Israeli involvement with the Kurds is not a new phenomenon. In its search for non-Arab allies in the region, Israel has supported Kurdish militancy in Iraq since the 1960s. In 1980, Israeli premier Menachem Begin publicly acknowledged that besides humanitarian aid, Israel had secretly provided military aid to Kurds in the form of weapons and advisers. Later on, that relationship was kept low profile due to Washington’s alliances in the region; first with Iran during the Shah’s monarchy, and then with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq when he fought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Iran. Israel’s partnership with Turkey that was founded mainly to counter threats from Iran, Syria and Iraq, was also a factor.
Israel and the Kurds also share a common bond through the Kurdish Jews in Israel, who number close to 50,000. Prominent among them is Itzhak Mordechai, an Iraqi Kurd who was defense minister during Benjamin Netanyahu’s last term as prime minister.
Israeli-Kurd relationships soured a bit in February of 1999, when the Kurds accused the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad of providing information that led to the arrest of Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan in Kenya. Kurdish protestors attacked the Israeli embassy in Berlin, resulting in the shooting deaths of three protestors by Israeli security forces. In an unprecedented public denial, the then Mossad chief Efraim Halevy dissociated Israel from Ocalan’s capture. Despite such bumps and its alliance with Turkey, Israel succeeded in keeping its relationship with the Iraqi Kurds intact, by keeping a safe distance from the PKK, which is primarily a Turkish Kurd entity, and not becoming a party to the bloody infighting between the various Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish groups.
However, Israel does have a favorite – the Barzani family-dominated Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), whose current head, Massoud Barzani, inherited the mantle from his father, the legendary Mullah Mustafa Barzani. Israeli television has in the past broadcast photographs from the 1960s showing father Barzani embracing the then Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan. In alliance with its erstwhile rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party, the KDP in post-Saddam Iraq commands the largest and most formidable of the Iraqi militias, the Peshmerga, with estimates of anywhere from 50,000 to 75,000 battle-hardened fighters. In contrast, the next in line of militias is the Iranian-sponsored Shi’ite political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI), with no more than 15,000 fighters…