Iraqi Kurds remember historic ties with Israel after an agreement

12:18 pm

Friday, November 27, 2020

Erbil – (AFP):

Decades ago, the Iraqi and Israeli Kurds had a common enemy and what some consider to be similar experiences of persecution … Today, the Kurds are following with interest the pace of accelerated normalization between the Hebrew state and its historical enemies in the Arab countries.

The UAE and Bahrain recently signed two agreements to normalize relations under the auspices of the US, and Sudan announced a similar agreement. This represents a major turning point in relations between Israel and the Arab countries that previously pledged not to establish diplomatic ties with Israel in favor of peace with the Palestinians.

The Kurds have been repeatedly accused of forging ties with Israel, and have sometimes been described as “agents” of the Israelis in their struggle for independence. During the referendum held in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2017 for the region’s independence, Israeli flags appeared at rallies, demonstrations and celebrations.

“The normalization of Arab countries with Israel is a good thing,” said Hamdad Najat, 38, an English professor in the provincial capital Erbil. But he added, “There is an emotional connection between the Kurds and the Jews because of the grievances that have dominated both of us.”

The Kurds, who number about thirty million, are divided between Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, and have been calling for more than a century to establish their own state.

The Jews were persecuted for centuries until they succeeded in establishing the State of Israel in 1948.

With the escalation of hostility between Arabs and Israel, the young state sought to forge relations with non-Arab groups in the Middle East. It received a response from the Iraqi Kurds, who, like them, were hostile to the central Iraqi government in Baghdad.

And Israel worked to provide humanitarian and military assistance to the Kurds affected by President Saddam Hussein’s harsh campaigns against them in the north of the country in the 1980s and 1990s.

More than half a century ago, most Iraqi Jews, fearing the conflicts and troubles in Iraq, left the country via the Northern Kurdish region to Israel.

The faster the better

And Israel backed the Iraqi region’s independence referendum in 2017, although it was opposed by the United States, which backed the Kurds and Israel.

Kurdish activist Nabaz Rashad at the time enthusiastically participated in the campaign for independence, which drew criticism from his Iraqi Arab friends who accused him of wanting to establish “a second Israel in the Middle East.”

Today, 35-year-old Rashad looks bitterly at the “normalization” deals. He tells AFP that it reflects ‘pure hypocrisy’.

Nevertheless, he expresses his hope that these agreements will bring stability to a region torn apart by decades of conflict.

Moreover, as a Kurd, I feel hope that when a state is born or recognized, that gives us hope that the Kurds will have their own state, ”he added.

The Iraqi Kurds currently live under an autonomous regime with its own security forces and the region’s borders with Iran, Turkey and Syria.

For his part, the head of the International Relations Committee in Iraqi Kurdistan’s parliament, Rebwar Babaki, says Iraq must normalize relations with Israel in order to promote peace in the region. “The sooner the better,” he adds.

He believes this “could help Arab countries develop scientific and academic research through exchange programs, as Israel is a pioneer in scientific and technological research.”

But the Kurdistan region cannot do this alone, as the decision in the country’s foreign policy rests with the central Iraqi government.

Babaki added, “In the event that an Israeli embassy is opened in Baghdad, a consulate will open in Erbil the next day.”

The best days of the past

Despite this, political analyst Hiwa Othman believes that Israel’s rapprochement with the Iraqi Kurds remains unlikely despite its historical ties, as Israel no longer has the same interest to the Kurds today. They tried to get close to communicating with the greatest international power, the United States.

He explains that “the United States is present in Erbil today and the Kurds don’t need a mediator (to communicate with them), so they don’t need to establish a political relationship with Israel.”

He believes that unlike Bahrain and UAE, the Iraqi Kurds must maintain a delicate balance in their ties with Ankara and Tehran, which have a significant impact on Iraq’s Kurdish political arena and oppose the two ideas independence and normalization with Israel.

Bilal Wahhab, a researcher at the Washington Institute for the Near East, says Israel may view its ties with the Kurds as less important compared to the diplomatic gains it has made.

“Following its normalization with the Emirates and Bahrain and moving towards normalization with Sudan, Israel is now looking to Saudi Arabia, not the Kurds,” he added.

He concludes that “the best days of that relationship are in the past, not the future.”

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