2004 June 27 Sunday
Seymour Hersh: Israel Helping Kurds Financially, Militarily

Writing in the New Yorker Seymour Hersh reports that Israel's government decided some time in 2003 the US intervention in Iraq was doomed to failure and Israel has responded to American strategic failure in Iraq by helping the Kurds to run operations into Iran and Syria.

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.

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 operatives 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.

Laura Rozen of the War And Peace blog says she's heard reports consistent wtih Hersh's claim.

For what it's worth, I too have heard reports from former American diplomats consulting in northern Iraq that Israel is behind the creation of a Kurdish central bank in Kurdish northern Iraq, of mysterious Israeli American advisors to Iraqi Kurdish leaders, of Israelis buying property located around southeastern Turkey's GAP dam, and other developments that would seem to give credence to this report.

A Kurdisk central bank? Does anyone know: Have the Kurds introduced their own currency?

Hersh claims Israel was initially motivated to help train the Kurds to be able to find, reach, and kill leaders of Shiite militias that were fighting against the occupation. But Israel has expanded the scale of its involvement to include operations into Iran to install monitoring devices aimed at Iranian nuclear facilities and other activities in Iran.

On the one hand, this move by Israel threatens their de facto alliance with Turkey. On the other hand, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey, the rise to power of Islamic politicians, and the weakening of the Turkish military's ability to protect the secular nature of the Turkish state are most likely destined to weaken and perhaps even end that alliance anyhow. Plus, the argument has been made (sorry, no citation, from memory) that the Turkish military's officer corps is gradually becoming more Islamic and therefore the military may not always be firmly committed to a secular state in the future anyhow. Also, Turkey's bid to join the EU threatens Turkey's alliance with Israel. There are obvious reasons for the EU to be pushing Turkey away from Israel. The EU is pretty critical of Israel and is more worried about appeasing its growing Muslim population and building better trade relations with Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East. So even without the Iraq debacle how many years of good relations does Israel have left with Turkey given current trends?

The Israelis may see an indepedent Kurdistan as more valuable than the troubled alliance with Turkey and they may be right. But can the Kurds actually achieve independence? Or will Syria, Turkey, and Iran ally to stop the Kurds? Also, which side will the US come down on should events develop to the point where the Kurdish leaders make a serious attempt to win independence? That depends on all sorts of unpredictable factors (e.g. whether Iraq is in a general civil war at that point). The Bush (or Kerry?) Administration may try to create a confederacy where Kurdistan is officially part of Iraq but de facto independent. That way the US could argue that the neighboring countries do not really have a reason to intervene.

A number of commentators have argued that the neoconservatives in and around the Bush Administration (i.e. the Jewish neocons who have been wielding real power) supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's goverment in large part because they saw his overthrow as beneficial to Israel. For instance, James Bamford, author of a pair of very important books on the National Security Agency The Puzzle Palace: A Report on America's Most Secret Agency and Body of Secrets : Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, has written a new book entitled A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies. Because of the criticisms he levels at leading neoconservatives Bamford's book has been attacked by neoconservative ideologues. But a number of less ideologically driven reviewer have given it more positive reviews such as this Amazon reviewer Robert D. Steele.

The book is especially strong on the Rendon Group being used to illegally propagandize American citizens with U.S. taxpayer funds, on the abject failure of George Tenet in revitalizing U.S. clandestine operations, on the failure (treated more kindly) of Mike Hayden to bring the National Security Agency into the 21st Century, and on the very unhealthy merger of the U.S. neoconservatives that captured the White House, and well-funded Zionists in both America and Israel who essentially bought themselves an invasion of Iraq--a remarkable coincidence of interests: Jews paying to invade Iraq, Iranians using Chalabi to feed lies to the neo-cons so they would be deceived into thinking Iraq would be a cake-walk, and Bin Laden never daring to dream the entire U.S. population and all arms of government--including a passive media--would "sleep walk" into what this book suggests is one of the dumbest and most costly strategic errors in the national security history of the USA.

This book is not, despite some of the ideologically-motivated reviews below, an attack of George Bush Junior, as much as it is an appalled and informed review of how a complex government collapsed in the face of 9-11, and a handful of ostensibly patriotic and very myopic individuals were able to abuse their personal power because all of the professional counter-forces: the diplomats, the spies, the military professionals, the Congress, the media--every single one was not sufficiently competent nor sufficiently motivated to mandate a more balanced policy process that could understand the many global threats (terrorism and Iraq are actually two of the lesser ones), devise a comprehensive long-term strategy, and execute that strategy using *all* of the instruments of national power, including strong global alliances that lead all governments to fight all gangs in the most effective fashion possible.

