Ankara (GPA– Following the referendum in “Kurdistan,” Turkish President Recep Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are now engaged in a war of words over who is responsible for balkanizing the Middle East.

During a televised speech following the Kurdish referendum in Northern Iraq Recep Erdogan accused Israel and their intelligence agency, the Mossad, of manipulating the events leading up to the ‘yes’ vote. Upon seeing the Kurds in what is called ‘Kurdistan’ waving Israeli flags, Erdogan made his thought clear, saying “This shows one thing, that this administration (in northern Iraq) has a history with Mossad, they are hand-in-hand together.”

kurdish referendum
Iraqi Kurdistan border crossing
Image: Flickr – CC – William John Gauthier

This has been a major point of debate between the two sides concerned with the Kurdish referendum, with Israel being the only nation to support Kurdish independence. Erdogan made this clear in his plea to Iraqi Kurdish leaders, asking them if they were “aware of what [they] are doing? Only Israel supports you.”

These statements echo earlier remarks made by Erdogan on Tuesday who told the Andalou news agency if the Kurds “do not review, we cannot take a lot of steps that we were about to take with Israel.” Erdogan’s concern about the Israeli role in the referendum centers around his country’s role in the region, warning states like Israel that “It is not possible for us to take steps with those who do not see Turkey as a playmaker in the region. Turkey is a playmaker in the region.” Erdogan also further criticized the Kurds saying, in clear terms, that the referendum is “unacceptable.”

Netanyahu Fires Back

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who always denies claims of Israel interfering anywhere, responded to Erdogan’s claims by doing just that. In Netanyahu’s own words “Israel played no part in the Turkish referendum, aside from the natural, deep and long-standing sympathy the Jewish people have for the Kurdish people and their aspirations.”

After that, Netanyahu reverted to his usual defenses of Israel’s actions by accusing Erdogan basing his claims on his Islamist leanings and “opposition to Israel,” saying that “those who support Hamas tend to see the Mossad” whenever it’s convenient. Despite Netanyahu’s position, however, Erdogan’s view on the matter is shared by every other actor in the region from Iraq, Iran, and Syria to Hezbollah.

Related: Iraqi PM Demands Suspension Of Kurdish Referendum

What makes this situation a bit more complicated is the fact that Turkey is a member of NATO, and Israel is obviously a key US ally. Previously, these relationships were reflected by agreements between Turkey and Israel to share intelligence, cooperate militarily and maintain healthy diplomatic ties.

This first incident highlights new rifts in Middle East diplomacy that many were warning about in the days leading up to the Kurdish referendum. The real fights between the regional governments and their Kurdish populations haven’t even started and two key US regional allies are already tearing each other apart in public.

The Kurdish referendum is bound to cross more lines and challenge more geopolitical relationships in the coming weeks, but we can see in this first clash between regional powers how much the ‘yes’ vote has drawn new battle lines in a region that is just finishing up the fight with the Islamic State.


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