The Israel-Kurdistan Special Relationship

For decades, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Iraqi Kurdistan led by first Mustafa Barzani (1903-1979) and later his son Masoud Barzani (b. 1946) remained Israel’s one ally in Kurdistan. The rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party joined the alliance in the late 20th century and the PKK movement began the process of aligning with Israel after Syria ended its alliance with the movement in the late 1990s.

YPJ soldiers of Syrian Kurdistan
YPJ soldiers of Syrian Kurdistan

1. Modern History of Israeli-Kurdish Relations

Israel originally aligned with the KDP for the very same reasons that Israel aligned with the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) in what was then southern Sudan, now independent South Sudan as Israel naturally sympathized with both movements as fellow victims of Arabist neo-imperialism. Israel then recognized both Iraq and Sudan as strategic military threats and therefore supported the KDP and the SPLA out of both self-interest and very strong feelings of sympathy with fellow victims of Arabist neo-imperialism. This was part of the first periphery strategy as adopted by Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973) and sought to align Israel with non-Arabist, secularist state and non-state actors inside and adjacent to the Arabophonie.

In the 1960s and the 1970s Israel thus used its ties with the Shah’s Iran to support the KDP militarily in helping the KDP to build up an autonomous Kurdish state in Iraqi Kurdistan. This attempt collapsed with the 1975 Algiers Agreement between Iran and Iraq which also meant that Iran would no longer permit Israel to help the KDP through Iranian territory. The Israeli government was confident that the Israeli-trained KDP Peshmerga army would be able to continue to successfully fight the Iraqi army but did for security reasons order the evacuation of Israel’s military advisors who until then had been embedded with KDP Peshmerga and had so been training and assisting them for over a decade.

This apparently led Mustafa Barzani (who already in the 1960’s had been granted the rank of major general in the Israeli military) to panic as the KDP Peshmerga army fled to Iran. Some in the KDP regarded the evacuation of the Israeli military advisors as abandonment of the KDP while Israel was shocked and upset that the KDP Peshmerga army fled to Iran rather than stay and fight as the collapse of the KDP Peshmerga army and thus the self-governing Kurdish state itself in Iraqi Kurdistan severely weakened Israel’s geostrategic position in the region. The KDP Peshmerga army was not built and trained to become an Israeli proxy but rather to become a strong independent military force capable of defending itself on its own. All of Israel’s extensive efforts during more than a decade (1963-1975) to build up Iraqi Kurdistan into a militarily strong independent regional ally of Israel had thus sadly been in vain.

A second opportunity appeared through the 1990-1991 Gulf War when the Israeli government and Israel’s friends in Washington successfully persuaded the US government of the wisdom, moral clarity and indeed utter necessity of establishing a no-fly zone over Iraq’s Kurdish North, something that enabled the rebirth of the self-governing Kurdish state in Iraqi Kurdistan. Kemalist Turkey established closer ties with Israel after the end of the Cold War in accordance with Israel’s first periphery strategy and this time through Turkish territory did Israel from the early 1990s and forward assist the KDP as well as the PUK in once more building up a self-governing Kurdish state in Bashur, Southern Kurdistan within the borders of Iraq.

While Israeli intelligence has very strong research capabilities, the study of Crypto-Judaism in the Middle East and elsewhere was not something that was prioritized within the Israeli intelligence community. However, once it became known to Israeli intelligence a few years into the 21st century that Kurdish religion (Alevism, Yarsanism and Yezidism) are distinctive forms of very ancient Crypto-Judaism, Israel began seriously investing in expanding its diplomatic ties with the PKK movement as it became clear that not only are Alevis, Yarsanis and Yezidis halakhically Jewish (i.e. recognized as Jewish according to rabbinic religious law) in being Jewish indeed both religiously and ethnically, but Muslim Kurds are ethnically Crypto-Jewish as well as their own ancestors were indeed involuntarily Islamized Alevis/Bektashis, Yarsanis and Yezidis. In addition, there are also Muslim Kurdish clans such as the Barzanis who are descended from involuntarily Islamized Kurdish Rabbinic Jews.

The PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) was originally a Marxist-Leninist movement and was for many years headquartered in Damascus, the capital of Ba’athist Syria and effectively acted as a Syrian proxy for advancing Syria’s territorial claims and territorial ambitions inside Turkey in the Hayat and Urfa regions respectively. Despite the fact that the vast majority of Kurds are strongly pro-Israel, the Damascus-based PKK felt compelled to spread Anti-Zionist propaganda so as to please their Syrian Ba’athist masters who throughout their “alliance” with the PKK continued to most severely oppress the Kurds of Rojava, Western Kurdistan within the borders of Syria. The founder and leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan (b. 1948), widely and affectionally known as Apo was expelled from Ba’athist Syria in 1998 and was captured in Kenya in 1999 by Turkish intelligence. A completely false rumor was subsequently spread by the then Kemalist dictatorship in Ankara that entirely falsely accused Israel of being involved in the capture of Abdullah Öcalan despite Israel issuing an immediate and definitive official denial of this very libel.

The fact is rather that Israel’s then alliance with Turkey was never directed against the PKK but rather against Islamist Iran and against the twin Ba’athist dictatorships in Iraq and Syria. Israel’s alliance with Kemalist Turkey was hence directed against the other enemies of Kurdistan and was most crucially instrumental in Israel aiding the KDP and the PUK in Bashur to build their own self-governing Kurdish state. Israel’s weapons export to Turkey gave Israel some crucial influence in Ankara and so successfully helped protect the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraqi Kurdistan from any potential Turkish strategic military adventure intended to destroy it. Also, the Israeli state at the time had no diplomatic ties with the outwardly Anti-Zionist PKK and was certainly not aware that the PKK’s Anti-Zionist rhetoric was not sincerely intended which was a closely guarded secret at the time and so for Israeli policy makers it certainly made sense to simply therefore neutrally ignore the PKK due to its hostile Anti-Zionist official rhetoric. While it is certainly true that Israeli-made weapons were used by Turkey in its war against the PKK, the Israeli weapons export to Turkey made no difference for the PKK, neither tactically not strategically as these weapons would otherwise had been imported by Turkey from defense industries in yet other countries.

The rise to power of the Islamist AK party in Turkey whose Palestinian equivalent within the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is Hamas and the new understanding inside Israeli intelligence that Kurdish religion is indeed ancient Crypto-Judaism brought the PKK and Israel together leading to the formation of the particularly close covert alliance between Israel and the PKK movement generally which became a relationship between states with the establishment of the self-governing Kurdish state in Syrian Kurdistan. The Israel-Kurdistan alliance was thus gradually expanded from having been an exclusive relationship between Israel and the KDP to encompass the secular Kurdish movement generally. Israel aids Syrian Kurdistan and thus indirectly the PKK movement generally by dispatching Israeli advisors to train and transfer know-how in the military, intelligence and political spheres. Israeli military advisors in Kurdistan are usually Israeli Kurds (meaning Israeli Kurdish Rabbinic Jews) who are particularly proud of simultaneously serving their two countries. Israel thus helps Rojava in precisely the same way that Israel aided and aids the KDP/PUK state-building project in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Major Jewish organizations in the United States do lobby all the time for Israel’s allies around the world. This is known as a “triangular relationship” between Israel, the US and a third partner. America is Israel’s most important ally and Israel is likewise also America’s most important ally as major American Jewish organizations thus promote shared Israeli-American interests with third parties such as with the two self-governing Kurdish states in Kurdistan. Also, Israeli diplomats in both the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in the Tevel diplomatic service (Political Action and Liaison Department) in the Mossad do advocate for Kurdish security and Kurdish self-determination when interacting with diplomatic counterparts around the world.

While the special relationship between Israel and Kurdistan is no secret, the two Kurdish states have insisted upon maintaining a veil of plausible deniability vis-à-vis the Iranian regime, although actually really not plausible at all. Although in the past there may have been some benefit in keeping this special relationship secret, today there is really no benefit in pretending that something is secret that in reality is actually widely known in the Middle East. Kurdish leaders cite fears of Iran as their main reason for continued Kurdish public hypocrisy concerning Kurdistan’s particularly close relationship with Israel, yet if something is already well known, then surely pretending that it’s secret is actually hypocrisy rather than secrecy is it not?

The main weakness in the Israel-Kurdistan alliance is Kurdistan’s geographic isolation as Israel and Kurdistan shares no border. Therefore, Israel and the organized American Jewish community do help in the ways that they practically can despite the limitations imposed by free Kurdistan’s severe geographic isolation. However, there is no question that much more could be done for Kurdistan if Israel’s Kurdish partners accepted open support from Israel and from the Jewish people and not merely support that is discreet and quiet.

