An Iranian missile attack earlier this month that blasted a villa in Iraq’s Kurdish region was prompted, in part, by a plan in the works with Israel for the Kurds to supply natural gas to Turkey and Europe, Reuters reported Monday, citing Iraqi and Turkish officials.
There has been considerable speculation as to why Iran targeted the villa, which is owned by Baz Karim Barzanji, a Kurdish energy sector businessman.
Two Turkish officials confirmed talks involving US and Israeli officials were held to discuss Iraq supplying natural gas to Turkey and Europe, though they didn’t say where they were held. An Iraqi security official, however, said that at least two meetings with US and Israeli energy specialists were held at the villa.
“There had been two recent meetings between Israeli and US energy officials and specialists at the villa to discuss shipping Kurdistan gas to Turkey via a new pipeline,” the Iraqi security official was quoted as saying.
The officials, who all spoke on condition of anonymity, did not give details of the alleged plan, what stage it is at, or Israel’s role in the project. They said the gas was to be shipped through a new pipeline to Turkey and from there to Europe.
Barzanji’s villa was hit on March 13 in a cruise missile attack. Reuters reported that no one was seriously hurt in the attack, which Iran claimed responsibility for, alleging that Israel’s Mossad spy agency was operating from the mansion.
The Iraqi official as well as a former US official with knowledge of the talks confirmed that Barzanji was working on the gas export plan.
“Some talks were held for northern Iraq natural gas exports and we know that Iraq, the United States and Israel were involved in this process,” one of the Turkish officials told Reuters. “Turkey supports this too.”
They both said that Barzanji’s KAR Group is working to advance the gas pipeline plan. The US official said that it will connect to an already completed pipe in Turkey near the border.
“The timing of the attack in Erbil is very interesting,” the Turkish official said. “It seems it was more directed at northern Iraq’s energy exports and possible cooperation that would include Israel.”
An Iraqi government official, as well as a Western diplomat in Iraq, told Reuters that Barzanji was known to host foreign officials and businessmen at the villa, including Israelis.
However, the Iraqi Kurdish president’s office denied that any meetings with US and Israeli officials about a pipeline were ever held at the villa. The Kurds have insisted there is no presence of Israeli military personnel or officials in the territory.
Barzanji’s KAR Group built and manages a domestic pipeline in the Kurdish region, according to a Kurdistan presidency official. It owns a third of the region’s oil export pipeline in a lease agreement. The remaining ownership is held by Russia’s Rosneft.
KAR Group could not be reached for comment, Reuters said.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it was not familiar with the matter, according to the report, while Barzanji didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Last week, the UK-based Iran International, a Persian-language media outlet, tweeted that Barzanji said the missile strike was intended to stop a natural gas pipeline from Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey, but did not mention any Israeli involvement.
Iran’s Islamic Republican Guard Corps took responsibility for the missile attack, saying it was in retaliation for the deaths of two of its members in Syria in an alleged Israeli airstrike. It said the villa was a “strategic center” of Mossad.
Barzanji denied any links to the Israeli spy agency.
The Iraqi and Turkish officials told Reuters they believe the attack was meant to send a message regarding Iran’s military capabilities to US allies in the region, but that the gas pipeline plan was also a major reason behind it.
All of the officials who spoke to the news agency said such a pipeline would be a threat to Iran, which is a major supplier of natural gas to Iraq and Turkey, especially as Iran’s economy sags under international sanctions.
Israel and Turkey, which for years were at odds, have been drawing closer together. At the same time, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked fears of shortages of Russian gas in Europe.
Last month Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan his country could cooperate with Israel to bring natural gas to Europe. Israel also has offshore natural gas reserves that it hopes to sell in the continent.
According to Reuters, Erdogan has met with Barzanji and told him Turkey wants to sign a deal for natural gas from Iraq.