Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s expression of support for Kurdish independence in recent days came as part of an effort by the Kurds to enlist both Israel and the United States, in its drive for independence, ahead of a referendum slated for September 25 in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Netanyahu told a delegation of U.S. Republican congressmen last Thursday that he takes a “positive attitude” toward the Kurdish struggle, and praised them as a “brave, pro-Western people who share our values,” according to a report in The Jerusalem Post earlier this week.
In addition, a number of senior Iraqi Kurd officials have been lobbying their cause in Yerushalayim over the last several weeks, seeking to secure Israeli support, and through Israel to gain a more favorable stance in Washington.
Zionist camp MK Ksenia Svetlova, who chairs a Knesset caucus for strengthening ties with the Kurds, said on Monday that they were seeking Israel’s help in getting a hearing in the White House.
“They say that Israel has a strong lobby, and the ear of [President Donald] Trump, and that they would be very happy if we could help,” she said.
However, at present the U.S. is wary of the Kurdish independence movement. Netanyahu’s comments were made on the same day that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani to postpone the independence referendum.
Washington fears a referendum now will distract from more pressing matters, such as defeating Islamic State, and in particular would antagonize Turkey, which strongly opposes the referendum. Netanyahu’s behind-closed-doors endorsement of the Turkish cause, rather than a public statement, also indicates that he wishes to avoid angering Ankara, with whom Israeli relations remain delicate in any case.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in June denounced the referendum plan as “an error” and “a threat” to Iraq’s territorial integrity.
“In that country (Iraq), which has been through so many problems, a referendum on independence can make the situation even worse,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the state TRT Haber broadcaster. “It could even bring it to civil war,” he warned.
Israeli MK Michael Oren, deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, made note of other considerations for Israel. He said that Israeli officials were watching “the rapidity with which Iran is consolidating its position in the region and Iraq, and that a Kurdish state would be one way to block it.”
The Iraqi Kurds, he said, “are obviously not pro-Iranian.”
Svetlova said she was “100 percent sure that Kurdish independence is good for us because we need to look for partners in the Middle East.”
There are no better partners or people who respect Israel’s achievements more than the Iraqi Kurds, she said. Svetlova acknowledged that open support for the Kurds would entail risks, but that it was justified.
“I think that morally, as a country that needed any help we could get in 1948, we need to support them,” she said.