the majority of Iraqi Kurdswww.Ekurd.net want independence. As much as there’s a yearning for independence, Kurds are also part of the government in Baghdad.
True, the KRG has brokered an uneasy truce between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). But the Kurdish question in both Syria and Turkey is way more complex. Syrian Kurds have been enjoying a much larger degree of autonomy after a deal with Damascus – although they have refrained, for the moment, from demanding an independent state in Syria. Iraqi Kurds are busy helping them – from experience – in their autonomous ways.
The Kurdish question has become increasingly explosive as the Empire of Chaos preferred Divide and Rule strategy of pitting Sunnis against Shi’ites has metamorphosed into the ISIS blitzkrieg. Disaffected young Kurds in Turkey – incited by Saudi religious rhetoric, weaponizing and cash – have been particularly attracted to the Syrian jihad. Funerals in predominant Kurdish areas across Anatolia for ISIS jihadis always draw large crowds – and are the perfect recruiting opportunity for ISIS operatives.
This is only happening because – as many Kurds insist – the AKP is looking the other way. Picture the scene of a jihadi free flow in the Turkish-Syrian border at a minimum tolerated by Ankara (because it is anti-Assad) – but with the added complicating factor that ISIS in Syria is also fighting Syrian Kurds. And a lot of ISIS weaponizing also comes straight from Turkey.
The Holy Grail for Ankara is to prevent by all means necessary Turkish Kurd demands for autonomy. Their only plan so far has been to blame Syrian Kurds for their links with the PKK.
All this happens within a booming trade scenario; over 70 percent of the annual, $12 billion trade between Iraq and Turkey circulates via Iraqi Kurdistan, where over 1,500 Turkish firms are in business. It’s a contradiction pile up: Ankara in theory supports the KRG, but would never dream of supporting more autonomous Syrian and Turkish Kurds.
What’s certain is that wishful thinking – from Tel Aviv to Washington – will keep permeating calculations about the Kurdish question, as in assuming Turkey will be allowed accession to the EU (it won’t) and thus Kurdistan will be the EU’s de facto eastern border. Bordering what? A Sunnistan across the Levant? Over the Pentagon’s collective dead body, of course.
What Big Oil in the US – and also Israel – sees, most of all, is the mirage of a Western-friendly major oil exporter in the long run. That’s why Balkanization sounds so juicy. This has nothing to do with the welfare of the historically wronged Kurdish people. It’s hardcore business. And yet another Divide and Rule power play. Expect plenty of hardcore moves ahead.
Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and TomDispatch, and a frequent contributor to websites and radio shows ranging from the US to East Asia. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong.