Seymour M. Hersh writes for the New Yorker:
In a series of interviews in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States, officials told me that by the end of last year Israel had concluded that the Bush Administration would not be able to bring stability or democracy to Iraq, and that Israel needed other options. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government decided, I was told, to minimize the damage that the war was causing to Israel’s strategic position by expanding its long-standing relationship with Iraq’s Kurds and establishing a significant presence on the ground in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. Several officials depicted Sharon’s decision, which involves a heavy financial commitment, as a potentially reckless move that could create even more chaos and violence as the insurgency in Iraq continues to grow.
There are a couple of reasons why this is seen as dangerous. First, Turkey doesn’t like the idea of the Kurds becoming even more armed and dangerous:
Israeli intelligence and military operatives are now quietly at work in Kurdistan, providing training for Kurdish commando units and, most important in Israel’s view, running covert operations inside Kurdish areas of Iran and Syria. Israel feels particularly threatened by Iran, whose position in the region has been strengthened by the war. The Israeli operative include members of the Mossad, Israel’s clandestine foreign-intelligence service, who work undercover in Kurdistan as businessmen and, in some cases, do not carry Israeli passports. ... The former Israeli intelligence officer acknowledged that since late last year Israel has been training Kurdish commando units to operate in the same manner and with the same effectiveness as Israel’s most secretive commando units, the Mistaravim. The initial goal of the Israeli assistance to the Kurds, the former officer said, was to allow them to do what American commando units had been unable to do—penetrate, gather intelligence on, and then kill off the leadership of the Shiite and Sunni insurgencies in Iraq.
Trained commando units who can strike at Iran could also strike at Turkey; whomever they strike at would be viewed as terrorists. So, is Israel providing training and support to potential terrorist groups? Turkey has a good reason for thinking so. Israel has a better relationship with Turkey than they do most other Muslim nations and are, then, taking a big risk at making them mad. Israel is pushing away an ally which is, in turn, moving closer to recent rivals: Syria and Iran. That can’t be good for stability in the region.
In addition to regional problems, there is also the question of what might happen in Iraq itself:
The Iraqi Kurdish leadership was furious when, early this month, the United States acceded to a U.N. resolution on the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty that did not affirm the interim constitution that granted the minority Kurds veto power in any permanent constitution. Kurdish leaders immediately warned President Bush in a letter that they would not participate in a new Shiite-controlled government unless they were assured that their rights under the interim constitution were preserved. “The people of Kurdistan will no longer accept second-class citizenship in Iraq,” the letter said.
There are fears that the Kurds will move to seize the city of Kirkuk, together with the substantial oil reserves in the surrounding region. Kirkuk is dominated by Arab Iraqis, many of whom were relocated there, beginning in the nineteen-seventies, as part of Saddam Hussein’s campaign to “Arabize” the region, but the Kurds consider Kirkuk and its oil part of their historic homeland. “If Kirkuk is threatened by the Kurds, the Sunni insurgents will move in there, along with the Turkomen, and there will be a bloodbath,” an American military expert who is studying Iraq told me. “And, even if the Kurds do take Kirkuk, they can’t transport the oil out of the country, since all of the pipelines run through the Sunni-Arab heartland.”
We face a prospect of an independent Kurdistan that doesn’t like America because of the way America has treated them, but none of the countries that dislike Kurdistan will be favorably inclined towards America because we are willing to accept its existence. It’s a lose-lose situation for us and a bloody mess for everyone who lives in the region.
Just about the Kurds’ only friend will be Israel who is already hated so they don’t have as much to lose and much to gain. A Kurdish independence movement could tear apart Iran and Syria, two of Israel’s biggest threats in the region. Turkey would be sacrificed in the process, but that might be a sacrifice that some consider worth making. There might also be hopes of getting Turkey to work out a deal with the Kurds, thus softening the blow.