Funny old world we live in!
Israelis train Kurdish fighters in Iraq
ISN SECURITY WATCH (2/12/05) - An investigation by Israel's leading daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, has uncovered the involvement of major Israeli companies and former special services personnel in infrastructural work and defense training in semi-autonomous Kurdish northern Iraq.
Yedioth reports that dozens of former members of Israeli elite units have been engaged in training Kurdish fighters in self-defense and anti-terror techniques at a secret desert base dubbed Code Z over the course of the last 18 months.
The newspaper published photos purportedly showing the Israelis - with their faces concealed - training Kurdish security force members in the use of weaponry and preparing vehicles at an airport.
Israeli companies provided the instructors under the terms of secret contracts signed with the Kurdish authorities, who did not wish to put their guests at risk by revealing their presence.
According to Yedioth, these companies also provided Kurdish security forces with tons of military equipment worth millions of US dollars, including uniforms, devices to upgrade Kalashnikov rifles, motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, and sniffer dogs.
The Israelis entered Iraq via Turkey, using Israeli passports and posing as agricultural experts and construction workers.
Yedioth reports that the instructors were forced to halt operations at Code Z when their presence became known to the Iranian secret services, raising fears that they would come under insurgent attack.
In a second report on Friday, Yedioth alleged that the key figure behind the defense contracts was one of the top leaders of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, Interior Minister Karim Sanjari.
Sanjari is the head of Parastin, the Kurdish Democratic Party's intelligence agency, and is known to have close ties to Israel and the US.
Known as "K" to the Israeli instructors, it was Sanjari who came to the Code Z camp late at night to warn the Israelis that they had to leave immediately when their presence became known.
One of the companies allegedly involved in contracting the former Israeli special force members was Interop. The company is run out of a Washington DC office by Israeli entrepreneur Shlomi Michaels. He started Interop in partnership with a former director-general of the Mossad, Major-General (retired) Danny Yatom.
Yatom is now a member of the Israeli parliament and denied having anything to do with Interop since his election to Knesset. “I haven’t promoted it and insisted on not receiving updates about its activities," he told Yedioth.
The newspaper reports that Yatom's shares in the company are being "kept for him" and that he attended a dinner with all those involved in the defense contracts in May 2004, long after his election to Knesset. He gave a speech at the dinner on relations with the Kurds and the obstacles and opportunities involved.
Michaels' biography on the Interop website contains claims that he served for 15 years in the Israeli Special Forces Airborne Division; was a team commander in an elite anti-terrorist unit; and was second-in-command of the country's Counter-Terrorist Academy.
Other Israeli companies have also become involved in infrastructure programs in northern Iraq.
Motorola Israel and computer and communications company Magalcom benefited from multi-million dollar contracts and have been heavily involved in the building of an international airport near the town of Erbil.
Magalcom released a statement on Thursday noting that: “The company is not in the habit of disclosing information about its customers beyond what appears in our reports.”
A spokesman for Motorola told Yedioth that “Motorola’s global operations are in full accordance with US laws, and the laws of local governments.”
Neither company was available for comment on Friday.
Mark Regev, the spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explained to ISN Security Watch that "Israel unfortunately has no relationship with Iraq because a state of war exists between our two countries. They [Israeli contractors] are breaking the law by being there," he concluded.
The Israeli Defense Ministry renewed its warning to Israelis to stay away from Iraq following the revelations: “We haven’t allowed Israelis to work in Iraq, and each activity, if performed, was a private initiative, without our authorization, and is under the responsibility of the employers and the employees involved," a ministry spokesman said.
Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh claimed in June 2004 that hundreds of Israeli intelligence and military agents were active in Kurdish areas of Iran, Iraq and Syria, running covert operations and providing training to Kurdish fighters.
Israel has historically had good relations with the Kurds, benefiting from the instability caused in Syria, Iraq and Iran by the Kurdish struggle for an independent homeland.
(By Dominic Moran in Tel Aviv)