Steve Weinberg praises Bamford's latest book.

James Bamford, one of the most talented but unsung investigative reporters of the past 25 years, has accomplished the difficult. ``A Pretext for War'' not only contains significant new information, but it also combines that information with previously known material to make better sense of Sept. 11, its lead-up and aftermath than any other book I have read.

Bamford sees the US war to overthrow Saddam as foreshadowed by a report written by some of its leading neocons to present to former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

According to Bamford, the basic blueprint for the administration's Middle East policy had been drawn up in the mid-1990s by Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser, three neoconservatives who would be named to influential positions in the Bush administration.

Described as a kind of "American privy council" to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the three proposed what they called a "Clean Break" plan, which involved getting the United States to pull out of the peace negotiations in order to let "Israel take care of the Palestinians as it saw fit." Under the "Clean Break" plan, Israel would launch pre-emptive attacks against its major Arab enemies and replace Saddam Hussein with a puppet leader friendly to Israel.

Bamford records that Netanyahu wisely rejected the plan but that the Perle group found a more receptive audience for their recommendations inside the Bush administration. The fact that several of the key players most aggressively pushing the Iraqi war had originally outlined it for the benefit of another country raises "the most troubling conflict of interest questions," he writes.

The "Clean Break" document is available online and its full list of signatories are Richard Perle, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Douglas Feith, Robert Loewenberg, Jonathan Torop, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser, The document, entitled A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, did call for Israel to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions. Jordan has challenged Syria's regional ambitions recently by suggesting the restoration of the Hashemites in Iraq. This has triggered a Jordanian-Syrian rivalry to which Asad has responded by stepping up efforts to destabilize the Hashemite Kingdom, including using infiltrations. Syria recently signaled that it and Iran might prefer a weak, but barely surviving Saddam, if only to undermine and humiliate Jordan in its efforts to remove Saddam.

The document fantasizes about restoring Hashemite control of Iraq and fantasizes even further that doing this could work wonders on Shiite attitudes in Lebanon. The level of pure fantasy in this neocon view of the Arab countries is breathtaking in scope. Some of these guys are in high level positions in a Republican Administration. My mind boggles.

King Hussein may have ideas for Israel in bringing its Lebanon problem under control. The predominantly Shia population of southern Lebanon has been tied for centuries to the Shia leadership in Najf, Iraq rather than Iran. Were the Hashemites to control Iraq, they could use their influence over Najf to help Israel wean the south Lebanese Shia away from Hizballah, Iran, and Syria. Shia retain strong ties to the Hashemites: the Shia venerate foremost the Prophet’s family, the direct descendants of which — and in whose veins the blood of the Prophet flows — is King Hussein.

The document even shows signs of the spell that Ahmad Chalabi was weaving in neocon imaginations back in the 1990s.

. As a senior Iraqi opposition leader said recently: "Israel must rejuvenate and revitalize its moral and intellectual leadership. It is an important — if not the most important--element in the history of the Middle East."

Chalabi is obviously very good at telling ideologues what they want to hear.

Note that the "realm" they are keen to secure is Israel. Note that they advocated an Israeli effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein in order to make Israel more secure. Note that one of the signatories (Feith) of that document is now the number 3 civilian official in the US Defense Department and he was a leading advocate of the invasion of Iraq. David Wurmser, leading advocate of US support for Chalabi, is Dick Cheney's assistant for the Middle East.

The irony of this neocon effort to help Israel is that the neocons' priority in terms of threats to Israel did not match the priorities assigned by Israel's own strategic thinkers. Also, the neocons' attempt to help Israel has clearly backfired. For many years Israel has (correctly, in my view) seen Iran as its chief threat. My guess is that Sharon and his cabinet went along with the US on Iraq because they had to publically support their powerful benefactor's policy and saw at least a potential advantage in Saddam's overthrow. But the ensuing insurgencies and the worldwide political fall-out has strengthened Iran's position and therefore has made Israel's strategic position even worse than it would have been had Saddam remained in power.

