|June 23, 2004||| ADVERTISE | ABOUT US | FEEDBACK ||
Israel has ‘eyes and ears’ in 3 Muslim States; Pals warn off Arabs
By: Sultan Ahmed
ANKARA, Turkey: The Turkish government on Tuesday cautiously accepted Israel's denial of a report that the Jewish state was training Kurdish commando units in northern Iraq, but made clear it was keeping a close eye on the region.
The New Yorker magazine reported this week that Israel was training Kurdish fighters. The report has sparked a furor in the Turkish media, despite Israeli and Iraqi Kurdish denials.
Talking to newsmen, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said: “Israel has told us it (The New Yorker's story) is not true. We also want this to be the case. Everyone knows Turkey's sensitivities on this issue. Naturally we have to believe what we are told… I hope our trust is not in vain.”
The article in The New Yorker was written by award-winning reporter Seymour M. Hersh, who earlier this year exposed the extent of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Hersh quoted a CIA official as saying the Israeli presence in Iraq was widely known in the US intelligence community. He said Israel has operatives training commando units in Kurdish areas of US-occupied Iraq, an alignment with the Kurds that gives Israel “eyes and ears” in Iraq, Iran and Syria.
Members of Israel's Mossad secret service are among the agents working in Iraq, where some pose as businessmen, the magazine said.
The report quoted a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington as saying: “The story is simply untrue.”
The report, quoting current and former intelligence officials in the United States, the Middle East and Europe, said one of Israel's main objectives is to increase Kurdish military strength to balance that of Shiite militias supported by Iran.
Hersh writes that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government decided to expand Israel's ties with the Kurds in northern Iraq because it was becoming apparent that the US was incapable of protecting Israel's strategic position against a growing Shiite threat.
The article also said Israeli operatives had crossed into Iran with Kurdish commandos to install sensors and other sensitive devices to spy on Iran's suspected nuclear facilities.
Hersh wrote that by the end of last year, Israel concluded the administration of US President George W Bush “would not be able to bring stability or democracy to Iraq, and that Israel needed other options”.
Turkey, with an overwhelmingly Muslim population in a strictly secular state, has strong diplomatic, economic and military ties with Israel. But last month Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan sharply criticized Israeli policies towards Palestinians. The move to align with separatist Kurds could be damaging to Israel's relations with Turkey and undermine efforts to create a stable Iraq, the magazine said.
Israel's activities in the region have also drawn the ire of Turkey. Hersh's article contains an excerpt from the privately circulating intelligence newsletter 'Intel Brief' that reads: “Turkish sources confidentially report that the Turks are increasingly concerned by the expanding Israeli presence in Kurdistan and alleged encouragement of Kurdish ambitions to create an independent state…The Turks note that the large Israeli intelligence operations in Northern Iraq incorporate anti-Syrian and anti-Iranian activity, including support to Iranian and Syrian Kurds who are in opposition to their respective governments.”
Separately, an ally of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and ten Palestinian factions expressed dismay Tuesday over Arab countries' plan to secure the West Bank and the Gaza Strip after an Israeli withdrawal from the territories, saying they did not want outsiders to meddle in Palestinian affairs.
On the eve of talks between Arafat and a top envoy from Cairo on the role which Egypt will play, the factions published a statement warning off both Egypt and Jordan for getting involved in the Palestinian territories. Egypt and Jordan have both been holding talks with the Palestinian Authority and Israel about playing a security role.
Meanwhile, the US ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurtzer, said Tuesday that Israel must halt all settlement activity and tear down unauthorized settlement outposts under the framework of the struggling roadmap peace plan.