Peshmerga or Peshmerge (Kurdish: Pêşmerge or پێشمهرگه ) is the term used by Kurds to refer to armed Kurdish fighters. Literally meaning "those who face death" (Pesh front + marg death) the Peshmerga forces of Kurdistan have been in existence since the advent of the Kurdish independence movement in the early 1920s, following the collapse of the Ottoman and Qajar empires which had jointly ruled over the area. Peshmerga forces include women in their ranks. Many Kurds will say that all Kurds willing to fight for their rights are Peshmerga. -- Wikipedia.
Kurdish Peshmerga woman fighter.
The BBC reports that Turkey, historically the friendliest of Muslim countries to Israel, is threatening for the first time to break diplomatic relations with Israel.
Here's my guess as to why, and it has little to with Hamas, Gaza or "solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian people." It has everything to do with the Kurds, and coming to a realpolitik rapprochement with a nuclear Iran.
The Turks (both secular and Sunni) have long been upset about the American protectorate over Iraqi Kurdistan. So so are the Iraqi muslims -- Sunni and Shia -- and the Iranians (also Shia). While the Americans were there (since the imposition of the 1991 "No Fly Zone" and especially since OIF1 in 2003) there was nothing any of the neighbors could do about it. The Kurds on the other hand have taken every opportunity to build up their political and military position.
But now the Americans are leaving. The Kurds know they will have to be the baddest MFers on the block to hold onto their gains after the Americans are gone. They know that the Turks, Iran and Iraq have carved up Kurdistan between them in the past and will be happy to do so again. Of course it doesn't hurt their appetites for conquest that most of the oil within Saddam-era Iraq was to be found within the Kurdish area (and still is).
The Kurds for their part are some of the toughest guerrilla fighters in the world and their mountainous territory provides ideal sanctuary. I've written about their fighters, the Peshmerga before, telling my readers of the Kurd proverb:
"Mirina ser piyan baştire li jiyana ser çukan."
Literal Translation: "Death on your feet is better than life on your knees."
Now, after the Americans have gone the Kurds know they can defend themselves against the Iraqis to their south and the Iranians to their south and east. What they would have difficulty dealing with, especially in the lowlands (where most of the oil is), is the overwhelming force of Turkish armor. The Türk Kara Kuvvetleri is one of the largest standing armies in the world and the second largest army of NATO.
At present, the primary main battle tanks of the Turkish Army are the Leopard 2A4 and the M60T. There are also around 400 Leopard 1 and 750 M60 Patton variants in service (excluding the M60T which were upgraded with the 120 mm MG253 guns), but the Turkish Army retains a large number of older vehicles. More than 2,800 M48 Pattons are still in service (upgraded with the 105 mm M68 guns) though only around 1,300 of these are stored as reserve MBTs, while the rest are mostly transformed into other types of military vehicles (such as cranes, MBT recovery vehicles and logistical support vehicles) or used as spare parts hulks. -- Wikipedia.
In addition, Turkey plans to build a total of 1,000 new MİTÜP Altay MBTs, in four separate batches of 250 units, with the MİTÜP Turkish National Tank Project. The tanks will be produced by the Turkish firm Otokar, and share some of the systems that are used in the K2 Black Panther main battle tank of South Korea.
You can find more about the Altay here, but suffice to say that it will be at least as tough a platform as the M1A1 Abrams.
Then there's the Turkish Air Force, the Türk Hava Kuvvetleri. It is one of the oldest air forces in the world, and with a current inventory of more than 930 aircraft, it ranks 3rd in NATO in terms of fleet size, behind the USAF and RAF. Supported by its own long-range in-flight refueling capability, the fighter jets of the Turkish Air Force can participate in international operations and exercises on all continents of the world. They have beaucoup F-16s and have signed a memorandum of understanding with the US for 116 F35As.
If they decide to roll east into Kurdistan in a serious way to divvy up Kurdish land and Kurdish oil between themselves and the Iranians, there will be damn little the Kurds will be able to do about it.
Except. . .
Yep, you guessed it.
There is only one thing that can stop Turkish tanks and Turkish aircraft and that's sophisticated anti-armor and anti-air weapons of the type that Israel makes. But, you might say, the Kurds are largely Muslim, don't they also hate the "Infidel Jews"?
Well, no, and for reasons that go waaay back.
There is an ancient tradition that relates the Kurdistani Jews as the descendants of the ten tribes from the time of the exile of the Assyrians in the 6th century BCE. The Kurdistani Jews speak the eastern dialect of the Neo-Aramaic language, akin to the language of the Babylonian Talmud.
According to the Bible, after the year 722 BC Jews settled in Mesopotamia and Media, today's Kurdistan area, the settlement of the spread of Judaism and Jews. The religious texts report that in the late 8th century BC, the Assyrian invaders of the Northern Kingdom of Israel deported the Jews to "Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes" (II Kings 17:6). The Medes were ancestors of the Kurds. The Medes' kings allowed the Jews to return and live in peace in Jerusalem, their sacred city.
