Israel and Iran are a good distance from each other, yet the Islamic Republic is right on Israel’s doorstep and has been for some time now. Its proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, sit on Israel’s northern and southern borders respectively. For more than a decade, Iran has also been trying to get a foothold on Israel’s border with Syria. To make a long story short, Iran has Israel nearly surrounded even though the two countries are more than a thousand miles from each other.
Iran has managed to gain footholds on Israel’s borders by taking advantage of the fact that the Jewish state still has enemies on some of its frontiers—Syria, Lebanon and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. In contrast, Iran is not surrounded by enemies. But it does have enemies in the region. In fact, many of Iran’s enemies are within its own borders in the form of several ethnic minorities.
The Islamic Republic is far from a homogenous country. Although Persians are the dominant ethnic group, there are numerous other ethnicities in Iran, including Azeris, Arabs, Baluchis and Kurds. These are groups of people who would be more than happy to be free of the Iranian state, which has severely persecuted them for decades, even before the 1979 Islamic revolution.
As Iran takes advantage of Israel’s enemies, Israel should respond by taking advantage of Iran’s enemies by forging alliances with the Islamic Republic’s oppressed ethnic groups. Israel would do well to support these groups’ struggles for self-determination by providing any kind of support it can, up to and including military aid. By doing this, Israel can establish footholds not just on Iran’s borders, but within Iran itself.
Israel should begin by strengthening relations with the Kurds. I say strengthen because Israel has had cordial though clandestine relations with the Kurds for a long time. The Kurds are particularly important because they straddle the borders of Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Thus, strengthening relations with the Kurds has the potential to allow Israel to have eyes in all four of these countries.
The Kurds are also the largest ethnic group in the Middle East without a country of their own. They of all people deserve self-determination and Israel can help make that happen. In exchange, the Kurds should allow Israel to put intelligence and military assets in their territory to target Iran.
In fact, there are indications that this may have already occurred. Earlier this year, news emerged that Israel supposedly has a secret base in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish Autonomous Region in Iraq. Whether or not it’s true is up for debate. But if it is true, then Israel is already on the right track.
The next step would ideally be for Israel to extend its hand to other oppressed minority groups in Iran and give them any support possible—moral, financial, military, etc.—to help them gain their independence from the Islamic republic in exchange for allowing the Jewish state to base intelligence and military assets in their territory. After all, if Iran can play the proxy game, so can Israel.
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