Should Israel generate a new ally? If Sherkoh Abbas’ advice were heeded, Israel would be trying to draw the Western world closer to the notion of an independent Kurdistan.
Abbas, the Chairman of the Kurdistan National Assembly (KNA) and the organization’s representative in Washington D.C., advocates for the splitting of Syria into multiple ethno-religious political regions which would have either de facto or de jure independence. He is also a supporter of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) gaining independence from Iraq.
According to Abbas, Israel has a golden opportunity to end its isolation in the Middle East and literally build a new regional partner. He is ambiguous though what type of support Kurds on either side of the Syrian-Iraqi border would need most from the Israelis at this juncture.
“Israel needs to get out of isolation and [stop] doing nothing. They’ve done nothing over the last six years,” says Abbas. “It was unthinkable for Arabs to say ‘Assad is worse than the Jewish state.’ Today, the Arab groups we engage say, ‘Let’s stop war with Israel because we need to get rid of this monster.’ Now they're willing to accept a Kurdish region.”
Now is a ripe moment to establish an oasis in that area, that can be a beacon and reduce the umbilical cord stretching from Damascus through Tehran.”
Abbas continues his argument that Iran has a much more extensive influence in the region than people realize, having built through its relationship to Hamas some strong connections inside the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Iran is much smarter than they’re given credit for. Iran is circling Israel and Israel is doing nothing. Israel has an opportunity to reduce Iranian influence.”
Abbas accuses both the Assad regime and the government in Baghdad of a strategic feint – ordering their troops to offer little resistance and to fall back, offering ample justification for the Iranians to send in more military advisers, coordinate units and militias, and eventually send in its own troops.
“ISIS has not engaged Assad's regime. They fought early on once or twice around Raqqah and left ISIS with an arsenal of weaponry.”
“Why would they want to lose territory? By staging a losing battle there, they transferred a lot of weapons and from there went into Iraq. Even Iran had hand in that seeing Iraqi army abandoned their posts. It was staged. This is the way you transfer weapons without being responsible for transfer.
When asked if he felt the strategic layout of Syria was a more likely culprit for the lack of direct confrontation between Assad’s army and ISIS – that the two sides would each have too much to lose in a direct confrontation and were better off fighting weaker side – Abbas was emphatic that there was no such arrangement of circumstance. “Absolutely not,” he told Arutz Sheva. “This has allowed Iran to get the international community to beg and work with them to reduce ISIS and control Iraq completely.”
According to Abbas, the result has been a full-on disaster. The United States has made no effort to guard what was done in Iraq, leaving the country open as a gateway for a physical Iranian presence across the Middle East.
“The Obama Administration handed Iraq on a silver platter to Iran and billions of dollars and thousands of lives have been sacrificed for nothing in giving Iraq to Iran.”
Abbas concludes that it is a linear way of thinking that is preventing the Western world from taking a wiser approach to Rojava’s potential as an independent ally and misguided reliance on Turkey and especially Iran to defeat ISIS.
“Would you imagine 10 years ago Iran sending 10,000 troops into Iraq and leading operation? They’d have done to Iran what they did to Saddam when he invaded Kuwait.”
Iran and Turkey
Abbas makes note of not only Iran’s, but Turkey’s assertive foreign policy. Turkey’s Prime Minister and former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is often credited with a ‘Neo-Ottoman’ foeign policy that sees Turkey as the dominant force in the region.
“The only buffer zone that can prevent new Ottoman or Persian Empires, are the Kurds. The only way to promote and secure minorities is by supporting the Kurds.”
“[Rand] Paul and [Ted] Cruz started saying to support Kurds. It was a courageous statement but I think they need more action.”
Paul himself framed it as a way to incentivize the fight against ISIS, saying "I think they would fight like hell if we promised them a country."
Cruz went further, saying the US was not doing enough for the most reliable and pro-US force in the fight against ISIS:
"What makes no sense whatsoever is the Obama administration is refusing to directly arm the Kurds," said Senator Cruz.
We need to arm the Kurds now because they are our boots on the ground."
Abbas also points to Israel’s endorsement of a Kurdish state last year. Then-President Shimon Peres said to reporters in the United States, “The Kurds have, de facto, created their own state, which is democratic. One of the signs of a democracy is the granting of equality to women," Peres told reporters.
But these are just words, says Abbas. He sees a common trend of squandering opportunities to make inroads with Kurds on both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border, while Iran takes the opportunity to make those connections itself.
“Look at the Iraqi Kurds, who are not being fully supported, yet still support the US. They are protecting all the minorities in that region like the Christians and the Yazidis. Why not duplicate something like this? Why allow Iran to do this?” asks Abbas.
Abbas opines something similar to what other experts have said, that the United States is looking to play all the Middle East’s regional powers against each other, though he goes further and wonders if the White House is looking for Ankara to manage Sunni groups and Tehran to manage the Shiite parties.
“Somehow, it maybe to develop Turkey to lead the Sunnis and Iran to lead the Shiites and have those two nations make deals with West, letting those two become police of the region.” In Abbas’ opinion, there seems to be a forsaken approach to Saudi Arabia because “they can't rely on Arab Gulf states to do that. They want to reduce Arab Gulf influence and are using them [Turkey and Iran] to balance Arab power. They want to take this opportunity to have non-Arabs lead the Islamic world and preserve the interests of US.”
His view might sound unconventional, but it is very similar to ideas expressed by other experts who see Israel, Turkey and Iran as the true regional powers of the Middle East, with diminished influence and resources for Egypt and Saudi Arabia. As Professor Eytan Gilboa has said to Arutz Sheva, Saudi Arabia should be considered somewhat lower in ranking to the three non-Arab powers of the region, as its diplomatic influence is limited and economic power wholly reliant on oil (in which countries like the US have become self-sufficient).
Still, Abbas thinks it is an investment the United States is too quick to make.
“I think this is a naive idea because these two Sunni or Shiite powers both have nothing that promotes the idea of living in harmony with Western values. They hate for Kurds and they hate for Jews.”
“I think it's wrong. The US, EU and Israel should consider working with the Kurds because they will become a buffer.”
“It's sitting right there.”