Debate about the referendum on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan, scheduled for the end of the month, will continue to ignite regional debate and hold the states directly involved — namely, Iraq and, indirectly, Syria, Turkey and Iran — in a frenzy.
The consultation, however, also affects the United States — architects of “full Kurdish autonomy” back when the enemy Saddam Hussein led Iraq — Russia and several other countries. Among these there is Israel, which has always been close to the cause of Iraqi Kurds.
So, while intense negotiations and behind-the-scenes maneuverings are underway to sink the referendum — the alliance that Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey is trying to cushion with Iran is proof — or to impose the postponement of the referendum, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the first “Western” leader to make a statement openly in favor of the proclamation of a Kurdish state. The Palestinians under Israeli occupation will have to keep waiting, perhaps forever. The man in charge of the most far-right government in Israel’s history, however, pointed out that, in his opinion, Abdullah Ocalan’s PKK was a “terrorist” organization, distancing himself from the opposite statements recently made by the former deputy head of the armed forces, Yair Golan.
So much passion for the rights of the Kurds can be explained by analyzing how Israel is reading the current political and strategic framework of the region. The expected outcome of the Kurdish referendum is in favor of separation from Iraq, and it will have a domino effect, starting from Syria. Here, the Kurds, with support from the Americans, are in fact already in control and rule much of the country’s north.
There is a widespread consensus that immediately after the Iraqi Kurdistan, the Rojava will vote for independence, perhaps next spring. It is not surprising that in recent months, Damascus has used tougher tones against the intentions of the Syrian Kurds, who are also supported by Washington. The emergence of separate entities in Iraq and Syria goes in the direction hoped for by the Netanyahu government, which points to the weakening of Israel’s adversaries, beginning with Syria. Not to underestimate the impact that Kurdish independence in Iraq would also have on the “enemy number one”: Iran.
Israel has everything to gain from the crunch of the crisis between Kurds and Arabs and its premier plays on the diplomatic tables all the cards in his hand. These days, he is relaunching good relations in Latin America where, until recently, there was an open clamor for the rights of Palestinians. Argentinian President Mauricio Macri welcomed Netanyahu enthusiastically, and Netanyahu strengthened the historic ties between Israel and Colombia.
Netanyahu’s diplomatic activism also includes the sporting world. Israel is now waiting for the Giro d’Italia 2018 (an Italian cycling competition), which for the first time in its centenary history will start off outside Europe, thanks also to the millions of euros that Israeli sponsors have put on the pot. Three race segments will be run in the Holy Land, and it will be presented next Monday in Jerusalem, with the presence of two champions: Ivan Basso and Alberto Contador. The main objective is to make international cycling celebrate in Jerusalem the 70th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel.
But Netanyahu isn’t just racking up successes. Officially, it is only a postponement, but the decision by Togo President Faure Gnassingbè to postpone the Africa-Israel summit that was to be held Oct. 23-27 in Lomè is a tough blow to the Israeli Prime Minister. The main reasons for the postponement were the opposition to the summit by some African-Arab states, in particular Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia (explicitly thanked by the OLP).
Netanyahu — who in 2016 visited Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia — aims to forge closer ties with several African countries to steer them away from the Palestinian cause, especially at the U.N. That is why a summit can be organized in Israel in 2018 with those African states that are not part of the Arab League.
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