If this alliance is to take place, it will have serious and far-reaching consequences for Turkey and the Kurdish question. It is our contention that the Kurds and the PKK, in particular are going to be the most adversely affected by this alliance. How and why did this union between PKK and Israel come up and what can be done to deny Israel this leverage in its conflict with Turkey? Starting in the early 1950s, the Israeli intelligence service (Mossad) developed what was known as “the “periphery policy” of the Middle East in which it planned to establish ties with ethnic and religious minorities in the area in order to break the Arab embargo and the isolation Israel feels. Thus, Israel cemented close ties with some Maronites, Druze, Copts, the shah of Iran and Kurdish leaders and groups. According to Michael Gunter, an American scholar on the Kurdish question, Dr. Kamiran Badr Khan was a very effective instrument in implementing this policy with regard to Arabs and Kurds.
Consequently, Mossad managed to penetrate the Kurdish movement in the early 1960s. The story of Kurdish-Israeli ties has been detailed in “The Mossad in Iraq” by Shlomo Nakdimon. It suffices to say that the relationship was very exploitive and had harmful consequences for the Kurds. It was Zionist circles which in response to then-Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat’s request to end the war in Iraqi Kurdistan asked the shah of Iran in 1975 to cut support for the Kurdish revolution. So Kurds have experienced Israel, with tragic consequences in the last century, and the PKK needs to take this into account.
Initially, Israel not only refrained from siding with the PKK in its war against Turkey, but it was also actively involved in assisting, training and equipping the counterinsurgency forces of the Kemalist military and secular elite. This cooperation was crowned with Mossad’s active involvement in the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan by Turkish commandos.
Championing the cause of Armenians, Kurds and Alevis
With the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) coming to power and reorientation of Turkey’s foreign policy, to the dismay of Israel, pro-Israeli circles in the US have begun to champion the cause of Armenians, Kurds, Alevis and even generals and other members of Ergenekon in Turkey.
Israel was reluctant to deal with Öcalan, who is known for his anti-Israel rhetoric. In fact, many Israelis consider Öcalan to be strongly anti-Semitic. With Öcalan locked up in İmralı Prison, both Israel and the PKK forces under Murat Karayılan have opened lines of communication. It appears that it was Israel that initiated the contact, which was carried out by European, American and other Kurdish intermediaries. Dawood Baghestani of the Arbil-based Kurd-Israel Institute openly boasts about being one of these intermediaries.
In an interview between a Yedioth Ahronoth correspondent and Murat Karayılan in October 2010 in Kandil, we clearly see the latter’s rationale for enlisting Israel’s support: “You know, it is really a big mystery to me because more than any other people in the world, I would have expected Israel to understand and identify with us. After all, you, who have experienced the Holocaust, massacres, expulsions and persecution, now see our people, the Kurdish people, experiencing that same fate. More than any other Turkish head of state, this prime minister, [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan, openly shows he is furthering relations with Hezbollah and Syria,” he said. “He hugs [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and praises Hamas. Are you sure this is your friend?” It was these initiatives that seem to have led to exchanges of information, intelligence and logistical support between the PKK and Israel. Seymour Hersh wrote an article that appeared in The New Yorker in 2006 in which he mentioned that Israel and the US have been “working together in support of a Kurdish resistance group known as the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan [PJAK].” It seems that this initial Israeli involvement with the Iranian wing of the PKK was later extended to PKK activities against Turkey.
Hersh’s account of Mossad involvement with the PKK was corroborated by the accounts published by WikiLeaks in November 2010. The documents show that the US and Israel have been helping the PKK. A US military document referred to the PKK as ‘’warriors for freedom and Turkish citizens’’ and said the US had freed arrested PKK members. For this reason, US and Israeli officials were apprehensive about the WikiLeaks materials. Besides, many Turkish analysts and officials believe that a PKK missile attack on İskenderun last year unquestionably bears Israeli fingerprints. Finally, the Israeli foreign minister’s denial of the news about the Israeli government’s increasing ties with the PKK, as mentioned in Yedioth Ahronoth last Friday, was hardly satisfactory to Turkey.
Thinking that the current tension between Turkey and Israel will make Israel more forthcoming to help his organization, Karayılan feels confident that the PKK will have a successful round of fighting with Turkish authorities. Nihat Ali Özcan, author of the book “Kurdistan Workers Party: History, Ideology and Methods” told the Southeast European Times on March 9, 2011 that he believes the PKK aims to heighten political polarization between Turks and Kurds by ending the cease-fire. Özcan thinks that the PKK sees the escalation of violence as a negotiating chip in the constitution-making process of post-election Turkey.
PKK bracing for more attacks
The PKK is preparing for more attacks both in urban and rural areas. Apart from targeting security personnel, the attacks could be expanded to the country’s Black Sea and east Anatolian regions. These attacks will target Turkey’s tourism industry. Based on Mossad’s notoriety for sabotage worldwide, one should not underestimate the impact of its manipulation of the willing PKK.
The ensuing domestic instability will have serious consequences for Turkey. It will drain resources from Turkey’s ambitious economic development policies, create an environment that is not conducive to furthering Turkey’s democratic and social reforms and undercut Turkey’s ability to act as model for peaceful and democratic change in the Middle East. But eventually the Kurds, the PKK and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) will be the sure losers in any deal with Israel. If history is any guide, the Iraqi Kurds under Mustafa Barzani paid a heavy price for dealing with Israel. Although some may think it was the US and the shah that betrayed Barzani and not Israel. This is not an accurate reading of how US foreign policy is made. During his last years in exile in the US, Barzani bitterly regretted his dependence on the US and Israel. Besides, Barzani was forced to deal with Israel and did not have the options Kurds in Turkey now have under the AKP government. Over the last century, Israel has consistently demonstrated that it is not a credible patron. It has used and deserted many other regional allies, such as the Lebanese Forces under Samir Farid Geagea and the South Lebanese Militia. In addition in allying themselves with Israel, which is an aggressive, apartheid-like regime, with a hand stained with the blood of numerous crimes against people in the Middle East, the PKK will taint the Kurds’ centuries-old legitimate struggle for recognition of its national rights.
Furthermore, Turkey under the AKP government has a strong national mandate and economic basis with which to face the PKK’s challenge. As a member of NATO and a strategic ally of the US with a rising status in regional and world politics, Turkey has more resources and avenues to isolate the PKK. One should not rule out the possibility that, if it is forced, Turkey may resort to what the Iraqi regime did in 1975 in compromising with Israel or asking the US to mediate the conflict between it and Israel. Then the PKK will be deserted and have to face the combined Turkish, Israeli, US, Iranian and even Kurdistan Regional Government wrath and forces. Finally, Turkey is heading for a critical democratic transformation and devising a new constitution, so any escalation of conflict and Israeli intervention in internal affairs will grossly undermine the AKP government’s willingness and ability to be receptive to the Kurds’ demands for national rights in the writing of the new constitution.
For these reasons, a PKK alliance with Israel is like building a house on sand, but this sand is toxic and unstable and will burn and kill the PKK and its sympathizers in the BDP. However, Turkey could help deny Israel this leverage by being more forthcoming and reviving its Kurdish initiative with added vigor and creating an environment that encourages pro-Kurdish legal and political action. While encouraging alternative pro-Kurdish political parties to break the PKK monopoly over Kurdish politics, the BDP could not and should not be written off in this regard. If both the Turkish government and the BDP heed Massoud Barzani’s advice in this conflict, things will take a turn for the better and for the good of all parties.
*Dr. Othman Ali, Ph.D., is the head of the Turkish-Kurdish Studies Center in Arbil, Iraq.