FORMER Israeli commandos secretly trained Kurdish soldiers in northern Iraq to protect a new international airport and in counter-terrorism operations, BBC television reported today.
Former Israeli special forces soldiers entered Iraq from Turkey in 2004 to train two groups of Kurdish troops, one of the former Israeli trainers told the BBC’s Newsnight program.
A spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government dismissed the Israeli ex-soldier’s allegations, saying they were not new.
The former trainer, whose name was not disclosed, said Israeli soldiers trained Kurds to act as a security force for the new airport in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.
They also trained more than 100 Kurdish “Pesh Merga” fighters for “special assignments” that included how to use rifles and how to shoot militants in a crowd, he said.
The former soldier said he believed Kurdish officials knew the trainers were Israelis although the troops did not.
“My part of the contract was to train the Kurdish security people for a big airport project and for training, as well as the Peshmerga, and the actual soldiers, the army,” the former Israeli soldier told Newsnight.
“You know, day by day it’s a bit tense because you know where you are and you know who you are. And there’s always a chance that you’ll get revealed,” he said.
Iraqi newspapers have reported that Israeli soldiers trained Kurdish troops, but the Kurdish authorities deny allowing any Israelis into Iraq.
The Kurds’ political enemies have long accused them of an alliance with Israel while Israel’s critics suspect it wants to use the Kurdish region as a strategic base to get closer to its arch-enemy Iran.
Iraqi Kurdistan lies between Iran to the east and Turkey to the north-west. Both countries have significant Kurdish minorities and are worried about the prospect of a Kurdish state emerging in northern Iraq.
Newsnight also reported that an Israeli security firm called Interop and two Swiss-registered subsidiaries, Kudo and Colosium, were among the main contractors at Irbil airport, providing security fencing and communications equipment.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev told Newsnight that Israel had not authorised any firms to do defence work in Iraq. Companies would be prosecuted if police found they had broken export laws, he said.
Khaled Salih, a spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government, dismissed the former Israeli soldier’s claims.
“These are not new allegations for us. Back in the sixties and seventies we were called ‘the second Israel’ in the region and we were supposed to be eliminated by Islamist nationalist and now Islamist groups,” he told Newsnight”.