For decades, Israel has had significant links to Kurdish groups throughout the Middle East. Long before President Erdogan led what in many ways amounts to a counter-revolution in Turkish politics, Israel’s support of Kurdish separatist movements throughout the region, was often a sore point between Ankara and Tel Aviv, who apart from this issue, tended to have relations which ranged from good to very good.
Israel however, has now come out overtly supporting the creation of a Kurdish state, although it is not clear where Israeli leaders think such a state should be. Ostensibly however, Israel is speaking about a would-be Kurdish entity in the legitimate territory of the Syrian Arab Republic. This would make the most sense given the context of the statement as well as Israel’s known frustration at the fact that Syria and her allies have all but won the war against Salafist terrorists.
Speaking to reporters, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Israel “supports the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve their own state”.
During the same speech, Netanyahu also said that he still considers the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) which operates in Turkey, to be a terrorist group. The motivation behind such a statement is clear enough, Turkey is the only country with a significant Kurdish population with which Israel has formal relations.
The timing of Netanyahu’s announcement, something he has hinted at in private and semi-private meetings in the past, is in many ways, more significant than the statement itself, which simply affirms a widely known fact of Tel Aviv’s geo-strategic goals.
Here are the possible implications starting with the most likely:
1. Preempting/testing US policy
As America’s most significant and most militarily powerful regional ally, the Israeli statement could be a way for America to put out its feelers and test the wider regional reaction to such remarks. Syria, Iraq and Iran will certainly condemn the statement, but it will be instructive to see how vocal the condemnation will be.
In respect of Turkey, things are far more significant. Under President Erdogan, Turkey’s relationship with Tel Aviv has been very touch and go. While Erdogan’s Kemalist predecessors tended to have neutral positions on Arab affairs and had decent to very good economic and political relations with Israel, Erdogan occasionally likes to position himself as a defender of oppressed Muslims which naturally includes an emphasis on defending Palestinians.
Turkey and the US have had a rapidly deteriorating relationship with the US over many issues, but the precipice has been America’s unwavering arming and backing of nationalist Kurdish militias in Syria.
Erdogan’s response to Israel’s overt backing of a Kurdish will certainly be studied by the US, even if the US plans to re-position itself away from Turkey, in spite of Ankara’s continued, however uneasy NATO membership.
2. A new long-term anti-Damascus alliance
Israel invested a great deal of political capital, intelligence work and covert aiding of anti-government forces in Syria in the hopes of ousting the Ba’athist government in Syria which has been under attack from Tel Aviv since 1963. Ever since 1967, Israel has illegally occupied part of Syria, the Golan Heights. While even Israel’s allies like the US do not recognise the illegal occupation and annexation of Syrian territory, many hoped that a weaker, Wahhabi style regime in Damascus would more or less de-facto accept Israel’s annexation of Syrian land.
Instead, President Bashar al-Assad, along with his commitments to resisting Israel on all fronts, including in the Golan Heights, is in many respects, stronger and more popular than ever.
In this sense, Israel may well share a common ‘plan B’ with the US. Put simply, if one cannot install a weak and/or friendly regime in Syria, the best thing to do is chip away at Syrian territory using friendly proxies: the Kurds.
In this sense, Israel and the US could gain a foothold in Syria via a would-be Kurdish ‘state’.
The only problem is that such a state would be sandwiched between a Syria and Turkey who while not friends with each other, certainly would be equally opposed to such a Kurdish entity. Can Israel afford any more enemies? For that matter, can the United States?
3. Preparing a ‘war for Kurdistan’
Israel has been conducting its largest military drills in 20 years. Conventional wisdom as well as statements from the Israeli media would indicate that such moves are designed to intimidate an increasingly powerful and popular Hezbollah movement in Lebanon. Others yet say that this could be preparation for a new war on Gaza which may also include an illegal invasion of Egypt under the guise of ‘fighting ISIS’ in the Sinai peninsula.
However, there is also the possibility that Israeli forces are planning to illegally enter Syria in order to bolster America’s Kurdish proxies in what might become a Kurdish secessionist war against Syria, once the war against Salafist groups is completed.
While few have considered this option, it could well develop as Israel would doubtlessly seeks to ingratiate itself to a new potential ally, along with the United States that would almost certainly embrace such an Israeli position.
Luckily for the peace of the region, we are a long way off from being able to confirm such a strategy, but such a matter is far from inconceivable, not least because Israel has been threatening to attack Syria with increasing vigour, this time under the guise of the presence of Syria’s Iranian allies on Syrian soil.
While option three is certainly the worst possible option as well as the most patently illegal according to international law, it cannot be discounted. Such a plan could be in the pipeline, unless Russia can reach a compromise deal between the US, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Israel and Kurdish militants.