Let us be clear on what set of events led the Israelis to this point of so heavily supporting the Kurds that Israel's much vaunted alliance with Turkey is now threatened: Very well placed and mostly Jewish neoconservatives advocated and managed to win support for the overthrow of Saddam. This set in motion a series of events that have created conditions under which the Israelis are in the difficult position of having to choose between their alliance with Turkey and their interest in helping the Kurds against the Iraqi Shia Arab insurgents, Iran, and Syria. At the same time, US forces are so tied down in Iraq and the credibility of the pro-preemption camp is so tarnished that the US is far less able to challenge Iran than it was before the overthrow of Saddam. It seems clear to me that the neoconservatives have caused great harm to both US and Israeli national interests.

Laura Rozen says Paul Wolfowitz is especially to blame for deteriorating Turkish-Israeli and Turkish-US relations.

Meantime, what does the information in this Ha'aretz story say about the evolution of relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv? What had cemented strong relations between Turkey and Israel was a few shared strategic enemies, particularly Syria and Iran, as well as a shared principal ally: Washington. Particularly, Washington over Europe. All that has shifted, with improved Turkish-Syrian relations, somewhat improved Turkish-Iranian relations, improved Turkish-European relations, and deteriorating Turkish-US relations...as well as the rise of a (moderate) Islamist government in Ankara, and a more hardline Israeli government under Ariel Sharon. Neocons have long cherished the idea of a Washington-Turkey-Israel alliance, even over Washington's long-time alliances with NATO and certainly over Europe. But according to my Turkish sources, no one has done more to alienate Turkey from the US than the neocons, particularly Paul Wolfowitz who manages to alienate Turks with every public statement since the run up to the war. [According to Turkish sources, Wolfowitz had said something along the lines of, if what was keeping Turkey from joining the US-led alliance invading Iraq was Turkish public opinion, that Ankara should just disregard it. Not terribly democratic.]

Laura Rozen also argues that of course Iraq is now a much better environment for Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists than it was when it was ruled by Saddam.

The facts speak for themselves. Iraq was not cooperating with al Qaeda or its offshoots like Zarqawi in a serious way before the war, certainly not to the degree that members of the Saudi and Pakistani security and intelligence services were. Zarqawi of course was mostly operating in northern Iraq, in terroritory under the control of the US no fly zone - a fact the Bush administration would like us not to remember. By any reading of the news, Iraq today must certainly rank the world HQ for Islamist radical terrorists, and is certainly one of the most insecure places in the world, a misery for its citizenry and foreign occupiers alike.

Bush still hasn't fired a single one of his neocons as a result of events in Iraq. Is it that he doesn't want to publically admit to a huge mistake during an election year? Or, worse yet, does he still believe in these advisors and the strategy they are selling him? That is a scary thought. If that is the case they will probably try to build up support to invade Syria next year while still failing to admit that the biggest source of radical Islam is Saudi Arabia and that world dependence on oil is an urgent problem because it is funding the spread of Wahhabism.

US grand strategy toward Islamic terrorists ought to be centered around recognition that Saudi Arabia is the center of gravity of the enemy, that we need to develop technologies to obsolesce oil, that we need far better immigration and border policy to protect us from terrorists, and that we need to stop conducting our Middle Eastern policy in ways which yield us no benefits and which just anger the Muslims. But first and foremost, American policy should be based on the assumption that there is no magic bullet bold stroke that can solve the problems of the Middle East or of the threat of terrorism.

Noan Millman of Gideon's Blog links to this post and makes a number of useful comments of his own. For instance, Noah thinks Iraq could deterioriate into a civil war patterned after Lebanon.

. Lebanon still looks terribly likely to me. And with Iran playing North Vietnam to Iraq's jihadi Viet Cong, we could be in this for a long while. Vietnamization, remember, only looked like it might work *after* the VC were devastated by their Tet Offensive and *after* Nixon had dropped more ordnance on the North than was used in WWII.

Noah also examines the context of the "Clean Break" document and whether the neocons in the Bush Administration are following it and refers to the damage done by "happy talk from guys like Perle".

So: do I think folks like Perle and Wolfowitz, etc. have been reading from this script for the past 3 years in the Bush Adminsitration? Sadly, I do.

