Israel has become the first country to back Iraqi Kurdistan’s bid for independence.
The announcement by Tel Aviv reflects the close relationship that has developed in recent years between the autonomous region and Israel. Tel Aviv has maintained discreet military, intelligence and business ties with the Kurds since the 1960s.
Last Tuesday, Iraq’s Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said he would press ahead with the September 25 referendum despite a vote by Iraq’s Parliament rejecting it.
Only one day later, Israel declared its total support for Barzani’s move. “Israel supports the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve their own state,” Netanyahu said in remarks sent to foreign correspondents by his office.
Barzani’s government welcomed the Israeli announcement.
Israel’s stance aims to build new relations in the region especially as it has no diplomatic relations with the neighbouring countries.
Turkey, the US, Iran and the UN have all joined Baghdad in speaking out against the poll, saying the vote would distract from operations against ISIS and lead to greater instability in the region.
Barzani has said a “yes” vote would not initiate a declaration of independence but would lead to negotiations with Baghdad.
The Kurds, who number about 35 million, are a substantial minority in four neighbouring countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. They are said to be the largest ethnic group without a nation of their own.
Iraqi Kurdistan has been running its own affairs in all but name since the first Gulf War, after which Western allies placed a no-fly zone over the area to ward off Saddam Hussein’s army.