As Iraqi Kurds get ready to vote in an independence referendum on September 25, IranWire spoke to diplomats, conflict experts and former advisors about what it will mean to the Kurds, the region and the wider world.
So why does Israel have such strong support for Kurdish independence? It’s a complex question. But what do the Israelis themselves say? In this, the third of three interviews, we spoke to Colonel Dr. Jacques Neriah, who was once a foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Neriah was a colonel in the Israeli army, and he also served as deputy head of the Assessment for the Israeli Military Intelligence. He is now a special analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and has written extensively on Kurdish affairs. With a history in both Israel’s military intelligence and a Labour-led government, Neriah has a unique perspective on the referendum, reflecting a broad consensus in the Israeli establishment.
Do you think an independent Kurdistan can lead to more stability in the region?
An independent Kurdistan could become a factor of stabilization in the medium and long run, being a pro-American ally and having a definitely anti-radical Muslim approach. In the short run, all will depend on how much the US will be ready to force restraint on Turkey, Iraq and Iran.
The Kurds are used to having friends who later abandon them. Is Israel a friend that an independent Kurdistan can count on?
Israel is definitely a friend and would like to be present at all levels. Israel has a moral commitment toward the Kurds and will do whatever it can to support the nascent nation. There are a lot of similarities between the establishment of Israel and Kurdistan. Both have challenged impossible equations on the ground and hopefully Kurdistan will survive leaning on its superb armed forces. As you know, Israel was present in the past as it is in the present. The problem is that Israel has no border with Kurdistan and depends much on the willingness of Kurdistan's neighbors to extend its assistance.
What explains Israel’s strong pro-Kurdish stance? Are the Iraqi Jews who used to live in Kurdistan or with Kurds an important factor?
The issue is one of moral approach and complete identity of fate between Israel and Kurdistan. The Kurds are a people with a language, a culture, a tradition specific to their origins. There is no reason to deny almost 40 million people to claim their right to self-determination and independence.
In what way will Israel's strong support for an independent Kurdistan affect its relations with the Arab world? How will it affect the peace process?
I do not see any impact on Israel's relations with the Arab world, nor its impact on the peace process. Israel's support of the Kurds in Syria is a factor all involved parties in the Syrian conflict have to take into consideration. Israel is definitely a player in the Syrian field.
The ruling party for Iraqi Kurds is at serious odds with the leading party of the Syrian Kurds. In what way will holding the referendum influence the future of Syrian Kurds? Does Israel have a role to play there too?
The ultimate goal is to be witness to a Kurdish nation extending on all territories with Kurdish [as the] main presence. However, due to the factors you mention, the road is long and arduous. Certainly, it is not for tomorrow.
Read the other interviews in the series:
You Can’t Put the Genie Back into the Bottle in Kurdistan (Interview with US diplomat Peter Galbraith)
"Yazidis See the Referendum as Kurdish Betrayal” (Interview with Yazidi expert Idan Barir)
The Timing of the Kurdish Referendum is Bad for the Kurds and the US (Interview with Professor Daniel Serwer)
What Can Israel do for the Kurds? (Interview with Professor Ofra Bengio)