Iraqi Kurds Cool Ties to Israel

Iran Stand-Off Sparks Friction in Hush-Hush Alliance

Hush-Hush Alliance: Iraqi Kurdish leader Marsoud Barzani has long been one of Israel’s only allies in the Middle East. Ties have been strained by Israel’s campaign to counter the growing nuclear threat posed by Iran.
getty images
Hush-Hush Alliance: Iraqi Kurdish leader Marsoud Barzani has long been one of Israel’s only allies in the Middle East. Ties have been strained by Israel’s campaign to counter the growing nuclear threat posed by Iran.

By Nathan Guttman

Published April 18, 2012, issue of April 27, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

The Kurdish leader added, however, that “no outside entity should be allowed to make decisions on [our] behalf,” a reference to Iranian attempts to meddle with internal Iraqi politics and make gains from the dispute between the Kurds and the central government.

Despite stating in the past that “it is not a crime to have relations with Israel,” Barzani refrained from meeting with Israeli or Jewish officials during his visit to Washington. The Kurdish Regional Government still maintains ongoing relations with pro-Israel groups mainly through its Washington office, headed by Qubad Talabani.

By all accounts, Iran’s nuclear program is not high on Kurdistan’s list of concerns. The Kurdish leader was more worried about the future of his own region in face of what he views as an attempted power grab by the central government in Baghdad, which had promised to allow more autonomy to the Kurds.

In his April 5 speech, Barzani demonstrated the frustration of Iraqi Kurds with the United States, which it accuses of leaving Iraq in the hands of a leader who has a growing appetite for centralization. With thinly veiled threats of separation, the Kurdish leader has sharpened his criticism of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who heads Iraq’s national unity government. Tensions between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish capital of Erbil are fed by disputes over oil development in the Kurdish region and by the decision of Maliki to increase his influence by taking charge of Iraq’s military and of the interior ministry.

“The Kurds do not believe that the U.S. military withdrawal means the end of a positive American role in Iraq,” Barzani said in his speech. The Kurdish leader met with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, both of whom carefully supported his call for ensuring limits on the power of Baghdad’s central government.

The long-term relationship between Israel and the Kurds is one based on mutual interests and often unspoken understandings.

For Israel, Kurdistan was an island of non-Arab friendship and a possible bridgehead to the Gulf. For the Kurds, Israel offered an alliance and a path to the West while struggling for self-determination in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Former Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani, Masoud Barzani’s father, was considered a friend to Israeli military and defense officials.

Pro-Israel Jewish activists viewed support for the Kurds, a small nation struggling for self-determination in a hostile Arab neighborhood, as helping Israel reach out to a natural ally.

“The Kurds were never against Israel,”” recalled Morris Amitay, a veteran pro-Israel American lobbyist who has maintained contacts with Kurdish officials for more than three decades. “Our Israeli friends always appreciated our friendship with the Kurds.”

Iraqi Kurds, on the other hand, have looked to American Jews as allies who can help open doors in Washington and gain international support.

“The Kurds learned a lot from watching the Israeli model,” Yaphe said. “They learned what to do to win the hearts and minds of the West, mainly the U.S., to build strong alliances.”

Relations between American pro-Israel activists and Iraqi Kurds followed, complementing unofficial ties between Jerusalem and Erbil, now the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region.

“They have a fairly strong, positive approach to Israel, because they identify with Israel’s historical and political themes,” Olson said.

Years of close cooperation between Israelis and Kurds have led to endless tales of secret cooperation and covert actions, all aimed at hampering Tehran’s ambitions for regional dominance.

Reports earlier this year attributed an attack on an Iranian nuclear facility to Israeli and Kurdish fighters. Both sides denied any involvement in the attack. Other reports spoke of Mossad agents roaming free in Iraqi Kurdistan and of Israeli efforts to train and equip Kurdish forces as a counterweight to Iran’s growing influence.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.