Three-quarters of Israel’s oil imports in recent months have come from Kurdistan, the semi-independent Iraqi region at the center of that country’s Islamic State fight.
The Financial Times has reported that between May and August, Israel imported 19 million barrels of oil from Kurdistan, totaling over $1 billion in spending and about 75 percent of Israel’s total demand. The Kurds have struggled to control their own economy — and their anti-Islamic State fighters — amid what they consider weak support from the central government in Baghdad. (RELATED: Iraqi Politicians Pass Around Blame For Rise Of ISIS)
Oil from Kurdistan presumably makes its way to Israel via private dealers to Turkey, at which point it is difficult to trace back to its origins. The Financial Times suggested that purchasing Kurdish oil is a way for Israel to covertly bolster Iraq’s politically isolated Kurds.
The Kurdistan Regional Government denies having sold oil to Israel “directly or indirectly.” And for its part, Israel did not provide comment to the Financial Times, since it considers the oil market a matter of national security.
But Israel has plausible reasons to be supporting the Iraqi Kurds’ struggle against Islamic State. While virtually every government in the world is a stated enemy of the jihadi group, it has particularly targeted Israel for elimination. Islamic State has a small franchise in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which has not yet posed serious threats to Israeli security.
By helping back the Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, who continue to push back Islamic State’s core territory with little outside help, Israel could be helping secure a stronger blow against the group’s central command.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s ploy for greater autonomy from Baghdad might also be to Israel’s benefit. Kurds and Sunni Arabs in Iraq often see the central government as unduly swayed by the Shiites leaders’ allies in Iran. And with an ineffective military, the government’s own campaign against Islamic State tends to rely on Shiite militias which receive explicit Iranian support. (RELATED: Iran-Backed Iraqi Militia Trains 12-Year-Olds To Fight ISIS During ‘Summer Camp’)
Given Iran’s recent nuclear deal with the U.S., Israel has as much reason as ever to back countervailing forces in Iraq. And with Islamic State ultimately out of the picture, a weaker central Iraqi state that cedes even greater power to the Kurds might just make Israel feel more secure down the road.
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