The great Kurdish warrior Saladin Ayyubi's doctor Rambam was a Jew. For centuries after Saladin, the Kurds and Jews lived peacefully with each other, and before the breakup of the Ottoman empire, there was a large Jewish population in Mosul, in Iraq. . .
A team of German, Indian and Israeli specialists published the results of their research that showed that the Jews were distant ethnic relatives of the Kurds. The Jews and Kurds according to the research teams have common ancestors who resided in the area between the Kurdish areas of Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.
Immigration from Kurdistan to Israel began in the 16th century, with the first immigrants from Kurdistan settling in Safed. Kurdish immigrants later on in the 20th century arrived in the 1920s and 1930s, and by the year 1948 there were some 8000 Kurds in Israel. When the state of Israel was established in 1948, crowds of people from all four parts of Kurdistan moved to Israel. Today, the Kurdish Jewish population in Israel is over 150,000; the largest concentration of Kurdish people can be found around Jerusalem.
In Israel, generally, the Kurdish immigrants have kept alive the cultural heritage of Jewish Kurdistan through their distinctive cuisine, music, and traditions. A new book that came out recently by the Israeli scholar Mordechai Zaken describes the relationship between the Jews of Kurdistan and their Muslim neighbours and masters (tribal chieftains or aghas)in southern Kurdistan during the last few centuries. -- Wikipedia.
So most Kurdish Jews emigrated to Israel after 1948, but some (and some Christians) remained behind in Kurdistan and are still there to this day.
That's the history. The last two decades of the history of Kurdistan include numerous unofficial contacts between the Kurdish freedom fighters and the Israelis. In 2004 Seymour Hersh wrote a story in the New Yorker called "Plan B."
In a series of interviews in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States, officials told me that by the end of last year Israel had concluded that the Bush Administration would not be able to bring stability or democracy to Iraq, and that Israel needed other options. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government decided, I was told, to minimize the damage that the war was causing to Israel’s strategic position by expanding its long-standing relationship with Iraq’s Kurds and establishing a significant presence on the ground in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. Several officials depicted Sharon’s decision, which involves a heavy financial commitment, as a potentially reckless move that could create even more chaos and violence as the insurgency in Iraq continues to grow. . .
Israeli intelligence and military operatives are now quietly at work in Kurdistan, providing training for Kurdish commando units and, most important in Israel’s view, running covert operations inside Kurdish areas of Iran and Syria. Israel feels particularly threatened by Iran, whose position in the region has been strengthened by the war. The Israeli operative include members of the Mossad, Israel’s clandestine foreign-intelligence service, who work undercover in Kurdistan as businessmen and, in some cases, do not carry Israeli passports. ... The former Israeli intelligence officer acknowledged that since late last year Israel has been training Kurdish commando units to operate in the same manner and with the same effectiveness as Israel’s most secretive commando units, the Mistaravim. The initial goal of the Israeli assistance to the Kurds, the former officer said, was to allow them to do what American commando units had been unable to do — penetrate, gather intelligence on, and then kill off the leadership of the Shiite and Sunni insurgencies in Iraq.
Of course this was before the surge when we were just floundering around, before Petraeus and McChrystal started killing off the AQI leadership in big, bloody batches. In 2006, the "Israelis-training-Kurds" story surfaced again.
A long-time friend of mine who has experience in the region tells me that there are "credible rumors" that such contacts continue to this day, with Israeli "contractors" training Peshmerga within Kurdistan in small bunches and, in larger numbers but just as discreetly, within Israel itself.
The Peshmerga don't need instruction in guerrilla war. They are past masters at that. What they are receiving training in is all the panoply of modern warfare and special operations -- secure commo, electronics, and, especially, state-of-the-art anti-armor and anti-air weapons. When the time comes, he thinks, Israel will see that the Peshmerga get everything they need to turn huge batches of Turkish armor and air assets into twisted, burning junk.
The Turks, who cannot have failed to notice this training, are some kind of pissed. But they are also aware of two things they do not have that their neighbors in the Middle East do -- oil and, in Iran's case, soon to be nukes. There has never been much love lost between the Sunni Turks and the Shia Persians. The prospect of an Iranian bomb scares the Turks as much as the Israelis and the Saudis. Can the Turks procure a nuclear bomb program of their own? Sure, with help. But that will take time. For now, they are seeking common ground with the Iranians. Just as the Israelis are becoming friendlier with the Kurds.
The pointed question my friend asked me was, "If both the Kurds and the Israelis find themselves with their backs to the wall in a pending war of extinction, will the Israelis 'nuclearize' Kurdistan as a counter-weight?" He didn't know the answer to that question and neither do I. But I do know that both the Kurds and the Israelis do not and cannot count on the present regime in the White House to shield them from the existential threats they face.
They know are on their own.