Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced support for Kurdish statehood, taking a position that appeared to clash with the US preference to keep the war-torn Iraq united.
Israel has maintained discreet military, intelligence and business ties with the Kurds since the 1960s, seeing in the minority ethnic group a buffer against shared Arab adversaries.
“We should … support the Kurdish aspiration for independence,” Netanyahu told Tel Aviv University’s INSS think-tank on Sunday, after outlining what he described as the collapse of Iraq and other Middle East regions under strife between Arab Sunni and Shia Muslims.
Kurds, Netanyahu said, “are a fighting people that has proved its political commitment, political moderation, and deserves political independence”.
The Kurds have seized on recent sectarian chaos in Iraq to expand their autonomous northern territory to include Kirkuk, which sits on vast oil deposits that could make the independent state economically viable.
But Iraqi Kurds, who have ethnic compatriots in Iran, Turkey and Syria, have hesitated to declare full independence, one reason being the feared response of neighbouring countries.
Washington wants Iraq’s crumbling unity restored. Last Tuesday, the US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Iraqi Kurdish leaders and urged them to seek political integration with Baghdad.
‘Don’t surrender to Iran‘
Also on Sunday, Netanyahu urged international negotiators not to “surrender” to Tehran, just three weeks ahead of a deadline for an Iranian nuclear deal.
“What it would mean is Iran at any time could kick the (foreign nuclear) inspectors aside or deceive them – it’s done that in the past – and go rush to make the enriched uranium that is necessary to make atomic bombs,” he told Britain’s Sky News, according to a transcript published by his office.
“And they can do that within weeks or months. That’s bad for Britain, bad for Europe, bad for the United States, bad for Russia, bad for China, very bad for Israel, bad for the Arabs too – bad for the world.”
The six powers’ overarching goal is to extend the time Iran would need to make an atom bomb, if it chose to do so. To this end, they want it to cut down the number of uranium centrifuges in operation. Iran would get sanctions relief in return.
Western diplomats say an extension to the deadline is possible – but, some diplomats add, only if there is a deal in sight, not if there is no progress at all.
Israel is not a party to the Iranian nuclear diplomacy, but Netanyahu has lobbying clout in foreign capitals given Israel’s fear of its arch-enemy gaining the means to endanger its existence – and its veiled threats to launch a preemptive war.