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Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Vol. 41, No. 2, Winter 2018 Israel and the Kurds: A Pragmatic Relationship in Middle Eastern Politics Michael B. Bishku* Introduction Following independence in 1948, the state of Israel, then faced with adversaries on all its borders, eventually adopted a policy in the late 1950s of attempting to coordinate actions and strategy among pro-Western countries on the periphery of the Arab world, including the Republic of Turkey, Shah Muhammad Pahlavi’s Iran and Emperor Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia. In the words of Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s object was “not necessarily” to create a “formal and public alliance,” but rather a group of states “which by mutual assistance and joint efforts, in political, economic and other fields, will be able to stand up steadfastly against Soviet expansion through [Egypt’s Arab Nationalist President Gamal Abd al-] Nasser.”1 In 1958, when Ben-Gurion explained his plans to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in attempting to gain that country’s support, Mullah Mustafa Barzani, who had fled to the Soviet Union from Iran following the demise of the Mahabad Republic in 1946, returned to Iraq at the invitation of the newly-established government of 52 *Michael Bishku is Professor of history at the Department of History, Anthropology & Philosophy. Augusta University. He has published numerous articles on modern Middle Eastern diplomatic history and politics, especially regarding Turkey, Israel, and the Caucasus in several journals as Middle Eastern Studies, Middle East Policy, Mediterranean Quarterly, Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Studies in Contemporary Islam, Israel Affairs. Also, he has been a contributor to The Oxford Dictionary of Islam (2003), The Islamic World: Past and Present (Oxford University Press, 2004), Encyclopedia of the Modern World (Oxford University Press, 2008), Encyclopedia of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2009), Islamic Attitudes to Israel (Routledge, 2008), and The Evolution of Kurdish Nationalism (Mazda Publishers, 2007). 1 Ben-Gurion to Eisenhower, July 24, 1958, Eisenhower Papers, International Series, Box 35, Mid-East, July 1958, Eisenhower Library, Abilene, Kansas. 53 General Abd al-Karim Qasim, which had overthrown the pro-Western Hashemite monarchy. Three years later, Qasim had a falling out with Barzani as he had no intention of granting Kurdish autonomy; a military conflict ensued which lasted until 1970, two years after the Arab nationalist Baathists, who developed close ties with the Soviet Union, seized power in Iraq. In the meantime, by the mid-1960s, Israel came to the military assistance of the Kurds in Iraq, an arrangement which well suited both parties’ respective interests. This connection was also part of the periphery strategy designed to deal with the Jewish state’s hostile Arab neighbors; while Ben-Gurion emphasized the role of those aforementioned countries in the Middle East and Africa to the U.S., the Israelis also foresaw assistance from non-Arab minorities as was the case with the southern Sudanese Anya Nya rebels. However, Israel’s support for Kurds in Iraq was a more sensitive operation as Turkey and Iran had a history of dealing forcefully against periodic manifestations of Kurdish nationalism in their respective countries. Nevertheless, the Shah’s Iran was willing to cooperate with Israel against Iraq, with whom it had a border dispute along the Shatt al-Arab waterway. This aid enabled the Iraqi Kurds to maintain enough resistance to force the Baghdad government into reaching an agreement to implement Kurdish autonomy, although by 1974 armed conflict reopened due to a lack of trust between the two parties. Iraq’s capacity to engage militarily in the Arab effort against Israel in the 1967 War was weakened while the Kurds assisted in facilitating the process of Iraqi Jews seeking to make their way to Israel through Iran. However, in 1975, once the border dispute with Iraq was settled, the Shah pulled the plug on assistance to Iraq’s Kurds and greatly annoyed the Israelis in the process. Four years later, Saddam Hussein became president of Iraq, although he wielded much power in that country over the previous decade. In 1992, a year after Operation Desert Storm, which drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait and weakened Saddam...


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