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Since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent establishment of a de facto Kurdish state, relations between Israel and the Kurds have become easier and more open. Writing in the New Yorker, the well-known American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported that he was told that in 2003 the Israeli government, under the premiership of Ariel Sharon, decided to expand "its long-standing relationship with Iraq's Kurds and established a significant presence on the ground in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan", in order to "minimise the damage that the war was causing to Israel's strategic position".

As a result extensive ties have flourished, Hersh maintains, with Israel training Kurdish forces to operate to the level of its most secretive commando units, the Mistaravim. "Some Israeli operatives have crossed the border into Iran, accompanied by Kurdish commandos, to install sensors and other sensitive devices that primarily target suspected Iranian nuclear facilities," wrote Hersh. He then quoted a former Israeli officer as saying: "Look, Israel has always supported the Kurds in a Machiavellian way — as balance against Saddam. It's realpolitik." He added: "By aligning with the Kurds, Israel gains eyes and ears in Iran, Iraq, and Syria."

Although Hersh's claims have been vociferously denied by Israeli officials, Kurdish leaders have come out publicly to confirm the existence of a relationship with Israel. In 2005, the Kurdish regional government president Massoud Barzani stated publicly: "Relations between the Kurds and Israel is not a crime since many Arab countries have ties with the Jewish state."  Three years later, the Iraqi president and head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Jalal Talabani, shook hands with the then Israel defence minister Ehud Barak.

In recent years, the Middle East has undergone dramatic changes, from the Syrian civil war to  the recent spread of the radical jihadist Islamic State in the region, which have indirectly resulted in the Iraqi Kurds gaining a wider independence for the Kurdish state. In Syria, the Kurds, for the first time in the country's history, have created a Kurdish-controlled area.

Developments have been even more dramatic in Iraq. In June 2014, the Iraqi army was chased out of the Sunni-held area of Iraq by the oncoming IS militants, who quickly took over the country's second biggest city, Mosul. More than 300,000 refugees from Mosul and beyond have fled to the Kurdish region. At the same time the Iraqi Kurds managed to gain control of and begin administering the oil-rich Kirkuk region.

Even before the rise of IS, neighbouring countries had been quick to identify business and economic opportunities. After IS appeared, this expanded into other areas. "These states' pragmatism and realism had told them that the spectre of another non-Arab, non-Turkish and non-Persian entity in the region pales against the real dangers emanating from their Arab and Sunni brethren," wrote Professor Bengio.

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amcdonald
October 20th, 2014
10:10 PM
For detailed journalism on the unprecedented Kurdish resistance against Isis there`s `Inside Kobane` by Heysam Muslim at Newsweek.com Kurdish men and women united in fighting at the frontline against scum of the earth Isis. It`s the brave Kurds `Stalingrad`.

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