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* George W Bush - Address to the Nation -08.09.2003
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* George W Bush - State of the Union Adress 2004
* George W Bush - Address to the Nation - 13.04.2004
 
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Turkish-Israeli tensions
Omer Taspinar - The Daily Times - Thu 1st, July 2004
Turkey will not tolerate an independent Kurdistan on its borders. As far as the recent reports about Israeli support to Kurds are concerned, the question that most Turks are asking is whether Israel is really convinced that Kurds are more valuable as an ally than Ankara When the United States invaded Iraq no one thought the collateral damage would also include the Turkish-Israeli alliance. Yet, this now seems increasingly to be the case.

At the heart of the problem is the Kurdish question in Northern Iraq. The Turkish and Israeli approach to Iraqi Kurds differs sharply. Where Turkey perceives in the Kurdish cause a potential threat to Iraq’s — as well as its own — national integrity, Tel Aviv sees the Kurds as a regional ally. Sympathy for the Kurdish cause is not a new development in Israel. As a suppressed non-Arab minority that has several times taken up arms against the Ba’athist regime in Iraq, Kurds have often received support from Israel. The logic behind such Israeli assistance to Kurds is easy to understand: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Today, the stakes in Iraq are considerably higher for Tel Aviv. The Saddam regime is gone but no one knows what will replace it. Israel would hate to see a fundamentalist Shia regime in Iraq with strong ties to Iran. If this scenario becomes a reality, Tel Aviv will have few options against the Shia axis. Using the Kurdish card will be one of the most sensible alternatives. Kurds would probably be happy to play along. Faced with a Shia-dominated religious regime in Baghdad, they would have no incentive to stay loyal to the Iraqi centre. By following their nationalist instincts Kurds may very well take the risk and pursue their dream of independence.

An independent Kurdish state in the north of Iraq would be a good thing for Israel for a number of reasons. For starters, such a state would deprive Iraq of some of its most important oil fields in Mosul and Kirkuk. It would also tie down some of Baghdad’s future troops and military arsenal in the north, away from Israel. Perhaps, most importantly, an independent Kurdistan could potentially become a valuable ally against Iraq, Syria, and Iran. Finally, Iran and Syria have restive Kurdish minorities that may be interested in joining their independent brothers.

All these factors should help us understand why recent reports about growing Kurdish-Israeli cooperation in Northern Iraq make sense. Israel is probably positioning itself for the likely scenario of a Shia-dominated regime in Iraq in the near future.

Of course, there is one gigantic problem with this picture: Turkey’s reaction. For Ankara, an independent Kurdistan is an existential threat. Part of the problem is the politics of demography. Turkey’s Kurdish minority is estimated at 15 to 20 million. This number dwarfs the Kurdish populations of Iran, Iran and Syria combined — estimated at 5, 4, and 2 million, respectively. A neighbouring Kurdish state in the north of Iraq would set a very dangerous precedent for this sizable Kurdish community of Turkey. One point is worth elaborating. The geographic location of Kurds in Turkey greatly matters. The Kurds in western Turkey are certainly not tempted by separatist nationalism. Most are employed and assimilated. But southeast Anatolia, where at least half of Turkey’s Kurds reside, is another story. Unemployment, especially youth unemployment, is very high in the region. Turkey is trying hard to win the hearts and minds of the people in the region by granting them cultural rights. This is a difficult process for Turkey’s assimilation-oriented model of citizenship.

Two factors have been of great help: Ankara’s bid to join the European Union and the defeat of Kurdish separatism by the Turkish military after a bloody guerrilla war between 1984 and 1999. Yet, these positive factors are now tempered by the situation in Northern Iraq and a recent rise in Kurdish guerrilla activity in southeast Anatolia is an additional factor exacerbating Turkey’s concerns.

Under such circumstances, Turkey will hardly tolerate an independent Kurdistan on its borders. As far as the recent reports about Israeli support to Kurds are concerned, the question that most Turks are asking is whether Israel is really convinced that Kurds are more valuable as an ally than Ankara? The choice is for Tel Aviv to make.

The most efficient way of avoiding Israeli-Turkish tension over this issue will be to avoid the emergence of a Shia religious regime in Baghdad. This is why secularism is crucial for Iraq. It is exactly for these reasons that Ankara should continue to be supportive of a secular constitution for Iraq. The alternative to a secular and federal Iraq, where Kurds, Sunnis and Shias share power is very grim. The Turkish-Israeli alliance may very well become one of the first casualties of such a situation.

Omer Taspinar is Co-Director of the US-Turkey Project at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. and Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies
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