Israel backs Kurdish independence, but considers the Kurdish insurgent group the PKK a terror organization, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, rebuffing a statement from a former top general but possibly also ruffling some feathers in Turkey.
Responding to a speech by former deputy IDF chief of staff Yair Golan last week in which the former general said he does not consider the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, a terror group, Netanyahu said Israeli policy is the opposite.
“Israel opposes the PKK and considers it a terrorist organization, in contrast to Turkey, which supports the terrorist group Hamas,” he said while on a state visit to Argentina. “While Israel is opposed to any kind of terrorism, it supports the legitimate means of the Kurdish people to obtain their own state.”
On Thursday, Golan told a Kurdish reporter during a Q&A in Washington that he supported Kurdish independence and saw the group as a natural ally with Israel.
“I think the Kurds are, by nature, a moderate element with a positive influence on the surrounding people. And from my personal perspective, the Kurdistan Workers Party is not a terrorist organization,” he said during the event at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Golan noted that his view was his own and did not reflect Jerusalem’s stance. After his comment, Washington Institute head Robert Satloff joked that he would not win plaudits from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the PKK launched its insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984, initially seeking independence for Kurds in the southeast and then for greater autonomy and rights.
The group is listed as a terror organization not just by Turkey, but also the European Union and the United States.
While Israel and Turkey have re-established ties in the past year, Ankara’s support for the Hamas terror group has remained a point of contention between the two former allies.
Netanyahu’s comment echoed similar statements made in the past in which he condemned terror in Turkey and called on Erdogan, a loud critic of Netanyahu, to do the same regarding terror in Israel.
“Israel condemns all terrorism in Turkey and expects that Turkey will condemn all terrorist attacks in Israel,” Netanyahu said after a deadly bombing in Istanbul in December. “The fight against terrorism must be mutual. It must be mutual in condemnation and in countermeasures, and this is what the state of Israel expects from all countries it is in contact with, including Turkey.”
Netanyahu on Tuesday did not say if his government’s support for Kurdish independence extended to an independence referendum slated for later this month in Iraqi Kurdistan and stridently opposed by Ankara, Baghdad and Tehran.
An independent Kurdistan is seen as a likely candidate to ally with Israel, in a region where few countries are willing to forge ties with the Jewish state. Israel ahs reportedly purchased over $1 billion in oil from Iraqi Kurdistan in recent years.
Iraq’s Kurds plan to hold the referendum on September 25 in three governorates that make up their self-ruled region as well as disputed areas that are controlled by Kurdish forces but claimed by Baghdad, including the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.
Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s Kurdish region, insisted Tuesday that holding the referendum in Kirkuk is “entirely legal.”
“Kirkuk will remain as safe and secure as it is now, kept safe by the peshmerga,” Barzani said, referring to the Kurdish forces that control the city. “We will not compromise Kirkuk’s identity. We would rather give up our own rights than to compromise the rights of the ethnic minorities that live here.”
Kirkuk is home to Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians. Kurdish forces took control of the province and other disputed areas in the summer of 2014, when the Islamic State group swept across northern and central Iraq and the Iraqi armed forces crumbled.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces have driven IS from most of the country over the past two years, but now appear to be girding for a new conflict over the spoils.
An Iraqi parliament resolution Tuesday stated that the referendum is a “threat to Iraq’s integrity, which is guaranteed by the constitution… in addition to the civil peace and the regional security.” It called on the central government to “shoulder its responsibly to protect the unity of Iraq and to take all necessary measures to preserve that unity.”