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Jerusalem Post: Kurds, Jews and a new Mideast

By Harold Rhode and Dan Diker

Syria’s fragmentation along religious and ethnic lines exposes the apparent rupture of what has been known as the Arab Muslim Middle East.

Sunni imperial rule – under the guise of what has been known as pan Arabism – may now be broken beyond repair. The Arab “sacred cow” – the so-called “Zionist invasion and occupation of Palestine” – has failed to unify the Arab world and may now have “two hoofs” in the slaughter house.

While regional realignments may result in a Middle East more amenable to Israel, dangers are still proliferating.

Dore Gold’s prescient analysis, “The Demise of the Middle East’s Borders” (Israel Hayom, May 25) illustrates the geographic and cartographic uncertainty toward which the region appears to be heading.

The often violent competition for power and control among Islamic groups in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, among other states, that house Sunnis and Shi’ites, Alawites, Kurds, Druse, Christians and others continue to cut through and across the random boundaries’ that were established by the British and French empires as a result of the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916.

Mashari al-Zaydi, of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat noted in his May 25 column that, “There is great danger in what is happening in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and may soon also happen on Turkey’s southern border Egypt and North Africa, in a different way – are about to enter a terrifying era of religious terrorism, sectarian war and civil strife that will harm everyone.”

What stands behind most of the violence in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and other areas is Arab Sunni fundamentalism in its various forms – whether Salafi, Wahhabi, or Muslim Brotherhood. All forms of radical Islam threaten the existence of the Alawites, Kurds, Lebanese Shi’ites, Christians, and other members of the non- Sunni ethnic and religious groups, including non-fundamentalist Sunnis.

This Arab Muslim “zero-sum game” culture defines their view of Kurds and other minorities, including Israel. Just as the Arab Sunni Muslims in general relentlessly “hunt” Israel, they would only accept a permanent solution in the Middle East by which they conquer and control the region, and – according to classical Islamic dogma – eventually the entire world.

But tectonic shifts triggered by the Islamic revolutions over the past few years may succeed in liberating the region from Sunni Arab imperialism and create a better future for the region’s minorities. The Kurds, while overwhelmingly Sunni, see the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wahhabis by and large as Arab imperialists trying to force them to abandon their Kurdish identity and become Arabs – probably the reason most Kurds loathe the Muslim Brotherhood.

For the Brotherhood, being Sunni is not enough. In their view, only Arabs can be true Muslims. Non-Arabs must abandon their languages and cultures and adopt an Arab identity – the same attitude which explains how most of the Middle East became Arab and Muslim during the first century of Islam.

The shifts are important to the Kurdish future. The Kurdish self-governing authority in Northern Iraq, Syria’s unraveling into geographical units comprised of Alawites, Kurds, Arab Sunnis and other ethnic groups, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent outreach to Turkey’s Kurds could result in a more pluralistic governing structure for a new Middle East whose centers of power are more dispersed.

In this context, the legitimacy and success of the Kurdish national project across the region could blaze a new path for other minorities. It could also help Israel.

For example, Iraqi Kurdistan’s success as an autonomous area or a potentially independent state may influence a process of self-determination for other sects, tribes, ethnic and religious groups.

Shared challenges make Kurds and the Jewish state good potential allies. Like

Jews, the Kurdish people have lived under foreign domination for millennia.

Kurdish suffering under Arab, Turkish and Iranian rule infuses them with a natural affinity for Jews and Israel.

There are an estimated 35 to 45 million Kurds in the Middle East, many of whom have been secretly sympathetic to Israel for years and have even been labeled “Zionist agents” in Iraq, Syria and Iran.

The addition of millions of potential Kurdish friends, for micro-sized Israel with a mere eight million inhabitants, could enhance the Jewish state’s security and regional position. While Jews were always considered politically and socially inferior in the Arab Middle East, Kurds generally did not discriminate against Jews, nor have they demonized Israel. In short, geography, history and destiny create natural affinities and interests between Kurds and Israelis.

Strategically, a large Kurdish state or autonomous area combining Northern Iraq and Syria and the millions of Turkish Kurds – who could be attracted to such independence in the heart of the Middle East could serve various important roles for Israel.

Syria’s disintegration, then, may have a silver lining. The northern part of the country could become a Kurdish federal autonomous area – either within a loosely federated national entity or possibly even as an independent Kurdish state, which appears to be the direction for Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraqi Kurds, who have provided political counsel to their Syrian brethren, could also form an alliance with Syria’s Arabized Kurds and Alawites west of Aleppo, that lies close to the Mediterranean Sea, and is an important strategic asset.

Alawites, as fellow non-Sunni Arabs, may well be open to new alliances as well.

These new alliances could be a major step towards the establishment of a physically strong and economically stable Syrian Kurdistan that together with Iraqi Kurdistan could become – at least quietly if not overtly – Israel’s first regional ally since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.

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