By Robert Olson
Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies
University of Kentucky

The main thrust of the Israel-Turkey Defense Pact seems to be
directed against the Kurdish nationalist movement in the
Middle East and particularly against the PKK in Turkey. The
question must be asked why Israel and its support would want
to take on the Kurds after so recently subduing the
Palestinian nationalist movement and Arab nationalism: a
struggle which has lasted for over a century. The answer
seems to be that Israel perceives its future well-being and
potential dominant economic role, fueled by American,
European and international capital as being dependent on
access to plentiful and reasonably priced water. The water is
in Turkey. Most of it is in heavily Kurdish populated areas
in eastern and southeastern Turkey in which the head waters
and tributaries of the Euphrates and Tigris rise.

Ironically two other potential sources of water for Israel
and for its Palestinian and Arab partners, the Seyhan and
Ceyhan rivers in the Cilician plain, While formerly outside
of Turkish KurdistanÕs geography, have become more heavily
populated by Kurds as a result of the ethnic cleansing
practices carried out by the Turkish government in the past
decade and which have intensified since the Gulf war as
reported in MEI 523 and 527. Adana, the largest city in the
plain, and through which the Seyhan flows, may now well have a
population that is more than 25 percent Kurdish. This is the
same region that has two oil pipelines (recently reopened )
emanating from Iraqi Kurdistan that terminate at Yumurtalik
an the Mediterranean shore. The two oil pipelines and the
four rivers Seyhan, Ceyhan, Euphrates and Tigris symbolize
the confluence of two of the region’s and the worlds most
prized commodities: oil and water. Oil for the US, Europe,
other Western countries and Japan and water for Israel and
its coterie of new Arab partners. Water for the latter,
especially the Palestinians and Jordanians, is needed to assure
sufficient economic growth to control nationalist unrest that
is increasingly expressing itself in Islamist movements and
discourse. Increased Arab nationalism in the eastern
Mediterranean always presents the risk of spreading to the
Gulf region and threatening the regimes who control the oil
supplies for the West and Japan.

The increased strength, growth and success of the Kurdish
nationalist movement and, especially the PKK, present
obstacles to Israel, its Arab partners and the West’s need
for access to the waters in Turkey. As a result Israel has
decided to support more publicly than ever before Turkey’s
war against the Kurds. It is quite true that the defense
pact is also directed against Syria and Iran as reported in
MEI 526. In the case of Syria, Israel perceives the pact as
being able to kill two birds with one stone. One bird is the
Asad regime in Damascus and the other is Abdullah Ocalan, the
leader of the PKK who resides in Syria and Lebanon. By
tightening pincers on Asad, Ankara and Tel Aviv hope to make
him cough-up Ocalan and compel Ocalan to flee Syria to
somewhere else where he could be more easily assassinated.
Ocalan’s flight from Syria and/or his death would weaken the
PKK and the dominant role that it plays in the Kurdish
nationalist movement in Turkey and increasingly in northern
Iraq. If Israel could aid Turkey in achieving these goals,
Ankara would undoubtedly be most obliging with its water when
conditions are favorable for its downward flow to Israel and

It must be taken as a given fact that the Kurdish nationalist
movement in Turkey and the PKK represent a dire threat not
just to the Turkish government as presently configured, but
to the existence of the Turkish state itself. The Kurdish
problem, as Ankara euphemistically calls the Kurdish
nationalist movement, impacts negatively on all of Turkey’s
domestic and foreign policies. Nothing illustrates this
better than Foreign Minister Emre Gonensay’s recent
acknowledgment that he too almost shed tears along with
Kirghizistan Prime Minister Rosa Otunbaeva when she said
amidst tears, “Turkey was our hope:What happened to you?”
Gonensay should have replied: “It was the Kurds.”

As perceived in Ankara, the very existence of Turkey depends
on the eradication of the PKK. After eliminating the PKK,
Ankara hopes to implement a series of Policies and programs(
many of them still oppressive) to control and to co-opt the
Kurdish nationalist movement. But in more than a decade of
war, Ankara has been unable to eliminate the PKK and, hence,
the SOS to Tel Aviv. How far will Israel and the new Likud
government go in helping Turkey get rid of the PKK and
Ocalan? Apparently quite far.

On 24-25 May, Israel’s ambassador to turkey, Zvi Elpeleg,
along with some intelligence and military officials, visited
Hatay, just a few days after Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz had
visited the region. Less than ten days later there were
reported a series of explosions in Syria clashes between
Turkish and Syriantroops and even an assassination attempt on
President Assad. Some of these actions reported to have been
carried out by Turkmen who live in Hatay and who have
brethren living in Syria. In this regard it must be noted
that the PKK operations in Hatay have targeted the Sunni
Turkmen that Turkey settled in the province after it was
annexed in 1939 in order to Sunnize the region. The bulk of
the population in 1939 was comprised of Alawite Arabs as is
10 to 11 percent of Syrian population. The top echelons of
the Syrian government are also predominately Alawite. By
attacking the Sunni Turkmen villagers who had been supplied
with weapons by the government to flight the PKK, the PKK
hoped to gather support from the Alawite Arab population. If
the Turkish government is behind the Turkmen activities, it
may express Ankara’s unhappiness wit PKK efforts to establish
itself in Hatay with Syrian support and conversely its
support for the Turkmen attempts to destabilize the Assad
regime. In addition, in the middle of June the Turkish press
was reporting that Hatay had become the major avenue for PKK
infiltration into Turkey.

There is no doubt that Turkey possesses the wherewithal to
stage such operations. Dogu Perincek, the General Secretary
of the Turkish Workers Party (TIP) and usually a reliable
source, alleged that the bulk of former prime minister Tansu
Ciller’s $6 million dollar slush fund, which has caused a great
brouhaha in Turkish politics of late, was used to create a
special intelligence and ‘provocation’ organization. Such an
organization was used, Perincek claims, in Azerbaijan, Iraq,
Iran and Chechnya.

It would not be unreasonable for Damascus to see a connection
between Elpeleg’s and et al’s visit to Hatay, the alleged
creation of a special intelligence organization designed to
carry out provocative acts and the subsequent events in
Syria. Elpeleg’s and other Israeli officials presence in
Hatay and Israel’s aid intelligence information, intelligence
equipment and possibly training personnel to Turkey in order
to better fight the PKK would certainly mark an escalation in
the conflict between Israel and the Kurdish nationalist
movement. It will pay to keep an eye on developments. Given
the fate of Yahya Ayyash and Dzhokbar Dudayev, Mr. Ocalan
would be well advised to stay away from his cellular

(This article first appeared in Kurdistan Report, No. 24,
December 1996)

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