By Eric Walberg
In Part I, Erdogan’s mounting dilemmas—ISIS terrorism, Kurdish resistance, Assad’s Syria alive and well—showed how his bid for regional hegemony has gone awry. His pact with the ISIS devil, as long as they target Kurds, just made things worse.
Davutoglu’s dream of a “common history and a common future” for the Middle East under Turkish guidance is now in history’s dustbin. The Turkish plan for a “global, political, economic and cultural new order” in the Middle East remains in the hands of the US and, of course, Israel.
Israel has been noncommittal about Syria since the uprising in 2011, not joining the western chorus for Assad’s head. Israeli indifference to the outcome can be explained easily enough. First, Israeli public support for anyone would be a kiss of death for the beloved. On the other hand, the Assads have been the biggest thorn in Israel’s side since 1971 when Hafiz Assad consolidated power, and Israel would be delighted to see the last of Bashar. But Israel was worried about what might emerge from a post-Assad Islamic state.
With Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s bold call for an independent Kurdish state, a radical new claim for regional hegemony is unfolding, not by a neo-Ottoman Turkey, but by the Jewish state. “We must openly call for the establishment of a Kurdish state that separates Iran from Turkey, one which will be friendly towards Israel,” Shaked told the Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv. This sounds novel, but it really only reflects age-old plans for a Jewish state to control the Middle East which have been on the drawing board since Lord Shaftesbury first made it a British imperial objective in 1839. 1948 got the project off to a savage start, 1967 added the entire Holy Land to the map, and let the settler state move into high gear.
The Yinon Doctrine of 1980 set out how to consolidate Israel’s theft, by playing various ethnic and religious forces among its Arab neighbors against each other—Maronite and Orthodox Christian, Sunni and Shia Muslim, Druze, etc—in order to undermine Arab nationalism, and keep the Middle East weak and unstable. In Syria, that even meant quietly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood during its ill-fated uprising in 1981, not because Israel wanted an Islamist Syria, but to keep the Syrian government off-balance.
Syria and Egypt fought a war with Israel in 1967. These secular nationalist governments were the big threat, and it was only natural to try and cripple them, even if that meant working with Islamists. After Egypt made peace with Israel in 1978, it had only Iraq, Syria and Iran as its main enemies—the Arab nationalism of the first two and the Persian nationalism in Iran had proved immune to Israeli intrigues.
Israeli ‘friendship’ with the Kurds is merely the ethnic variable in the Yinon formula. There have always been contacts with Iraqi Kurds, which went into high gear in 1991 when northern Iraq was made a ‘no-fly’ zone, allowing Israeli agents relative freedom. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 fit the bill, though bungled by the dismantling of the Iraqi army, creating a bit too much Yinon for comfort.
US-Israeli Plan B
When Israeli fears about what a post-Assad Syria might look like were proven justified, it was ready with plan B: a new, improved Yinon Doctrine, featuring the creation of a pro-Israeli Kurdish state, keeping Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and—what the hell—Iran off-base?
This has been plan B for US-Israel since at least 2006, when a plan for restructuring the Middle East published in the Armed Forces Journal in 2006 stated, “Iraq should have been divided into three smaller states immediately” creating a “Free Kurdistan” carved out of Turkey, Iran and Iraq, which “would be the most pro-western state between Bulgaria and Japan.” The Saban Center for Middle East Policy issued a similar policy recommendation in 2007, and in 2008, Joseph Biden, Obama’s future vice president, also called for the partition of Iraq into three autonomous regions.
Israel gets it right (for the wrong reasons)
ISIS and Turkey came to the rescue with their own wild schemes, leaving the Kurds as “the only ones fighting ISIS as their highest priority,” as Yadlin told the Israeli security conference. “We Kurds and Jews have a long history. The 20 million Kurds who didn’t get a state [at the Treaty of Versailles], and nobody takes care about them. They are the only ones fighting ISIS as their highest priority.”
Every one of Erdogan’s moves has backfired. He flip-flopped on Libya and Syria. He turned a blind eye on ISIS. He stubbornly continues a policy of oppression against the Kurds. He abruptly broke relations with Israel in 2011 over Israel’s killing of nine Turkish peace activists. But it’s better to at least speak with your enemy. Israel wouldn’t have been quite so bold about advocating a Kurdish state if it realized that it would forfeit a working relationship with Turkey. But there is nothing to lose now.
Like Turkey these days, Israel is also running out of friends, and this call for an independent Kurdistan is really a rather far-fetched plan to establish at least one Muslim ally for the Jews. The travail of Turkish Kurds (20 million, 20% of the population) is well known. They are not allowed to speak Kurdish or have Kurdish names, let alone Kurdish language education.
In comparison, Iraqi Kurds (7 million, 20%) live a privileged life, with the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the autonomous government tilting towards Saudi Arabia, and its key rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), supporting the Iranian-led camp.
Kurds are culturally and linguistically so closely related to the Iranians, they are sometimes classified as an Iranian people. Of the more than 6 million Iranian Kurds (9% of the population), a significant portion are Shia. There are tensions in Iran, as the majority of Kurds are Sunni, but the strong Iranian roots of Kurds culturally and linguistically, and the lack of the suppression of their culture, language and political rights, mean there is no strong movement for independence.
There is a silver lining in the Israeli chutzpah in reviving Plan B. No major Kurdish faction calls for the Yinon plan for independence, even among Iraqi Kurds. Why bother when you already have virtual independence now? Syrian Kurds also have de facto autonomy as a result of western bungling. They won’t be stuffed back into a one-size-fits-all Syria. Iranian Kurds are just getting on with life. Turkish Kurds would love to just have basic human rights in their Turkish state. Erdogan could undercut Israel’s latest wild plan easily by using his still robust political power to push for a genuine peace deal with his Kurds.