In Brief

Israel endorses independent Kurdish state

Iraqi Kurds are preparing to vote in a referendum on independence

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endorsed the creation of an independent Kurdish state, as Iraqi Kurds prepare for a referendum on independence.

Netanyahu said in a statement that Israel still considers the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) a terrorist group but “supports the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve their own state”.

“Israel has maintained discreet military, intelligence and business ties with the Kurds since the 1960s,” says Reuters, “viewing the minority ethnic group - whose indigenous population is split between Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran - as a buffer against shared Arab adversaries.”

This is not the first time Netanyahu has voiced support for an independent Kurdish state - he backed the Kurds’ “aspirations for independence” in a speech in 2014. However, his latest intervention comes at a sensitive time in the region. On Tuesday, the leader of Iraq’s Kurds, Massoud Barzani, said he would press ahead with the 25 September referendum despite a vote by Iraq’s parliament rejecting it.

“His endorsement also clashes with both the US and Turkish positions,” says Bloomberg. The Turkish government, which has recently restored diplomatic ties with Israel following years of estrangement, “is concerned that sovereignty for Iraqi Kurds would encourage its own Kurdish insurgents”, says the news agency, while the US believes a Kurdish vote “could destabilize the region and undercut the war on extremism”.

There are fears a highly public vote for independence could detract attention from the war against Islamic State and stir up hostilities between the Iraqi government and Kurdish separatists. 

Netanyahu’s endorsement “will cut little ice in Baghdad”, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel and has strong ties with Israel’s arch-foe Iran, says Reuters.

The goal of an independent state has been the dream of many Kurds since the end of the First World War, when colonial powers carved up the Ottoman Empire.

Iraqi Kurdistan has effectively been a semi-autonomous state since the fall of Saddam Hussein more than a decade ago, but support for full independence has long been opposed by Turkey, Iran and Syria, who fear it could fan separatist uprisings among their own ethnic Kurds.

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