The Iranian regime is obviously very much well aware of the profound nature of the Israel-Kurdistan special relationship and so hypocrisy or not hypocrisy on the part of Kurdish leaders really does not affect the Iranian strategic posture towards the two Kurdish states. The threat from the Iranian regime is however very much real and attempting to appease Iran only makes this threat worse as it has allowed Iranian intelligence to penetrate Iraqi Kurdistan on a large scale.

For many years has the KRG enjoyed vast revenues from its oil exports and rather than building a local defense industry and a Kurdish high tech military were those vast financial resources instead squandered through kleptocracy, corruption, incompetence, nepotism and inefficiency. Rather than build a liberal democracy was the KRG instead tragically turned into an increasingly oppressive dictatorship. Instead of free media is there now instead sophisticated regime propaganda.

The PKK state in Rojava is however developing in very different ways. The PKK movement’s alignment with Israel also meant shedding its previous Communist ideology and so Rojava’s wartime economy is built upon the model of early modern Israel’s syndicalist (i.e. voluntary socialist) economy. It should be noted that Israel’s alignment with the PKK is part of Israel’s second periphery strategy which means Israel aligning with Iran’s geographic periphery both inside and outside of Iran’s international borders.

However, it is now clear that the Iranian regime approaches collapse (although still uncertain when) as there is almost no genuine public support left for the Iranian regime among the peoples of Iran. While Israel’s second periphery strategy is important in ensuring that Iran is partitioned along the lines of language, there can however be no doubt that Iran’s ethnic Persians, who are Iran’s largest ethnic minority (not a majority) must be leaders in the revolution as uprisings in the periphery alone (such as in Iranian Kurdistan) will unfortunately not be sufficient to bring down the regime. However, revolution in the periphery is absolutely vital as well once the large cities of Persian-speaking regions of Iran have risen against the Islamist regime.

2. Advancing the Israel-Kurdistan Special Relationship

There is already very deep Israeli-Kurdistani integration in the intelligence sphere as Kurdish intelligence agencies are the result of Israeli intelligence literally creating new intelligence apparatuses for Israel’s Kurdish allies. However, drastically more could be done both in political integration and military integration that would vastly strengthen Kurdistan. The establishment of an Israeli air force base in Rojava would do much to strengthen free Kurdistan against any offensive strategic military threat against it. Kurdistan needs its own defense industry or alternatively, Israeli defense companies could establish production plants inside this future Israeli military airbase in Kurdistan. These Israeli defense industries could then sell relatively advanced weaponry to Kurdistan as produced in those factories.

An Israeli air force base in Rojava would end Kurdistan’s international geostrategic isolation as the Israel Air Force (IAF) would establish a permanent airbridge between the Israeli air force base in Rojava and Israel itself, something which crucially would also enable Kurdistan to import any mass of defense materials from third countries through the permanent Israeli airlift. In fact, this would spell the end of Kurdistan’s geostrategic isolation from the outside world as Kurdistan would strategically speaking no longer be dependent upon the enemies of Kurdistan for travel and for import of weaponry and other defense materials.

The US support for Kurdistan is part of the Israeli-American special relationship and therefore when the US helps Kurdistan it does so primarily because Israel asks the US government to do so just as Israel reciprocally helps the US in so many ways as well, including upon American governmental request. Support for the spread of liberal democracy is however a core American national interest which creates new markets for the US export industry and importantly also helps spread stability and peace worldwide. Therefore, free Kurdistan will discover that America, the guardian of liberal democracies worldwide will become a particularly close friend and strategic ally of Kurdistan and Kurdish independence once it becomes completely and perfectly clear that the Kurdish states are serious indeed about unifying through a comprehensive process of introducing liberal democracy. In fact there will in all likelihood be a third Kurdish state in Rojhelat, Eastern Kurdistan within the borders of Iran once the Iranian regime collapses. However, it is also vital that the Rojhelati Kurdish political parties learn to cooperate rather than lethally fight each other as they might once more do unless they learn to most constructively work together both politically and militarily.

Although defense industries could also be established in Kurdistan by either Kurdish investors or international investors (including through transfer of military designs from Israel and other countries with defense industries), having Israeli defense industries on an Israeli air force base in Rojava would permit the production of quite advanced Israeli weaponry for Kurdistan. While an Israeli air force base could initially officially be “American”; Kurdish leaders need to start thinking of Israeli interests as their own just as Israel always thinks of Kurdish interests as Israeli interests. True partnership is mutual and the Kurds should seek to strengthen Israel in Europe where the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (which includes both Hamas and the AKP) is gaining increasing political influence – but also in every way reinforcing Israel’s position as the sole great power in the Middle East. Israel is not someone’s mistress and there is tremendous potential for developing the Israel-Kurdistan special relationship once there are official diplomatic relations and not merely Mossad bureaus in Rojava, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.

