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November 14, 2017 12:09 pm

Backing the Kurds Is the Best Bet to Check Iran’s Expansion

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avatar by Amir Avivi


An Israeli flag in a sea of Kurdish flags at an independence rally in Erbil. Photo: Adam Mirani via Twitter.

The US and Israel should throw their full weight behind the Kurds and their quest for independence.

A Kurdish state represents the biggest opportunity to disrupt the dangerous and destabilizing Iranian-Shiite expansion across the Middle East.

In recent weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly expressed support for an independent Kurdistan. In addition, US President Donald Trump decertified the nuclear deal with Iran, and has vowed to check Iran’s wider aggression in the region, clearly identifying it as an enemy.

These two developments are linked, for it is the Kurds who can throw a spanner into Iran’s grand designs to take over Iraq and Syria, and to expand further.

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But so long as American foreign policy remains hesitant and indecisive on the Kurdish question, the Trump Administration’s stance on Iran will remain largely virtual.

In Iraq, the Kurds and Sunnis have both understood that, with ISIS largely out of the way, the Shi’ite drive for hegemony represents the biggest common threat.

The Kurds have a vested interest in disrupting the Iranian link to Iraq and Syria, both home to large Kurdish areas.

To help the Kurds in this project, Washington would have to give up its fruitless vision of reunifying Iraq. The Iraqi state is dead, and today, the Iraqi government is an Iranian satellite.

In both Iraq and Syria, the full scale of the Sunni-Shiite conflict are visible to all, and the region is becoming organized along these sectarian fault lines. This is a zero-sum game, and trying to stitch together Shiites and Sunnis to create one Iraq indicates a lack of a basic understanding of the sectarian regional situation.

Since reunifying Iraq today means doing so under a Shiite, Iranian-supported regime, reunification means inevitably handing Iraq over to Iranian control.

The US and the international community would be better off cutting their losses, ceasing investment in the Iraqi state, and reinvesting in a new stock: Kurdistan.

The US and Israel should throw their full weight behind the Kurds in Iraq, and in Syria. This means arming them, providing them with military advisers, and demanding the establishment of a Kurdish state in both Iraq and Syria.

The best way to pressure the Iranians and force them to take a step back is simply to threaten their domestic stability. A sizable Kurdish population resides in Iran, and supporting the Kurdish independence effort will greatly increase leverage power against Tehran. This can significantly influence Iranian policy.

Unveiling the Israeli-Kurdish alliance

Links between Israel and the Kurds go back for decades, but traditionally, these have been kept in the shadows, since Israel once enjoyed a very good relationship with Turkey, for which the Kurdish issue was highly sensitive.

As a result, Israel got used to treading carefully in regards to the Kurdish issue. But today, everything has changed, and Turkey, under its Islamist government, is far from being a friend of Israel. Jerusalem has nothing to look for in Turkey, and Ankara has become less relevant to Israel’s interests.

On the other hand, Israel has recognized that the Kurds represent a major potential ally in Syria and Iraq, an ally that also happens to share a border with Iran, which poses the largest threat to Israel’s security.

The Kurds represent a major strategic asset for Israel.

The fact that they border Iran means that just as Iran seeks to approach and threaten the Israeli border, Israel can, in theory, do the very same thing to Iran.

Hence, for Israel, the debate on whether to openly support the Kurds has ceased being relevant, and the answer is, today, a resounding yes.

If the US and international community adopt a pro-Kurdish policy as well, they will gain a vital new ability to place a check on Iran’s destabilizing actions.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Amir Avivi is senior policy adviser for Our Soldiers Speak (

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