It was significant that the Israeli media presented extensive press and analytical coverage immediately after the start of the Turkish military operation in northern Syria against the Kurdish sites. It seems as if it were a purely internal Israeli affair, and not a regional or international issue. This opens the door to many sensitive questions regarding the reason for Israel’s concern over this operation and why Israel appears as if it were affected by the operation even though it is about 800 kilometres away from its borders.
The Israeli reactions, especially the official ones, reflect the magnitude of their concern and unease towards the Turkish military behaviour in the region. Most described it as a show of military power that was once unique to Israel alone. This current Turkish operation showed that there is a military force in the region that has influence, impact, and behaviour on the ground comparable to Israel’s and perhaps even superior to it.
We can talk about two kinds of Israeli reactions to the Turkish military operation in northern Syria against the Kurdish sites. The first are the official positions issued by the Israeli government and opposition leaders, which, agreed that Turkey should be attacked, despite their differences in most other issues.
Gilad Erdan, the Israeli Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs, commented the Turkish military operation in northern Syria by saying Erdogan is an “anti-Semitic racist who supports terrorism – slaughter the Kurds without us making a moral voice heard and calling on the world to stop it. We can’t stay indifferent on this.”
MK Zvi Hauser of the Blue and White party said, “As a nation-state of an ethnic minority in the Middle East, Israel cannot close its eyes to the suffering of the Kurds in the region. Fresh and deported Kurds will bring a wave of refugees, changing demographics, intensify instability and weep for generations, even from Israel’s point of view. Israel must internalise the new rules of the game concerning all challenges.”
Gideon Sa’ar, one of Netanyahu’s rivals in the Likud party, announced that Israel is must take a clear position on what he described as “Erdogan’s attack” on the Kurds and provide them with help. Former financial minister Yair Lapid said that given Turkey’s actions against the Turks, Lapid said “The time has come for Israel to officially recognize the genocide of the Armenian people and stop giving in to Turkish pressure.”
Ayelet Shaked, leader of the Yamina party and justice minister, said, “The Kurds are the world’s largest nation without a country, with a population of about 35 million people. They are an ancient people that share a special historical connection to the Jewish people,” adding, “They are the main force that fought against ISIS and endured thousands of deaths, under a special joint leadership of men and women. The Western world should stand with them.” Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s son, Yair, expressed his support for the Kurds by tweeting about Kurdistan under the hashtag #freekurdistan, indicating his separate support for the establishment of a Kurdish entity.
The second part of the Israeli positions involves the Israeli political and military analysis that gave itself a larger margin to criticise the American behaviour, thus “betraying” the Kurds, disappoint them, and delivering them to their inevitable fate before the lethal Turkish force. This requires Israeli decision-making circles to think hard about the American policy that has consistently let down its allies.
Haaretz newspaper’s military expert, Amos Harel, said: “Israel was surprised by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Syria and allow Turkey to begin a military operation in the area.” He added, “Several sources also said that the American decision was also not seriously discussed, and possibly even wasn’t discussed at all, during Sunday’s security cabinet meeting, which focused on Iran and the Palestinian arena.”
Meanwhile, Ben-Dror Yemini, a political analyst for Yedioth Aharonoth, said that Washington leaving the Kurds to face their fate against the Turks raises red flags in Israel, as Trump has been exposed, one time after another, as a leader who is not well-versed, and instead acts arbitrarily. He does not know what is expected of a leader of a global superpower, and the result is Trump has become an unreliable ally for Israel because his current behaviour is a knife in the back of both the Kurds and Israel.
However, Arab affairs expert at Channel 12, Ehud Yaari said that Israel was wrong from the beginning to embrace Trump, and it must stay away from him before it loses the American public, because his chatter will not benefit them. He no longer has anything to give Israel.
Before the start of the Turkish military operation in northern Syria against Kurdish sites, senior Israeli officials expressed serious concern regarding US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria, leaving its Kurdish allies as prey for Turkey, according to Israel.
