JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman described Iraqi Kurdish independence as a fait accompli on Monday but said his country was taking no action to help the Kurds achieve formal statehood.
The remarks appeared aimed at heading off potential confrontation with the United States, which wants to keep Iraq united, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday called for support for the emergence of a Kurdish state.
Netanyahu’s remarks drew no response from the autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq, which has seized on the country’s sectarian chaos to expand into oil-rich new territory but remains wary of declaring full independence.
Washington wants Iraq united - a message U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry relayed last week in a visit to Kurdish leaders whom he urged political accommodation with Baghdad.
“Iraq’s future depends on the people who live there and Israel has no interest in getting involved in order to advance this-or-that solution, nor to give advice,” Foreign Minister Lieberman said in Berlin, according to his spokesman.
Lieberman added that “the reality, as it now appears, is that an independent Kurdish state already exists, de facto”.
The Kurds, who today number some 30 million in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey, have maintained discreet military, intelligence and business ties with Israel since the 1960s. The Israelis see in the minority ethnic group a buffer against shared Arab foes.
“We should...support the Kurdish aspiration for independence,” Netanyahu said in his speech to a Tel Aviv security forum on Sunday, after outlining what he described as the collapse of Iraq amid spreading strife between Arab Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims.
The Kurds, Netanyahu added, “are a fighting people that has proved its political commitment, political moderation, and deserves political independence”.
Asked on Monday if Israel was lobbying abroad for a Kurdish state, or if Israel had received word from the Kurds that they were planning to declare independence, an Israeli official close to Netanyahu told Reuters: “I don’t want to go beyond what the prime minister said.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Israel had no immediate comment on Netanyahu’s remarks.
AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel U.S. lobby, was not helping to promote prospective Kurdish statehood to the Obama administration, a Washington source said.
In what signalled a deepening of ties, Israel on June 20 took its first delivery of disputed oil from Iraqi Kurdistan’s new pipeline, which runs through NATO-power Turkey. The United States disapproves of such go-it-alone Kurdish exports.
Alon Liel, a former Israeli envoy to Turkey, interviewed on Israel Radio, said the statements about Kurdish independence by leading politicians risked harming the Kurds’ interests by “drawing Arab fire”.
Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Ralph Boulton