PARIS, 2 Oct. (IPS) Under pressures from the Americans, Israel has drastically limited the scope of its decades-long secret operations and cooperation with the Iraqi Kurds in the one hand and also a lucrative trade realized by Kurdish, Iraqi and Jordanian intermediaries, according to reports in the French centrist newspaper “Le Figaro”.
As from early 2004, more than 1.200 agents from Mossad, Israel’s intelligence and secret services and the military intelligence used to operate in the Iraqi Kurdistan, training Kurdish peshmergas, or freedom fighters, and forming special commandos to face the millions of Shi’ites manipulated in one way or another by Tehran, including militias of the troublesome cleric Moqtada al Sadr, the paper said, quoting un-named French military sources.
At the beginning of 2004, approximately 1 200 agents of Mossad or the Israeli military agents operated in Kurdistan.
Thanks to this cooperation, the Jewish State had created advanced surveillance installations in areas of Iraq controlled by the Kurds, allowing it to monitor closely military operations in Iran and Syria, its two main enemies in the region “Le Figaro” said in the article published on 28 September, adding that “Israeli activism ended by alarming Washington, urging Tel Aviv to stop all its secret cooperation with the Kurds.
What have worried most the Americans are Israel’s encouragements to the federal, if not separatist aspirations of the Kurds as a tool to contain Iranian influence in Iraq, Mr. Georges Malbrunot, the French journalist who was held captive of Islamist terrorist for over three months with colleague Christian Chesnot said.
“The Americans are no more in tune with us in Iraq and do no more tolerate our embarrassing presence in this country”, the paper said, quoting a secret Israeli agent posing as a scholar in Erbil, in the Iraqi Kurdistan.
After the election of the Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani to the presidency of the Republic of Iraq in spring 2005, a conflict of interests appeared between the two allies, says an expert of the questions of security in the Middle East, adding "in order of not being criticized by the Shi’ites and the Sunnis, Talabani, new Head of the State, could not let develop relations condemned by the immense majority of the Iraqis. "The Kurdish double game was stopped. As a result, a number of the Israeli agents have left the north of Iraq”.
Started again after the war which drove out Saddam Hussein of power in Baghdad in 2003, the secret security co-operation between Israelis and Kurds of Iraq underwent a major setback these last months, under pressures from Washington. Only about one hundred remain and the Israeli businessmen do not act practically any more but via Kurdish or Jordanian intermediaries.
"After the hostilities, the Israelis, anxious to see thousands of so-called Iranian pilgrims penetrating in Iraq, tried in vain to convince the Americans to close the borders between Iran and Iraq. But the United States, concerned not to mount their Iraqi Shi’ite allies, made the deaf ear”, explains Patrick Clawson, deputy Director of the American research center of Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The Israelis, noting that their allies were engulfed, then decided to take the things in hand. In Erbil and Souleymanieh, Israeli instructors, often disguised as businessmen, were charged to improve the formation of the pechmergas, the Kurdish militiamen. At the beginning of 2004, approximately 1 200 agents of Mossad or the Israeli military agents operated in Kurdistan.
"Kurdish leaders return the elevator by encouraging declarations. Last June, Massoud Barzani, of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, said that having a relation with Israel "is not a crime since the majority of the Arab countries have established relation" with the Jewish State.
As with these secret activities, Israelis other "business" in Iraq also was curtailed by the Americans, but also because of the increasingly degrading security situation.
Following political pressures from the US, some Israeli firms had to withdrew from Iraq.
"I'm like a hunter, tracking businesses where they are", Mr. Malbrunot quoted Avinoam S, an Israeli maverick businessman operating in Baghdad. His Israeli company affirms having gained several invitations to tender in Baghdad for the supply of thousands of armoured doors for American military camps and also Iraqi administrations.
This pioneer of the perilous markets has two golden rules: discretion and a network of intermediaries able to reach to the decision makers. Each week, the former member of the elite Golani commandos flies his plane to Amman, to meet there a former minister of Saddam Hussein, who had fled a few years before the fall of the dictator, and a Jordanian close to King Abdallah.
"Each intermediary receives its commission", explains Avinoam. By trucks driven by an Israeli Arab, the doors are conveyed in Jordan. At the free trade zone of Zarqa, in the north of Amman, documents are "cleaned" by a Jordanian forwarding agent.
Any Hebrew trace must disappear not to wake up the suspicions of the Iraqi customs officers at the border. In Zarqa, among an immense chaos, are stored hundreds of cars, trucks, concrete-mixers, cranes etc.. coming from Europe and of Israel.
"It is not a sin to treat with Israel, they are only machines", protests Khaled, of Ramadi, a stronghold of the Sunni guerrilla in the north of Baghdad. "It is true that, if Zarqaoui or resistance knew it, I would have died", he adds it, by making the sign of sticking.
Everyone finds its account there: the Israeli who runs out of old products, the Jordanian one which resells them cheaper than the European competitor equipment, and the Iraqi, who pockets a comfortable margin.
The trade was authorized by Benyamin Netanyahu, then Finance Minister of Ariel Sharon, in July 2003. The volume of exchanges is still modest: 30 million dollars last year, according to the Israel-Jordanian Chamber of Commerce, meaning ten times less than with Egypt, for example.
"Washington does not encourage really this trade". Following political pressures from the US, some Israeli firms like Sonol had to wihrew, after having delivered gasoline to US Army, via Jordan. However, Sonol could count on Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, the former chief of staff of Tsahal and member of its board of directors.
This man of the shade is associated to the lawyer Gilad Sher, former adviser of the Prime Minister Ehoud Barak for the negotiations with the Palestinians, using his address book to obtain contracts in Iraq. Shmoulik Dorshtein had to change its rifle of shoulder. Karmiel, his company now concentrates its activities among the Kurds, via the Turkish territory.
In the small world of the businessmen Israeli interested by Iraq, the lawyer Marc Zell has the appearance of an exception. This religious Jew, living a settlement close to Hebron in the West Bank, spent one year in Baghdad where he opened a law firm just after the war with Salem Chalabi, the nephew of Ahmed Chalabi, one of the most prominent Iraqi opposition leader.
But the assassination of Nicholas Berg, an American Jew like himself, in April 2004, convinced him to give up the juicy businesses on the banks of the Tiger after Salem Chalabi had disclosed the nationality of his partner, according to Le Figaro. ENDS ISRAEL IRAQ 30905
Editor's note: Some editing and highlights are from IPS.