More importantly, Israel was surprised by the American decision and saw it as an abandonment of the Kurdish forces that fought and contributed to the defeat of Daesh. Moreover, American action encourages Turkish-Iranian activity in Syria. All of this means that Israel cannot depend on Trump with regards to Syria, except for the political support for the Israeli attacks that target Iranian forces is well.
The US decision to withdraw from northern Syria suddenly spelled bad news for US allies in the region, specifically Israel. It is the second time that Trump surprises Israel after he decided to withdraw troops from Syria last December. All of the combined events create a new strategic reality in the region requiring Israeli readiness, because removing US troops in northeastern Syria, and letting Kurdish allies face their inevitable fate before the Turks, should be a serious, not artificial, source of concern in Tel Aviv.
The Turkish military operation in northern Syria, and the preceding and accompanying revelations, reveal the fear expressed by the Israelis and their desire not want to reach a situation or scenario in which they are like the Kurds or Saudi Arabia, who did not receive American support or aid. This is because the Kurds’ disappointment from the Americans is a new indicator that he will not fight anyone on behalf of Israel. It is worth noting that Israel lived some time under the assumption that the Americans will fight on behalf of it, but it has become clear that this assumption is completely mistaken and should not be built upon in light of the Turkish developments.
On the direct Israeli-Kurdish level, the Israeli concern over the Turkish military operation in northern Syria stems from Israel’s loss of its Kurdish allies and losing the great opportunity to establish a Kurdish entity or autonomy, which could result in forming a Kurdish-Israeli alliance that would serve both sides brought together by mutual strategic forces.
Israel and the Kurds are tied together by old historical alliances since the “minority alliance” theory emerged with the establishment of Israel over seventy years ago. Israel trained and armed Kurdish fighters who played a central role in helping Israel displace the Iraqi Jews in late 1969, moving Jews from their homes towards the border with Iran and then transferring them to Israel.
Israel’s interest in Kurdistan, which consists of parts of four countries, i.e. Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria, manifested in a number of reasons that prompted Israel to strengthen ties between the two sides. Israel is almost the only country in the world to declare support for the establishment of a Kurdish state.
Israel seeks to keep the Kurds as a regional force in the area in order to prevent the revival of the “eastern front “threat, which poses a threat of a potential attack from that direction. The establishment of a Kurdish state or at least an advanced autonomy for the Kurds would solidify the division of Iraq on the one hand and surround Turkey and Iran on the other. It has been revealed that Israel has used the Kurdish region as a base to launch operations against Iranian facilities, which reveals the common ground for military and security relations between the Israelis and Kurds.
On an economic level, 75 per cent of Israel’s oil imports come from Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as significant economic cooperation, through the acquisition of a lot of investments by Israeli companies in Kurdistan, especially in the field of energy, construction, communications and security consulting.
Israel is assessing the Turkish-Kurdish developments around the clock because of its sensitivity. Perhaps the most important conclusion we can reach is that Israel joins the moderate Arab states and the Kurds are constantly and jointly assessing a position that is gradually becoming clearer. This position is that they are facing an American president that is unreliable because the US is living a phase completely separate to them all, even though they are supposed to be its most important and trusted allies in the region.
To conclude, the Turkish military operations in northern Syria, and the previous American withdrawal and abandoned of Saudi Arabia after the Iranian attacks on the country, all confirm to Israel that Trump is personally willing to sell it weapons and combat methods without military assistance. Therefore, in recent weeks, Israel has begun witnessing a state of agitation and disappointment that prevails in moderate countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
From the Israeli point of view, this is a new cause for concern, because of the decline in confidence in Trump and the US as a trusted ally, as evidenced by his recent behaviour. The most recent of this behaviours is allowing the Turkish forces to attack the Kurds in northern Syria, this, which, in turn, would increase the Iranians’ interest in carrying out more attacks in the Middle East to establish their existence and control. It will be Israel’s turn sooner or later.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.