I am a big advocate of peace through strength. I think Sharon has done a huge amount to shore up Israel's deterrent - Operation Defensive Shield, the ongoing campaign against the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, the building of the security fence, etc. I am nervous about the pullout from Gaza not because I think Israel should keep Gaza - Israel should be desperate to get rid of the place - but because I remember the pullout from South Lebanon and what followed. But Israel has learned - Sharon has learned - that it cannot achieve political objectives by force, only military ones. And its problem with the Palestinians, no less than the American problem with the jihadi ideology and the general political disfunction of the Middle East, is not a military problem solvable with military force. Folks like "Anonymous" who think a scorched earth strategy is the only way to win our war are as wrong as the neo-cons who thought that if someone simply toppled Saddam or Assad or whoever that peaceful, pro-Israel Arab democracies would sprout.

I'm not a pacifist. I do not shrink from advocating the use of the US military to overthrow a government or blow up a terrorist training camp. But I have a serious problem with the extent to which the use of military force has been oversold as the panacea for solving problems with terrorists, with Middle Eastern societies, and assorted other ills. Vietnam and Lebanon ought to serve as useful lessons that struggles have many dimensions and one can do very well in the military dimension while settting one's side up for failure on the level of grand strategy.

The "happy talk" of the Johnson Administration and the US military made the North Vietnamese propaganda victory from the Tet Offensive possible. The "happy talk" of the neocons has gotten us involved in Iraq based on false assumptions, tied down lots of our military, cost us huge bucks, made us completely unprepared for what followed, and has done serious harm to US interests instead of improving our position. Useful policy ideas (e.g. radical immigration policy changes, a massive energy research project) are ignored because the happy talkers claim their policies can handle the threat of terrorism and the problems posed by fundamentalist Islam.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 June 27 02:58 PM  Politics Grand Strategy

Dana Noori said at October 16, 2004 11:51 PM:

My name is dana im a kurdish . I read many things about israel helping kurds and supporting them financially and miltarily and i think one of the most great job has been done .According to the history kurds and israel have a real and good relationship and nobody can denay it. the countries around Iraqi kurdistan do not agree with this friendship because they realy scare about their systems
and their future in the Area. and also arab does not feel comfortable about it because the used to call us second israel so imagine their opinion right now.Im supporting this friendship 100 percent and i would like to say something clearly that all kurds in any parts of kurdistan support it .

Thank you Dana Noori

Yorem Mustafa Yashin said at January 5, 2005 5:39 AM:

The Following comment the author provided is abosolutely absurd. "Plus, the argument has been made (sorry, no citation, from memory) that the Turkish military's officer corps is gradually becoming more Islamic and therefore the military may not always be firmly committed to a secular state in the future anyhow. "

There is no doubt that the author can not remember a citation-because it would be foolish for anyone who knows something about contemporary Turkish politics to really write such a thing. (there is no such person to site he is just making it up so as to suggest a point of view)

I hope for the sake of peace (and I don't mean peace as a Machiavellian gesture-but simply as the lowest possible deaths of human beings due to warfare in the region) that the so called 'Israel-Kurdish' relationship comes to a halt before it is to late. Although at first site it sounds simple and a good thing to do, Israel would strategically loose due to this affair(next 10-15 years).

Peshmarge said at January 10, 2005 10:40 AM:

im kurdish ,i want Kurdistan be independence,i hope Israel do that for our

Barry said at March 7, 2005 4:36 PM:

The relationship is only natural. The Kurds or Medes are chronicaled in the book of Issiah and the book of Daniel. Moses, who led the Israelites from Egypt and into Israel married a Kurd, and the Kurds still have the "Cohen" gene. We are very closely related. It will be a great thing for peace and democracy in the region, and if Iraq proves to be ungovernable and disintegrates because of all the terrorism, then an independant Kurdistan should be declared without delay.


Cardo Canega said at July 16, 2006 2:03 AM:

As a kurd I think that both Kurds and Israel are each others hope to insure the future of the next generation. we consider the jews as our best friends and only friends in the region. Together kurds and jews could better face all the threats both from neighbouring countries and from angry- aggressive muslims around the world. Kurdistan has the space, and the energy source, and Israel has the technology and the plan how to deal with the enemies to survive. unfortunatly instead of improving for better quality of life and more comfort for the next generation, with have to deal with neighbours who have no prospect and plans for their own. We Kurds should act openly with Israel to strengthen the bond in between.

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