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Iraqi Kurds recall the historical ties with Israel after the normalization agreements with Arab countries

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Iraqi Kurds recall the historical ties with Israel after the normalization agreements with Arab countries

Reports | 12:59 - 11/27/2020
Follow-up - Mawazine News

Decades ago, the Iraqi and Israeli Kurds had a common enemy and what some consider to be similar experiences of persecution...

Today, the Kurds follow with interest the pace of the accelerated normalization between the Hebrew state and its historical enemies in the Arab countries.

The UAE and Bahrain recently signed two agreements to normalize relations under US auspices, and Sudan announced a similar agreement.

This represents a major reversal in relations between Israel and Arab countries that previously pledged not to establish diplomatic ties with Israel before peace with the Palestinians.

The Kurds were repeatedly accused of establishing ties with Israel, and were sometimes described as "agents" of the Israelis during their struggle for independence.

During the referendum that was held in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2017 for the independence of the region, Israeli flags appeared in gatherings, demonstrations and celebrations.

"The normalization of Arab countries with Israel is a good thing," said Hamdad Najat, 38, a professor of English in the provincial capital, Erbil. But he added,

"There is an emotional link between the Kurds and the Jews because of the grievances that have dominated both of us."

The Kurds, who number about thirty million, are distributed between Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, and have been calling for more than a century to establish their own state.

The Jews suffered centuries of persecution until they succeeded in establishing the State of Israel in 1948.

With the escalation of hostility between Arabs and Israel, the young state attempted to establish relations with non-Arab groups in the Middle East.

It met with a response from the Iraqi Kurds, who, like her, were hostile to the central Iraqi government in Baghdad.

And Israel worked to provide humanitarian and military support to the Kurds affected by the harsh campaigns of former President Saddam Hussein against them in the north of the country during the 1980s and 1990s.

More than half a century ago, most Iraqi Jews, frightened by the conflicts and problems in Iraq, left the country through the northern Kurdish region, to Israel.

- "The faster the better" -

And Israel supported the referendum on the independence of the Iraqi region in 2017, although it was opposed by the United States, which supported the Kurds and Israel.

Kurdish activist Nabaz Rashad participated enthusiastically in the campaign for independence at the time, which caused criticism from his Iraqi Arab friends, who accused him of seeking to establish "a second Israel in the Middle East."

Today, the 35-year-old Rashad looks at the "normalization" deals with bitterly.

He tells AFP that it reflects "pure hypocrisy."

Nevertheless, he expresses his hope that these deals will bring stability to a region torn by decades of conflict.

"Moreover, as a Kurd, I feel hope when a state is born or recognized, that gives us hope that the Kurds will have their own state," he added.

The Iraqi Kurds currently live under an autonomous regime that has its own security forces and runs the region's borders with Iran, Turkey and Syria.

For his part, the head of the International Relations Committee in the Parliament of Iraqi Kurdistan, Rebwar Babaki, says that Iraq should normalize relations with Israel to promote peace in the region.

"The sooner the better," he adds.

He believes that this could help "Arab countries in developing scientific and academic research through exchange programs, given that Israel is a pioneer in the field of scientific and technological research."

But the Kurdistan region cannot do this alone, as the decision in the country's foreign policy rests with the central Iraqi government.

Babaki added, "In the event that an Israeli embassy opens in Baghdad, a consulate will open in Erbil the next day."

- 'The best days of the past' -

Despite this, political analyst Hiwa Othman believes that Israel's rapprochement with the Iraqi Kurds remains unlikely despite the historical ties, because Israel is no longer of the same importance to the Kurds today.

They were seeking to draw close to it in order to communicate with the largest international power, the United States.

He explains that "the United States is present today in Erbil and the Kurds do not need a mediator (to communicate with it), so they do not need to establish a political relationship with Israel."

He considers that, unlike Bahrain and the UAE, the Iraqi Kurds must maintain a delicate balance in their ties with Ankara and Tehran, which have important influence in the Kurdish political arena in Iraq and oppose the two ideas of independence and normalization with Israel.

Bilal Wahab, a researcher at the Washington Institute for the Near East, says that Israel may view the ties with the Kurds as less important compared to the diplomatic gains it has made.

"After its normalization with the Emirates and Bahrain and on the way to normalization with Sudan, Israel now looks at Saudi Arabia, not the Kurds," he added.

And he concludes that "the best days of that relationship are in the past, not in the future."
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