Why Is Israel Watching the PKK?

Sedat Laciner asks why Israel and the US are so interested in monitoring the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

al-monitor Syrian Kurds hold a giant portrait of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan during a protest in Derik Nov. 1, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani.

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united states, pkk, israel

Jan 10, 2013

No country in the world watches the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as closely as Israel. Its electronic eyes monitor terrorist camps around the clock; it listens to and records their communications. Israeli satellites are constantly overhead, and there are unidentified unmanned aerial vehicles that occasionally appear and disappear.

Israel has turned the PKK camps into reality TV shows. Not just for important exercises: Israel watches everything live, from their folk dances to the food they eat and of course their moves toward Turkey — not to mention the human intelligence coming from inside sources.

Why do you think Israel is so interested in the PKK? Why is this organization so important to Israel?

After Israel, the country that shows the second most interest in the PKK is the US. The capacity of the US to monitor the PKK is much higher than Israel, but these days their interest is not as intense. But whenever the Americans want, they can cut into PKK lines and watch who is doing what. Moreover, the US has weapons that could penetrate the PKK's caves and destroy them, but they don't want to give them to Turkey.

The Arab Spring brought more local actors to the Kurdish issue. A new, anti-Turkish bloc centered around Iran has emerged because of Ankara's position on Syria. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq, the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon are founding members of this bloc. On a global level, their partners are Russia and China.

For several reasons, Iran finds it difficult to adopt a directly confrontational stance against Turkey. In indirect challenges, the cheapest method is to use terror. This is why Iran, Iraq and Syria have become a free zone for the PKK. The Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD), as a part of the anti-Turkey bloc, is trying to put pressure on Ankara via Maliki and the PKK. Turkey’s moves with Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani and Northern Iraq are a way of responding to the bloc.

The strangest part of all this is America's perturbed reaction to Turkey's moves in northern Iraq. It is as if the Americans are more uncomfortable with the "Turkey + Kurds" formula than the "Iran + Kurds" one. Is it because they know Turkey could become a force that they can't control if Ankara succeeds in getting all the Kurds on its side?

Another development that is hard to explain is the evaporation of Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), which was the Iranian arm of the PKK. Iranians claim they wiped out the PJAK by force. PJAK used to be supported by the US and Israel with arms, money and intelligence. One has to ask why the US and Israel gave up the PKK's Iranian extension, knowing well that would be to Iran's benefit. Didn't they suppose that once PJAK disappears, the PKK would focus solely on Turkey?

It is in this atmosphere that Turkey has begun negotiations with Abdullah Ocalan. Ankara wants to do it its way, but will they be allowed to do it?

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