Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed calls Sunday for the creation of an independent Kurdish state, saying Israel should strengthen moderate forces in the Middle East to help fend off the advances of extremist Islamist forces.
Speaking at a security conference in Tel Aviv, he also announced plans to erect a security fence from Eilat to the Golan Heights along Israel’s eastern border and reiterated that Israeli troops will remain in the Jordan Valley regardless of the outcome of peace talks with the Palestinians.
Recent turmoil in the Middle East — including the territorial gains made by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — offers Israel the chance to “build an axis for regional collaboration,” the prime minister said. “This is not only a challenge but also an opportunity. We can’t solve the conflicts between extremist Sunnis and Shiites, not in Syria or Iraq or elsewhere. These two camps are our bitter foes — the Shiites led by the Iranians and the Sunnis led by al-Qaeda and ISIL. But they are also other people’s enemies as well. That is where there is an opportunity for enhanced regional cooperation.”
Such cooperation already exists but Israel should act to boost it to prevent harm to itself and moderate Arab states in the region, Netanyahu said. “It is upon us to support the international efforts to strengthen Jordan, and support the Kurds’ aspiration for independence. Jordan is a stable, moderate country with a strong army that can defend itself, and it is especially due to this that these international efforts are worthy of supporting it. The same is true for the Kurds: They are fighting people that have proven political commitment and political moderation but they’re also worthy of their own political independence.”
Last week, both President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman hinted at an Israeli endorsement of Kurdish aspirations in northern Iraq. Liberman told US Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris that “the establishment of an independent Kurdish state is probably inevitable,” according to a statement released by his office. “The radical forces in Iraq will try to undermine the stability of the entire Gulf area, first of all Kuwait, and Israel can provide support and assistance to the moderate Arab states against the extremists of the Arab world.”
Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu’s former security adviser Yaakov Amidror said that when it came to ISIL in Iraq, Israel should come to Jordan’s aid if needed. “If Jordan asks for assistance, we should help,” he said. “We need to help with whatever they may need in order to overcome the problems developing on their eastern borders.”
Jerusalem has not changed its military deployment on its border with Jordan, but is closely watching ISIL’s activities in both Iraq and Syria. ISIL, a splinter from al-Qaeda, has taken over wide swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory, and has been threatening to move on Baghdad as well.
“Now it’s obvious why I’m stubbornly asking that our security border should remain along the Jordan River,” Netanyahu said, referring to the turmoil in Syria and Iraq. “Who knows what’s going to happen?” ISIL might advance toward Jordan and Israel needs to ensure that terrorists will be unable to infiltrate its territory, he said. (In failed peace talks with the Palestinians in recent months, Kerry had drawn up proposals providing for an eventual Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan Valley.)
On Friday, senior Obama administration officials were quoted as saying that Jordan may ask Israel and the United States to help it fight ISIL if it threatens Amman.
Speaking in Tel Aviv at a conference organized by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Netanyahu also said that “the forces of fanatical Islam are already knocking on our door” and that Israel needs to be proactive to bolster its defense against enemy infiltration.
“The first thing that we need to do is to build a security fence on our eastern border, and to build it gradually all the way from Eilat to merge with the security fence that we’ve been building over the last two years in the Golan Heights,” he said. “That fence does not hermetically prevent infiltration; it doesn’t prevent shooting through the fence as we saw tragically just a week ago; it doesn’t prevent barrages of missiles over it, or the digging of tunnels underneath it. But it does narrow down dramatically that permeation” on Israel’s border.
The prime minister reiterated that Israel intends to retain control of the Jordan Valley under a future peace agreement with the Palestinians. When Israeli and Palestinians return to the negotiating table – and Netanyahu said he hoped for that to happen – he would demand ironclad security arrangements, along with Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and an end to Palestinian anti-Israel incitement.
“We will also have to discuss arrangements that will ensure the continuation of our security control in the territory until the Jordan River line. I simply cannot envision in the foreseeable future anyone else doing it, no one else who can do it in our stead — neither Palestinian forces nor international forces. We have seen it time and time again: The former aren’t capable of doing it, and the latter leave, sooner or later,” he said.