How Kurdish independence underpins Israel’s plan to reshape the Middle East

Middle East
on 24 Comments

Palestinians and Israelis watched last week’s referendum of Iraq’s Kurds with special interest. Israeli officials and many ordinary Palestinians were delighted – for very different reasons – to see an overwhelming vote to split away from Iraq.

Given the backlash from Baghdad and anger from Iran and Turkey, which have restive Kurdish minorities, the creation of a Kurdistan in northern Iraq may not happen soon.

Palestinian support for the Kurds is not difficult to understand. Palestinians, too, were overlooked when Britain and France carved up the Middle East into states a century ago. Like the Kurds, Palestinians have found themselves trapped in different territories, oppressed by their overlords.

Israel’s complex interests in Kurdish independence are harder to unravel.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the sole world leader to back Kurdish independence, and other politicians spoke of the Kurds’ “moral right” to a state. None saw how uneasily that sat with their approach to the Palestinian case.

On a superficial level, Israel would gain because the Kurds sit on plentiful oil. Unlike the Arab states and Iran, they are keen to sell to Israel.

But the reasons for Israeli support run deeper. There has been co-operation, much of it secret, between Israel and the Kurds for decades. Israeli media lapped up tributes from now-retired generals who trained the Kurds from the 1960s. Those connections have not been forgotten or ended. Independence rallies featured Israeli flags, and Kurds spoke of their ambition to become a “second Israel”.

Israel views the Kurds as a key ally in an Arab-dominated region. Now, with Islamic State’s influence receding, an independent Kurdistan could help prevent Iran filling the void. Israel wants a bulwark against Iran transferring its weapons, intelligence and know-how to Shiite allies in Syria and Lebanon.

Israel’s current interests, however, hint at a larger vision it has long harboured for the region – and one I set out at length in my book Israel and the Clash of Civilisations.

It began with Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion, who devised a strategy of “allying with the periphery” – building military ties to non-Arab states like Turkey, Ethiopia, India and Iran, then ruled by the shahs. The goal was to help Israel to break out of its regional isolation and contain an Arab nationalism led by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Israeli general Ariel Sharon expanded this security doctrine in the early 1980s, calling for Israel to become an imperial power in the Middle East. Israel would ensure that it alone in the region possessed nuclear weapons, making it indispensible to the US.

Sharon was not explicit about how Israel’s empire could be realised, but an indication was provided at around the same time in the Yinon Plan, written for the World Zionist Organisation by a former Israeli foreign ministry official.

Oded Yinon proposed the implosion of the Middle East, breaking apart the region’s key states – and Israel’s main opponents – by fuelling sectarian and ethnic discord. The aim was to fracture these states, weakening them so that Israel could secure its place as sole regional power.

The inspiration for this idea lay in the occupied territories, where Israel had contained Palestinians in a series of separate enclaves. Later, Israel would terminally divide the Palestinian national movement, nurturing an Islamist extremism that coalesced into Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

In this period, Israel also tested its ideas in neighbouring southern Lebanon, which it occupied for two decades. There, its presence further stoked sectarian tensions between Christians, Druze, Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

The strategy of “Balkanising” the Middle East found favour in the US among a group of hawkish policymakers, known as neoconservatives, who came to prominence during George W Bush’s presidency.

Heavily influenced by Israel, they promoted the idea of “rolling back” key states, especially Iraq, Iran and Syria, which were opposed to Israeli-US dominance in the region. They prioritised ousting Saddam Hussein, who had fired missiles on Israel during the 1991 Gulf war.

Although often assumed to be an unfortunate side effect of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Washington’s oversight of the country’s bloody disintegration into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish fiefdoms looked suspiciously intentional. Now, Iraqi Kurds are close to making that break-up permanent.

Syria has gone a similar way, mired in convulsive fighting that has left its ruler impotent. And Tehran is, again, the target of efforts by Israel and its allies in the US to tear up the 2015 nuclear accord, backing Iran into a corner. Arab, Baluchi, Kurdish and Azeri minorities there may be ripe for stirring up.

Last month at the Herzliya conference, an annual jamboree for Israel’s security establishment, justice minister Ayelet Shaked called for a Kurdish state. She has stated that it would be integral to Israeli efforts to “reshape” the Middle East.

