On Israeli-PKK relations - I

On Israeli-PKK relations - I

Tension between Turkey and Israel is continuing with conflicting interpretations of events, as well as doses of verbal warfare. It is remarkable that the debate is so structured as to provoke sensitivities and deepen fears on both sides. While the source of traditional fears and anxieties in Israel is the Palestinian question, Turkey’s source of anxiety is the Armenian question and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. Although Turkey’s approach toward the Palestinian question is well-known, the Israeli-PKK relationship is not so. This article aims to contribute to the ongoing debate by focusing on Israeli-PKK relations.

Of course, Israel, keeping a close eye on everything in the Middle East, concerns itself with the Kurdish issue in general and the PKK in particular. As a matter of fact, one of the first strategic pillars of that interest was formed with the immigration of Iraqi Jews to Israel in the post-1945 period and with Iraq’s approach toward the Arab-Israeli wars in the early 1960s. Mulla Mustafa Barzani’s rebellion against the Iraqi regime provided Israel with an opportunity to conduct a proxy war against Iraq. Israel offered the Barzani clan logistical support, military training and new perspectives. The foundations of intelligence organization in the Kurdistan Democratic Party were then laid down by Mossad. By these means, Iraq was made to pay for the support it gave to the Arabs during the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars through Barzani’s guerilla attacks. The Iranian shah’s support which helped Israeli intelligence access northern Iraq must also be kept in mind. All these relations were proper in the Cold War spirit. Nevertheless, Israel’s interest continues in different guises. This interest has remained a question in the minds of both the Turkish people and security circles.

Historically, Israel and the PKK were not on good terms. In 1971, the Israeli consul in Istanbul was abducted and killed by Marxist organizations. This caused Israel to focus on leftist organizations in Turkey linked with Palestine.

Quickly, the search focused on Abdullah Öcalan and his organization, the PKK. Öcalan fled from Turkey to Syria in 1979. Then, he settled in Lebanon with the help of Syrian intelligence and the Marxist organizations of Gibril and Havatme and George Habash, the late leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or PFLP. These three entities were a source of trouble for Israel and started to provide guerilla training to Öcalan’s militants.

In sum, Israeli-PKK relations have featured three phases. The first phase covers the period from the PKK’s establishment to 1992. In this phase, the PKK was a secondary problem which was to be closely watched. The second phase was between 1992 and 2002, when the PKK was subject to low-level diplomatic, but high-level “business” relations within the progressing Turkey-Israeli relationship. The final phase covers the period from 2002 onwards.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, it encountered “International Marxist” resistance along with the Palestinian groups. As a Marxist organization, PKK militants fought against the Israeli army, too, losing 11 militants in the battles. An additional 13 militants were captured, imprisoned and interrogated. This enabled Israel to lay hands on a large number of PKK documents. Thus, from early on, Israel has had important information about the PKK. Later, the imprisoned PKK militants were released together with Palestinian Liberation Organization, or PLO, members. They flew to Greece and then moved to Iran. In this process, while Israel perceived the PKK as a threat sponsored by Syria that was to be watched closely, it also shared a large number of documents now in its hands with Turkish intelligence.

To be continued…