Was the Mossad Really Behind the Resurgence of Kurdish Terrorism in Turkey?

AP Photo/Ibrahim Usta
By Massimiliano Fiore

On 31 May, the same day as the Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that killed nine Turkish citizens, the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) carried out a rocket attack on a military vehicle near the Iskenderun Naval Base, killing seven Turkish sailors and injuring six others. This coincidence and the fact that it was not a conventional PKK attack, taking place outside its traditional area of operation, raised strong suspicions that the two incidents were related.

Some Turkish analysts and policy-makers are convinced that it was no coincidence and argue that it was a “deliberate act of revenge against Turkey over its position on Gaza and Iran”. Specifically, they suspect the Israeli Secret Service to have been involved. The once close relations between Ankara and Jerusalem have sharply deteriorated since Turkey’s harsh criticism of Israel’s 2008-2009 military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Sedat Laciner, Director of the International Strategic Research Organisation (USAK), claimed that the Mossad contracted the operation to the PKK to destabilise the country and undermine Prime Minister Recep Tayyid Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government. Likewise, Retired General Kürşat Atilgan of the National Movement Party Adana maintained that “Turkey’s recent tension with Israel has led to an escalation of the attacks by the PKK, which is certainly a subcontractor organisation”.

Is this just another conspiracy theory?

The secret Israeli-Kurdish connection is nothing new. It was established in 1958 in collaboration with the Shah of Iran to weaken the Iraqi Government. In particular, the Mossad offered to fund, train and arm Kurdish fighters to revive their struggle against the Iraqi Army. Large-scale Israeli aid, channelled through Iran’s SAVAK (the National Intelligence and Security Organisation under the Shah), began in 1963 and took the form of arms, ammunitions and military advisers.

Official confirmation of this secret assistance came in October 1980 when Menachem Begin, at that time prime minister, revealed that between 1965 and 1975 the Israeli Government had sent the Kurds not only humanitarian aid but also money, military advisers and weapons.

The Israeli-Iranian-Kurdish connection proved to be extremely successful: the Iraqi Army was tied down in what was in effect a cruel civil war, preventing its active intervention in the Arab-Israeli conflict and impairing Baghdad’s ability to challenge the Shah’s primacy in the Persian Gulf.

According to a CIA report captured in the US Embassy in Tehran and published by the Islamic Republic in 1979, the Kurds aided the Israeli military campaign in June 1967 by mounting a large-scale offensive against the Iraqi Army, which kept the latter from joining the other Arab armies. And in return, after the war, massive quantities of Soviet equipment captured from the Egyptians and Syrians were transferred to the Kurds.

This secret cooperation, however, came to a sudden end in 1975 when Tehran reached an understanding with Baghdad and called off its support for the Kurds. Without direct access to the fighters through Iran, the Mossad could not help the Kurds any more and the Iraqi Government was able to suppress the rebellion.

With the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, the Mossad started to operate in the opposite direction, namely from Iraq against Iran, but Israel could not overcome the fact that without the active collaboration of a third country bordering Iraqi Kurdistan, it was incapable of supporting the Kurds on its own. It was only in 2003, in the wake of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, that Israel regained a physical presence in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Already in 2005, Israel’s leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronot reported that “dozen of Israelis with a background in elite military combat training” were working in Northern Iraq for “private” Israeli companies, providing training to Kurdish security forces. Seymour Hersh, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, also revealed in an article published in The New Yorker in 2006 that the Mossad was providing training and arms to the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) and running covert operations inside Iranian Kurdistan in an effort to weaken Iran, change its theocratic regime and obstruct its nuclear programme. Two years later in another New Yorker article, Hersh wrote that the PJAK had not only been operating against Iran from bases in Northern Iraq for at least the last three years, but that it had also subjected Turkey to repeated terrorist attacks. Is the Mossad therefore really behind the resurgence of Kurdish terrorism in Turkey?

Given the past and present secret Israeli-Kurdish connection and the modus operandi adopted by the Mossad since its creation, involving the most daring covert-operations and cold-blooded assassinations, the claim that Jerusalem was behind the escalation of Kurdish terrorism in Turkey does not seem to be just another conspiracy theory. On the contrary, it is perfectly possible that the Mossad contracted the terrorist attack to the PKK to send a powerful message to Ankara: stay out of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip or we will interfere in Turkey’s conflict with the PKK.


10 October 2010

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Ibrahim Usta