The unravelling of Britain and France’s map of the region would likely lead to chaos of the kind that a strong, nuclear-armed Israel, with backing from Washington, could richly exploit. Not least, yet more bedlam would push the Palestinian cause even further down the international community’s list of priorities.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

About Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is jonathan-cook.net.

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24 Responses

  1. hophmi
    October 3, 2017, 11:44 am

    “But the reasons for Israeli support run deeper. There has been co-operation, much of it secret, between Israel and the Kurds for decades.”

    Oh, it’s not a secret. But it shows that not everyone in the Middle East cares more about hating Israel than loving themselves.

    C’mon, Jonathan, you and I both know it hardly took Israeli prompting for the Middle East to fall apart. These Arab states are artificial. For instance, there’s one with a totally made up Hashemite ruler, that is really a Palestinian state. Iraq isn’t a real country. It’s to everyone’s benefit that the Kurds gain independence. They’ve waited long enough and they’ve been persecuted long enough.

    • John O
      October 3, 2017, 1:59 pm

      ” These Arab states are artificial. For instance, there’s one with a totally made up Hashemite ruler, that is really a Palestinian state. Iraq isn’t a real country.”

      You’re so right – they are every bit as artificial as , um, Israel …?

  2. Jackdaw
    October 3, 2017, 12:21 pm

    That’s funny. I thought Palestinians were opposed to Kurdish independence.

    https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2017/9/25/how-palestinians-came-to-reject-kurdish-demands-for-homeland

    • eljay
      October 3, 2017, 1:19 pm

      || Jackdaw: … https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2017/9/25/how-palestinians-came-to-reject-kurdish-demands-for-homeland ||

      … Israel also has a large Kurdish minority [of] Jewish background. …

      That’s funny. The article refers to them as Kurdish when, clearly, they are ancient Israelites.

      … Meanwhile, both Iraq and Iran have said that the establishment of a Kurdish state would be “a new Israel” in the region. …

      A Kurdish state does not have to be an oppressive, colonialist, (war) criminal and supremacist construct. One hopes that the leaders of a Kurdish state wish and are able to avoid emulating the “Jewish State” project.

  3. Maghlawatan
    October 3, 2017, 1:31 pm

    Israel’s plans for regional domination are laughable. You cannot control a region with paranoia. Netanyahu assured the UN the Iraq war would be a piece of cake. It almost broke the US.
    For the real thing we have to go to 2011 and the fall of Mubarak. The Israeli embassy in Cairo was attacked by a mob. The people of the region hate Israel, and with good reason. Take away the guns and Israelis are lost.

    • Bandolero
      October 3, 2017, 8:08 pm

      Maghlawatan

      I don’t think such Israeli plans and policies are laughable. They kept them the strongest power in the middle east for about 50 years now.

      While I don’t think the Yinon plan is in use today, “fuelling sectarian and ethnic discord” to keep neighbors weak, thereby making Israel comparatively strong, looks to me very well like being a central element of regional Israeli policy.

      I think such Israeli policies of “fuelling sectarian and ethnic discord” are a key factor in the death of millions of people.

      • Paranam Kid
        October 4, 2017, 2:55 am

        The Yinon plan not in use today? Here are a couple of quote from it:

        Iraq, whose dissolution should be a strategic Israeli aim, and he envisaged the emergence of three ethnic centres, of Shiites governing from Basra, the Sunni from Baghdad, and the
        Kurds with a capital in Mosul, each area run along the lines of the administrative divisions of the former Ottoman Empire.

        That is exactly what is happening.

        ….. Syria would implode into confessional fragments composed of Alawite, Druze and Sunni
        communities were the country to be occupied after an Israel invasion….

        That almost happened, were it not for the unexpected Russian, Iranian & Hezbollah involvement.

        …Israeli policy, both in war and peace, should aim for one objective: ‘the liquidation of Jordan’ as ruled by the Hashemite Kingdom, together with increased Palestinian migration from the West Bank into eastern Jordan.
        Option 2 in the “Decision Plan” presented by deputy Knesset speaker Bezalel Smotrich, that religious psychopath:
        Anyone who is unwilling or unable to relinquish his national aspirations will receive assistance from us to emigrate to one of the Arab countries. Jordan would be the prime target.

        So, let’s not kid ourselves.