There is almost zero chance that the useless international nuclear agreement with Iran would be enforced and so the dissolution of Iran one way or another is approaching as Israel surely cannot indefinitely defer a strategic operation designed to undo Iran’s genocidal nuclear weapons program, although an entirely spontaneous revolution in Iran is surely preferable in every way. Even if the US capitulation agreement with Iran were to be enforced by the US; other great powers would most certainly not do so due to both fears of Iranian terrorism and simple trade considerations. The real question for the Kurds is therefore whether the Rojhelati Kurdish political parties are ready for building a third Kurdish autonomy – this time in Rojhelat – once the Iranian regime collapses? The answer is absolutely maybe and so the Kurdish political parties need to do a far better job in cooperating with each other and in particular so the KDPI (which is affiliated with the KDP) and PJAK (which is part of the PKK movement).

Rojava and Bashur need to establish real high-level relations with each other towards the goal of unifying all of Kurdistan through democratization, liberalization, secularization and patriotically motivated collective communal return to Crypto-Jewish Kurdish religion (Alevi-Bektashi, Yarsanism and Yezidism) of tribes, clans and villages throughout Kurdistan. Rojava would be particularly well advised to take the lead in helping restore Muslims Kurds (and other Muslims) of Rojava to Yezidism as most Muslim Kurds in Rojava are indeed descended from involuntarily Islamized Yezidis. This return to Kurdish religion is not possible unless the people first know what Kurdish religion really is, namely Median Judaism. Rojava is however uniquely well positioned to take the lead in the Kurdish return to Kurdish religion as this is an essential element in freeing Kurdistan from the evils of religious imperialism.

The strategic tasks currently facing free Kurdistan (aside from operational considerations in the ongoing war against Daesh) could be summarized as follows:

  1. Democratization, liberalization, secularization and return to Kurdish religion.
  2. Integrating the Kurdish states both politically and militarily.
  3. Rapid military integration with Israel whereby Israel is tasked with building and training the united Kurdistan Defense Forces, KDF.
  4. Building a Federal Israel that would increasingly unite free Kurdistan with Israel and Para-Jewish countries/peoples in the region and around the world.

This would enable a free Kurdistan to someday fully join a Federal Israel if it indeed so wishes and democratically so decides once its own internal transformational processes have been successfully completed, including crucially return to Kurdish religion.

This would in some fundamental ways be consistent with Abdullah Öcalan’s vision of democratic confederalism in the Middle East as many democratic political decisions in larger member states of Federal Israel (such as Kurdistan) would take place on the level of cantons. Smaller member states of Federal Israel such as Alawistan and Druzistan would each operate as one canton while larger member states such United Kurdistan would be subdivided into multiple cantons.

Islamism is increasingly becoming self-discredited and so the peoples of the region whose ancestors were involuntarily Islamized will become increasingly interested in return to their own ancestral regional forms of Judaism/Crypto-Judaism. Israel is the model of success for Middle Eastern peoples and so peaceful democratic accession to a Federal Israel will become as attractive as accession to the European Union if not more. However, let’s be clear that patriotically returning tribes, clans, villages and communities to their pre-Islamic Judaic religion will require an extensive human welcoming infrastructure. Visionary and progressive Rojava would be particularly well advised to make comprehensive preparations to take the lead in this regard in crucially aiding Muslims of Rojava to completely voluntarily, communally and yes locally return to Yezidism.

A liberal-democratic Federal Israel would crucially be religiously pluralistic and as regional integration processes advance would member states become able to decide to institute free migration among particular member states of Federal Israel. Also, for those Para-Jewish populations whose ancestors left their own respective forms of Judaism/Crypto-Judaism, accession to Federal Israel would be contingent upon patriotic return to that or another form of Judaism/Crypto-Judaism. Eventually as economies are developed, integrated and harmonized should citizens of all or most member states of Federal Israel become able to enjoy free migration throughout Federal Israel although each member state would have its own citizenship in addition to the common citizenship of Federal Israel. Free Kurdistan is indeed particularly well disposed to take the lead in a regional process of democratic confederalism in the Middle East and not least crucially so with regard to the popular return to Kurdish religion.