With the Kurdish referendum to separate from Iraq done and dusted, Israel’s ambitions in that country are all but complete. For many years, Israeli strategists and politicians alike have made no secret of their ambition to bring about the dissolution of the Arab states; Iraq, unfortunately, has been a prime target. In February 1982, Ze’ev Schiff, a former military correspondent for Haaretz newspaper, wrote that the “best” that can happen for Israeli interests in the country is the “dissolution of Iraq into a Shi’ite state, a Sunni state and the separation of the Kurdish part.”
In that same month 35 years ago, Israel’s plan to divide the region into small states was outlined in greater detail in a document written by Oded Yinon titled “A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties” published in Hebrew in Kivunim (Directions), the journal of the Department of Information of the World Zionist Organisation. “Iraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other, is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel’s targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel.”
There is an Arab proverb that says the calamity of one people brings benefit for another. That may be so but in this instance the break-up of Iraq may not necessarily be a blessing for Kurdish nationalists. While Kurdish independence may bring some immediate and short-term gains, there are many pitfalls that threaten disaster.
Opposition by the Baghdad government as well as Turkey and Iran has already led to military exercises on the border with Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan. Any miscalculation or provocation by any of the parties could easily ignite a regional inferno. If that happens, who is the most likely beneficiary? There is no doubt that Israel’s military industrial complex would gain massively from the sale of arms to the Kurds and whoever else wants to buy its lethal products.
We can assess what might happen by looking at the world’s youngest state, the Republic of South Sudan. The same factors that triggered its breakaway from Sudan are present in northern Iraq: a people who have been neglected and marginalised by their central government; the presence of rich oil reserves in their region; and foreign support for their secession.
The promise of equality, justice and prosperity which accompanied the birth of South Sudan has turned into a veritable nightmare. No sooner had the new state come into existence than it descended into a maelstrom of bloodletting. Disease, hunger and mayhem are now the order of the day.
Even after recognising the nascent South Sudan and establishing diplomatic ties in July 2011, Israel has sold arms to both warring parties therein; it has no moral compunction about this whatsoever. The same merchandising of death also drives Israel’s ongoing sale of weapons to Myanmar’s genocidal regime.
In Iraq, the threat of conflict seems almost permanent, and not just because of the opposition to the Kurdish project from neighbouring states. Within northern Iraq itself, there has been little support for the referendum from Christian, Turkmen and Yazidi communities who voted with their feet. A report published in the French newspaper La Croix pointed out that these minority communities fear that they would eventually be dominated by the Kurds in the proposed Kurdish state. In effect, they would like to avoid the predicament which befell the Nuer, Shilluk and other small tribes in the Dinka-dominated Republic of South Sudan.
Moreover, the struggle for control of the oil-fields and their revenue will be as explosive in northern Iraq as it is in South Sudan. So called black gold has been a blessing and a curse for several states in the Middle East. The misuse of this natural resource by unscrupulous regimes has fomented discontent and turmoil across the region. Again, this has a parallel in the conflict in South Sudan. Once the revenue began to flow, the secessionists in Juba did not want to share it with Khartoum; alas, when they finally got their state, one tribe, the Dinka, took it all. There is a real fear among Iraq’s northern minorities that this scenario will be repeated in a Kurd-dominated state.
There are still other questions that require urgent answers. If the Israelis are so committed to the right of all people to self-determination, why are they still denying it to the Palestinian people 100 years after the Balfour Declaration? It is strange how they have accepted part of that ill-fated policy document and rejected the part upon which Britain’s support for a “national home for the Jewish people is predicated: “It being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
Israel’s unreserved support for Kurdish independence is consistent with the objectives outlined by Ze’ev Schiff and Oded Yinon in the 1980s. The disintegration of Syria, Libya, Yemen and now Iraq has opened up invaluable opportunities for Israeli hegemony. The Zionist state has never had it so good thanks to a generation of Middle East leaders who lack foresight, refuse to learn from past mistakes and seem forever incapable of distinguishing between their friends and foes. Kurdish independence will lead to the disintegration of Iraq; it’s Israel’s dream scenario.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.