      • Maghlawatan
        October 4, 2017, 8:18 am

        Everything Israel has done will be done to Israelis in time. Israel has a lot to do with the state of play in Egypt and the Levant but it rarely acts in its own strategic interest. It has never left a stable situation behind in any country it tried to control. Israel still needs the umbilical cord with the US after 70 years. Israel is chaos.

      • Maghlawatan
        October 4, 2017, 8:43 am

        Israel got the Iraq war it wanted. The bots thought the Americans would win. They didn’t model Iran winning. Israel plays whack a mole . The big mole never dies.
        Ancient Israel was destroyed twice. Once by Egypt. Once by Mesopotamia. The other pole is Turkey. Israel cannot escape that reality. Bigger populations. Organised. Time. 70 years is nothing. Israel is supposed to be forever. God laughs

        https://youtu.be/Ye613C1wxmE

      • Bandolero
        October 4, 2017, 7:13 pm

        Paranam Kid

        Don’t get me wrong. As I said I do think that Israel’s strategy in the region is based on the core thinking laid out in the Yinon plan: “fuelling sectarian and ethnic discord” to keep neighbors weak, thereby making Israel comparatively strong. I think the evidence for that is everywhere: firing up Hamas against the PLO, support for firing up sectarian takfirism against minorities in secular states, firing up kurdish separatism against Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey, trying to partition Iraq and Syria using the US military as proxy force and so on and on. Almost everywhere, where there are forces spreading hatred, terrorism and disrupting unity and peace in the region, one can almost be sure Israel supports them. However, I don’t think Israel follows, or ever followed the Yinon plan in detail. I think the Israel government follows a similar strategic plan, a secret one, permanently modified and updated in accordance with to latest developments, but not the Yinon plan.

        For example while I think Jonathan Cook is spot on regarding Israel’s motivations in supporting Barzani’s secession moves, I doubt Israel is today working on destabilizing the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan. The Hashemite ruler could hardly be more subserviant to Israel. Jordan is today de facto Israel’s ally – breaking it may just bring Hezbollah, the Iranians and the Russians, along with their toys like S-400 air defense systems, to that side of the de facto border, too. Sure, getting rid of the Palestianians is still the Israeli priority, but they don’t need to be put into Jordan, when they could be dumped to Europe or into Saudi Arabia, too, for example.

      • Bandolero
        October 4, 2017, 11:29 pm

        Paranam Kid

        And one more. You said:

        The Yinon plan not in use today? Here are a couple of quote from it:

        Iraq, whose dissolution should be a strategic Israeli aim, and he envisaged the emergence of three ethnic centres, of Shiites governing from Basra, the Sunni from Baghdad, and the
        Kurds with a capital in Mosul, each area run along the lines of the administrative divisions of the former Ottoman Empire.
        That is exactly what is happening.

        This quote is a good example. It shows a world view driven by sectarian and ethnic criteria. Take dividing the population of Iraq into Shiites, Sunn and Kurds. Such dividing thinking would be laughable if it wasn’t to be heard nowadays oftenly from Israel, the Israeli lobby and the associated western main stream media.

        However, it is not an established fact that dividing Iraq into such parts was the primary goal of Israel in instigating the US-led war on Iraq. The primary Israeli goal for bringing the US to invade Iraq seems to have been to conquer Iraq as a whole and make the whole of Iraq voluntarily completely subservient to Israel and the lobby, what would then be called by western mainstream media a true democracy. However, things didn’t work out like this.

        Today Basra, Baghdad and Mosul are all under control of the national Iraqi army and even more Iranian-backed PMU, who work well together. The Israeli-backed “Sunni” powercenter Mosul failed to last, and the Israeli-backed Barzani-Kurdish power center is still in Erbil and making risky moves to accomodate it’s Israeli backers.

        So, things developed quite different than any “Yinon” could ever foresee at his time and I expect the Israeli strategic planning division, doing lot’s of secret planning, but only very limited public planning, to adopt their plannings according to real events happening. That’s normal practice.

        However, I do think there’s a lot of evidence suggesting that Israel is indeed following the militarily not very illogacally, but morally very wrotten principles of divide et impera laid out in the Yinon plan as blueprint for Israeli foreign policy. And I do also think this Israeli policy played a large role in the deaths of millions of people. And that, I think, is not normal practice.

