Begin airs secret Israeli aid to Kurds as reminder for Iraqis

Prime Minister Menachem Begin has disclosed Israel's long-secret military support for the Kurdish rebellion in Iraq that has troubled that country for more than a decade.

By doing this, Mr. Begin openly brandished one of Israel's most intrguing strategic options. The presumption here is that he made the disclosure for practical purposes, not as an indiscretion or for internal political reasons.

His purpose may have been to remind Iraq's President Saddam Hussein and Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that resumption of Israeli logistical support and tactical advice to the Kurdish Pesh Merga guerrillas could pin down more of their regular forces at a time when they were needed in the main, more pressing Iraq- Iran conflict.

Reports of a renewal of Kurdish guerrilla warfare against Iraqi regulars coincided with Mr. begin's remarks. Israel's pro-Kurdish policy conforms to a general tendency to support non-Arab ethnic groups in the Middle East.

Mr. Begin undoubtedly was aware of reports that at least an entire Iranian division was engaged in intermittent fighting with the Kurds of northern Iran when Iraq launched its incursion into Khuzestan and claimed exclusive control of the Shatt al Arab estuary in the south.

From 1965 to 1975, when the late Shah concluded a fateful friendship treaty with Iraq, thereby ending Iran's involvement in the Iraqi Kurds' struggle for political and cultural autonomy, Israel provided the Kurdish guerrillas with "money, arms, and instructors," Mr. Begin said. the Israeli military advisers were assigned to rebel headquarters in the Kurds' mountain fastness where their late leader, Mullah Mustafa al- Barzani, directed a stubborn campaign that withstood repeated assaults by the Iraqi Army and Air Force.

During the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the Kurds reciprocated by mounting a large-scale offensive that prevented Iraqi troops from bolstering their comrades-in-arms sent to fight with syrian forces against Israel in the Golan Heights.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.