Ofra Bengio is senior research fellow at the Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and Africa Studies and senior lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University. She is the author of Saddam's Word: Political Discourse in Iraq (1998) and co-editor of Minorities and the State in the Arab World (1999) and The Turkish-Israeli Relation: Changing Ties of Middle Eastern Outsiders (2004).
She says in an interview with Rudaw that Israel has no clear policy towards the Kurds and that the Kurdish government fears for an Arabic backlash, if they establish clear relations with Israel.
Is there are relation between Iraqi Kurds and Israel?
According to different sources there are certain ties between Israel and the Kurds but these are mostly through third parties. In fact certain business transactions had existed even under Saddam Hussein who benefited from certain goods coming from Israel but which did not carry the name Israel.
Does the Israeli government has a clear policy towards Kurds?
I do not think there is clear Israeli policy towards the Kurds because the Kurds themselves are ambivalent about such relations and because Jerusalem does not want to antagonize Turkey.
Do you think it’s love or ignorance that Kurds living in a Muslim region still like Israel?
As two non-Arab peoples the Israelis and the Kurds see eye to eye on certain things. The Kurds of Iraq may take the Israeli experience as a model. Israelis on the other hand have great sympathy with the sufferings of the Kurds which were persecuted by the regimes in Iraq. They would like to see them prospering in their autonomous region. Officially Israel has nothing to do with the way the Iraqi state develops. It is an entirely Iraqi business.
America has softened it’s stance towards Iran. Do you think they will so far as given up on Iran’s nuclear program and the normalization of U.S and Iran's relations?
The American policy has not yet crystallized. It is still in the stage of trial and error and there is therefore great ambivalence and ambiguity in its declarations and policies. It certainty does not want to see Iran going nuclear but on the other hand does not know how to tackle the problem. as to Obama relations with Israel it is not as strong and as intimate as that of Bush but things may change in the future. For now Jerusalem and Washington do not see eye to eye on the means to solve the Iranian issue but Developments in North Korea might change The American soft approach.
After Erdogan’s angry statements towards Israel and his support to Hamas, is Israel thinking of replacing Turkey with the Kurds as their strongest alley in the region?
Relations between Israel and Turkey have suffered of late a severe crisis. Still neither of the two seems willing to give up altogether their strategic relations due to certain common dangers emanating from Iran for example. Relations between Israel on the one hand and Turkey and the Kurds on the other need not be mutually exclusive. Turkey has relations with Israel and the Palestinians and Israel can have relations with Turkey and the KRG. In fact it is the KRG which is reluctant to have such relations for fear of the reaction of the Arab world and especially of the Arabs of Iraq. In spite of the toning down of anti Israeli rhetoric's in Baghdad the possibility of it having relations with Israel seem far fetched now. The same is true for an Israeli consulate in Irbil.
How do you see the Kurdish future?
The Kurdish movement appears to be in a better shape now than any time in the past. The Kurdish experiment in Iraq is quite successful and the Kurds of Turkey are also gaining more and more rights. There are strong voices in Turkey for peaceful solutions of the Kurdish problem there while Ankara has been the lifeline for the KRG. The Kurdish situation is in a great flux in the region but it seems that their gains in Iraq for example cannot be taken from them any more.