Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been lobbying world leaders to support Iraqi Kurds’ bid for independence and prevent the autonomous region being overrun by Iraqi forces, Reuters reported Friday.
Israeli officials quoted by the news agency said that Netanyahu raised the issue in phone calls in recent days with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The issue also came up in talks with French officials and was discussed by Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat with Trump administration officials, Reuters said.
Last month, weeks after publicly supporting Kurdish independence, Netanyahu told his ministers to avoid discussing a Kurdish referendum on independence.
A coalition politician hinted at the time that Netanyahu may have instructed his ministers not to speak on record about the referendum after pressure from the US and perhaps Turkey.
At the beginning of October, when Turkey accused Israel’s Mossad of involvement in the Kurdish referendum, Netanyahu said that Israel’s support was not material.
“I understand why those who support Hamas want to see the Mossad in every uncomfortable place, but Israel had no part in the referendum of the Kurdish people, apart from the deep, natural, longstanding sympathy of the people of Israel for the Kurdish people and their yearnings,” he said.
An unnamed Israeli official told Reuters that Israel’s reasons to support the Kurds include Kurdistan’s proximity to Iran and Syria.
“This (territory) is a foothold. It’s a strategic place,” the official said. Israel, he added, wanted to see Iraqi Kurds provided with the means to protect themselves: “It would be best if someone gave them weaponry, and whatever else, which we cannot give, obviously.”
Iraqi forces launched a major operation south of Kirkuk late Sunday with the aim of ousting the Kurds, who occupied the city three years ago to protect it from Islamic State.
Tensions between the federal government and the Kurds have soared since the Kurds voted for independence last month in a non-binding referendum rejected by the central government as well as the United States.
Israel’s Intelligence Minister Israel Katz told an Israeli radio station on Friday that, “The issue at present is … to prevent an attack on the Kurds, extermination of the Kurds and any harm to them, their autonomy and region, something that Turkey and Iran and internal Shi‘ite and other powers in Iraq and part of the Iraqi government want.”
“The prime minister is certainly engaging the United States, Russia, Germany and France to stop the Kurds from being harmed,” Katz was quoted by Reuters as saying.