Jpost Middle East
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a delegation of 33 Republican congressmen on Thursday that he is in favor of an independent Kurdish state in parts of Iraq, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
According to a source who took part in the discussion, Netanyahu expressed his “positive attitude” toward a Kurdish state in the Kurdish areas of Iraq, saying that the Kurds are a “brave, pro-Western people who share our values.”
Netanyahu does not frequently address the Kurdish issue, which is a politically highly sensitive one since the traditional US position – at least until US President Donald Trump took office in January – was that Iraq should remain a united state and not be broken up into separate parts.
In addition, a Kurdish state is a red flag for Turkey, who is concerned that this would stir up independence yearnings among its own Kurdish population.
Netanyahu has not spoken publicly about the issue since 2014, when he said during a speech in Tel Aviv that Israel should “support the Kurdish aspiration for independence.”
Netanyahu’s comments to the congressmen came during a survey of regional issues, and amid increasing concerns in Jerusalem that Iran is making tremendous inroads in the region, especially in Syria, but also in Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.
Mossad head Yossi Cohen addressed Israel’s concerns over Iran during a briefing he gave the cabinet on Sunday. Netanyahu, during a speech later in the evening in Ashdod, said he could briefly summarize what Cohen said: “Islamic State is leaving, and Iran is moving in. Simple. We are speaking primarily about Syria.”
Netanyahu said that Israel “strongly opposes the military buildup of Iran and its satellites, primarily Hezbollah, in Syria, and we will do everything necessary to preserve Israel’s security.”
In a meeting last Monday with a delegation of 19 Democratic congressmen, Netanyahu said that Iran has moved some 20,000 Shi’ite militiamen into Syria. According to government officials, the ratio of Iranian soldiers among these militias is about 12:1. These soldiers are part of the Quds Force, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s external arm that is deployed to battlefields in Syria and Iraq.
On Sunday, these forces got a shot in the arm from Tehran when Iran’s parliament – reacting to the recent US move to clamp sanctions on certain entities and individuals in the country for development of ballistic missiles – voted to allocate $260 million to the Quds Force, and another $260 million to the the country’s ballistic missile program.
Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the outlines of the allocation to “counter America’s terrorist and adventurist actions” as some chanted “Death to America”, the state broadcaster IRIB reported.
Cohen told the cabinet that Iran’s expansion in the region through its proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen is currently the central development in the Middle East.
In addition, Cohen said that Iran has not given up on its ambitions to become a “nuclear threshold” state, and that the Iranian nuclear deal only increased this tendency and “’strengthened Iran’s aggressiveness in the region.”
Cohen said that since the deal – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – was adopted in 2015, Iran has entered a period of economic growth, and that Tehran’s recent agreements with international firms are strengthening the Islamic Republic’s economy.
Netanyahu, who was an ardent opponent of the JCPOA, said that the recent developments were additional proof that the premises that underlined the deal were mistaken. One of those premises was that the deal would moderate Iran’s behavior in the region.
Netanyahu stressed that Israel was not obligated to any international agreement with Iran. “Israel will continue to work with determination and in a variety of ways to protect itself from these threats,” he said.
The cabinet discussion on Iran came just three days after Trump said that Iran was not “living up to the spirit” of the nuclear deal, adding again that he believed the deal to be a “horrible agreement.”
“I don’t think they’re living up to the spirit of the agreement,” Trump told reporters.”I personally don’t think they’re in compliance. But we have time, and we’re going to see.”
He warned that there would be some “very strong things taking pace” if the Iranians “don’t get themselves in compliance.”
After considerable internal debate, the State Department on July 17 certified that Iran was in compliance with the nuclear deal. The administration, according to law, must notify Congress every 90 days whether Iran is abiding by the terms of the agreement.
This was the second time since Trump came into office in January that the administration certified Iran’s as in compliance, though on July 18 it slapped the new sanctions on the country against entities and people involved in actions that the administration considers against the spirit of the agreement, such as missile development and weapons acquisition.