Photo: Prime Minister of Israel office
Michael Rubin | Washington Examiner
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu loves the Kurds, at least from afar.
10, 2019, he issued a statement declaring: “Israel strongly condemns the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish areas in Syria and warns against the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds by Turkey and its proxies.
Israel is prepared to extend humanitarian assistance to the gallant Kurdish people.”
Kurds would be right to question Netanyahu’s virtue signaling.
After all, Netanyahu was prime minister in 1999 when Israeli intelligence allegedly helped tip off their Turkish counterparts to the presence of Kurdistan Workers Party leader Abdullah Öcalan in Nairobi. Turkish forces seized Öcalan, ultimately returning him to Turkey where he has been imprisoned ever since.
Netanyahu also endorsed Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani’s ill-advised independence referendum, encouraging him to go forward with a move without regard to the easily foreseeable consequences.
In a sense, when the United States was both privately and publicly telling Barzani to delay his referendum as Iraqi Kurdistan would be defenseless against an Iranian retaliation and the U.S.
was unwilling to go to war against Iran, Netanyahu urged Barzani to take the leap.
From the point of view of many Iraqi Kurds, what transpired was disastrous: The Iraqi government reclaimed disputed territories which the Kurds had seized three years previously, Iranian-directed militias entered the oil rich city of Kirkuk, and Netanyahu did nothing as Barzani retreated with his figurative tail between his legs to his mountaintop fortress.
Netanyahu’s verbal support against the Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria likewise does the Kurds no favors.
Promising humanitarian assistance is fine, but most Syrian Kurds would prefer Turkey not shell their villages, loot their shops, bombard their hospitals, and force them to flee into the desert.
The problem the Kurds now face is specific: They can battle Turkish forces on the ground, but they suffer because they neither have air power nor air defense.
If Netanyahu were serious, he would offer not tents and water purification tablets for refugees (that can be done by anyone) but rather drones, anti-tank weaponry, and anti-aircraft missiles to the Syrian Defense Forces.
In a realpolitik world, Israel is justified: after all, Turkey has embraced, supported, and supplied Hamas.
Erdoğan’s political purge of Turkish pilots means those still flying are poorly trained and vulnerable.
Syrian Defense Forces’ UAV possession will also bring deterrence against further Turkish aggression if suddenly Turkish airfields, military bases, and command and control centers become vulnerable to retaliation.
Prior to Turkey’s invasion, Turkey faced no threat from northeastern Syria.
Turkey’s supporters can say the Syrian Kurds were a terrorist entity, but neither they nor the Turkish government can point to any terrorist attack perpetrated by the Syrian Defense Forces or with its origins inside Syria.
If Netanyahu truly believes that Turkey, a state that assists Iranian sanctions-busting and supports groups like Hamas and the Islamic State, should be stopped in its Syrian land grab and that the “gallant Kurdish people” deserve outside support, he should provide them with that they need most.
Otherwise, he once again does the Kurds a disservice with empty posturing.
Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy.
He is author of “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter, 2014).
He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute AEI.
His major research area is the Middle East, with special focus on Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Kurdish society. Read more by Michael Rubin.
The article first published at Washington Examiner.
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