        I, eg, remember well, that the attempt of regime change in Syria was at first described in Western mass media as all the people rising up against a dictator. That was a non sectarian narrative, despite some Arab media were following a sectarian narrative. But in summer 2012, suddenly the narrative in Israeli-influenced Western mass media changed. As the people on the ground seems to have stayed the same, suddenly the Israeli-influenced western mass media reported what was happening in Syria was a Sunni majority insurgence against an oppressive Alawite-Shiite minority regime. That was suddenly a completely sectarian storyline, the Israeli-influenced western mass media told.

        But the thing striking me most was were I found the sectarian narrative first in the western world: it was not Reuters, but the homepage of AIPAC. AIPAC since deleted that message, but I remember it was there, and it was there, where I found it first. Most people didn’t pay attention on how Western narratives changed regarding Syria, but I did. Some people laughed about me when I said in 2012 that Israel is supporting Al Qaeda in Syria.

        But in 2013 came this from Michael Oren:

        http://www.jpost.com/Syria-Crisis/Oren-Jerusalem-has-wanted-Assad-ousted-since-the-outbreak-of-the-Syrian-civil-war-326328

        “The initial message about the Syrian issue was that we always wanted [President] Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran,” he said.

        This was the case, he said, even if the other “bad guys” were affiliated to al-Qaida.

        “We understand that they are pretty bad guys,” he said, adding that this designation did not apply to everyone in the Syrian opposition. “Still, the greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc. That is a position we had well before the outbreak of hostilities in Syria. With the outbreak of hostilities we continued to want Assad to go.”

        And that is while Israel all the way pretended to be neutral to the war in Syria.

      • Paranam Kid
        October 5, 2017, 9:20 am

        @Bandolero
        Thanks for your extensive replies. You are quite right about your analysis. It is unlikely that Israel, or any country for that matter, would leave a plan unchanged for 25 years. I do find some of the parts of the plan striking in today’s context.

  4. Emet
    October 4, 2017, 1:14 am

    Here is the evidence, as clear daylight, that the Mondoweiss faithful are a bunch of hypocrites of the worse kind. For those who are wondering what the worst kind means, it means hypocrisy intertwined with bigotry and antisemitism.
    Anyone who has put a toe outside their door in support of the Palestinians, who has not done the same for the Kurds, who are far more deserving than the Palestinians, should look into a mirror and not like what they see. And please, spare us with you comments about your “Twitter activism”.

    • eljay
      October 4, 2017, 9:06 am

      || Emet: Here is the evidence, as clear daylight, that the Mondoweiss faithful are a bunch of hypocrites of the worse kind. … ||

      Bunch of hypocrites of the worst kind is reserved for Zionists.

      || … For those who are wondering what the worst kind means, it means hypocrisy intertwined with bigotry and antisemitism. … ||

      Like I said.

      || … Anyone who has put a toe outside their door in support of the Palestinians, who has not done the same for the Kurds, who are far more deserving than the Palestinians, should look into a mirror and not like what they see. … ||

      I like what I see in the mirror because IMO the Kurds – just like the Palestinians – were and are entitled to self-determine as a secular and democratic state of and for all people living within and up to n-generations removed from their geographic region, equally.

      • Emet
        October 5, 2017, 11:05 am

        How come the “Palestinians” never demanded a state from their Ottoman overlords? Why don’t you tell us eljay? And I mean, never. The Kurdish push for independence goes way back before the idea of a state crept into the head of Husseini, Arafat, Barguhti and friends. And Jews on Mondoweiss are not able to internalize this fact. When the discussion becomes uncomfortable for them they then tell us, “You cannot go too far back in history”.

      • eljay
        October 5, 2017, 12:23 pm

        || Emet: How come the “Palestinians” never demanded a state from their Ottoman overlords? Why don’t you tell us eljay? … ||

        I have no idea why Palestinians never demanded a state from their Ottoman overlords. You’ll have to ask a Palestinian who lives under Ottoman rule.

        || … The Kurdish push for independence goes way back before the idea of a state crept into the head of Husseini, Arafat, Barguhti and friends. … ||

        That’s nice.

