"We demand that Israel stop assisting those seeking to crush our struggle for freedom," Murat Karayılan, deputy to jailed PKK chief Abdullah Öcalan, said in a rare interview with Israeli Channel 2 television from his mountain hideout in northern Iraq. "Our enemies are also the enemies of Israel," said the PKK leader, referring to Turkey's warm ties with Iran and Syria, which are Israel's enemies.
The PKK – whose bloody campaign for, initially, independence and then greater rights for Turkey's Kurds has cost tens of thousands of lives over the past three decades – is classified as a terrorist group by not only Turkey but also the EU and the US. Israel has indirectly supported Turkey's fight against the PKK, selling unmanned drones to the Turkish military for use against the terrorist group. Turkey's relations with Israel took a nosedive in the aftermath of a deadly Israeli attack on an aid flotilla trying to break the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip on May 31.
Israeli commandos killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American aboard the Mavi Marmara ship and Turkey’s calls for an Israeli apology have remained unanswered since.
Karayılan’s remarks are likely to feed public mistrust of Israel, a country which the Turkish public widely sees as a supporter of the PKK campaign for the separation of Turkey. “The PKK-Israel links are coming up to the surface in an undisputedly clear way,” Sedat Laçiner, who heads the Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organisation (USAK), said of Karayılan’s remarks. “If the PKK declares that an Israeli-PKK alliance has been created, and if Israel makes no statement on that, then all we can say is that there is a new alliance in the Middle East.”
Suspicions about Israeli-PKK links most recently surfaced when the PKK killed seven soldiers in a rocket attack on a naval base in İskenderun, in the southern province of Hatay. The attack took place just days after the bloody flotilla raid. Some in the media have claimed that Israeli secret services may have contracted the job to the PKK to send a message to the Turkish government.
Laçiner said the state of Israel’s relations with the PKK was not known in detail, but added that the Israeli government had clearly taken steps to deepen its ties with the terrorist group, following the crisis in its ties with Turkey, threatening that it could use these ties to harm Ankara.
An Israeli official, however, dismissed the charges. “With all the respect to Professor Laçiner; his remarks are baseless and false. The Israeli position is known and clear. We see the PKK as a terrorist organization and we support the Turkish fight against terror,” an Israeli diplomat, who requested anonymity, told Today’s Zaman on Wednesday.
In northern Iraq, Karayılan said the Israeli military cooperation with Turkey was a “big mystery” to him. “More than any other people in the world, I would have expected Israel to understand and identify with us. After all, you, who have experienced the Holocaust, massacres, expulsions and persecution, now see our people, the Kurdish people, experiencing that same fate. Everyone in this area – Syrians, Turks and Iranians – wants and is trying to destroy us, and you, of all people, are the ones providing them with the weapons to destroy us,” he said in the interview.
The PKK leader also said he found it bewildering that even after the flotilla raid, Israel was still trying to reconcile with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “More than any other Turkish head of state, this prime minister openly shows how he is tightening relations with Hezbollah and Syria,” he said. “He hugs [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and praises Hamas. Are you sure this is your friend?”