      • Eva Smagacz
        October 5, 2017, 4:55 pm

        Emet, you said:
        “How come the “Palestinians” never demanded a state from their Ottoman overlords?”

        I don’t know . But maybe because the concepts of states and nationalism are modern concepts?

        Do you know how come “Tunisians” and “Algerians” didn’t demand a state from their Ottoman overlords?

        And does your sneering remark implies that Tunisia and Algeria are still a fair game for being colonised by Europeans?

      • Emet
        October 6, 2017, 3:40 am

        So Eva, why do you think the Roman’s schlepped all the way to the Jewish Kingdom to then destroy the Jewish Temple? Yes the Jewish Kingdom with its capital in Jerusalem. Heard of the 12 Tribes of Israel? And if that wasn’t enough they then followed the Jews onto Masada and sat their for years building ramps in the middle of the desert so they could then complete the job of killing every last one. The Palestinian Arab story is a modern story. The fact that you and others have no desire to look at the history, is a sign that the hate for Jews has not subsided. You and your friends are modern day Romans looking once more to inflict pain on the Jewish people.

      • Mooser
        October 6, 2017, 1:45 pm

        ” You and your friends are modern day Romans looking once more to inflict pain on the Jewish people.”

        Well, people want to be on the side that wins.

        “Emetic” old pal, I hate to disappoint you, I know you have high hopes for us, but maybe, just maybe, we are better at religion than we are at statehood. There’s no shame in that.

    • Maghlawatan
      October 5, 2017, 9:06 am

      Decent people everywhere support Kurds and Palestinians. To be Zionist you must be a ####.

  5. Paranam Kid
    October 4, 2017, 2:42 am

    Syria has gone a similar way, mired in convulsive fighting that has left its ruler impotent.
    No, he is not impotent: thanks to Russia, Iran & Hezbollah Assad has virtually destroyed & kicked ISIS out of Syria. The only part that is still contentious is in the east around Deir ez Zor where US troops with the SDF terrorists are occupying the oil-rich parts.

  6. Kathleen
    October 4, 2017, 6:05 am

    Israel’s and the neocons (Hadley, Bremmer, Wolfowitz, Feith, Cheney, HRClinton, Kristol, Max Boot, Libby, Woolsey etc etc) intentions to reshape the middle east have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, injuries and millions of refugees. One could see the plan unfold via the blueprint at the Project for the New American Century’s website which was taken down in 2006 but can still be accesses

    https://www.download-geek.com/download/book/project+for+a+new+american+century+pdf.html?aff.id=8509&aff.subid=11

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/pdf/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf

    As well as the plans for rearranging middle east that David , Liv Wurmer and Feith drew up for
    Netanyahu and team

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/pdf/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf

    I knew the deadly “noble lies” and “creative destruction” philosophies of the neocons went back to Leo Strauss but this is the first time I have read about the “Yinon Plan”

    https://www.thenation.com/article/men-jinsa-and-csp/

    http://www.bintjbeil.com/articles/en/021213_christison.html

    http://original.antiwar.com/justin/2003/06/13/trotsky-strauss-and-the-neocons/

    Then the efforts of former Ambassador Robert Ford to fuel the civil war in Syria. No so called journalist really drill Ford on just how and why he fueled the humans disaster in Syria while working for Obama and Clinton no less.

    https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/former-ambassador-robert-ford-on-the-state-department-mutiny-on-syria

    https://www.activistpost.com/2016/01/robert-fords-shameful-support-of-terrorism-in-syria-and-the-moderate-rebel-myth.html

    Now MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, Joy Reid, Andrea Mitchell regularly have on some of the very same war hawks who helped lie the U.S. into invading Iraq Bill Kristol, Max Boot, Hadley, etc are regular guest pushing for more aggression towards Iran. Regular guest on these programs.

    Is it a common phenomena throughout history to have collective groups of sociopaths reek such death and destruction on innocent people the way the neocons have in pursuit of this rearranging of the middle east ? No regard at all for innocent human lives. I know the answer is yes however thought I would ask anyway. Opinions?

  7. James Canning
    October 4, 2017, 1:43 pm

    Palestine was “card up” as a result of the First World War? No. Greater Syria was “carved up”, but not Palestine.

    Neocons wanting to help Israel keep the West Bank and Golan Heights permanently, foster the implosion of Iraq and Syria.

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