JERUSALEM — Israel supports the establishment of a Kurdish state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, as Kurds in Iraq gear up for a referendum on independence that lawmakers in Baghdad oppose.
Israel has maintained discreet military, intelligence and business ties with the Kurds since the 1960s, viewing the minority ethnic group — whose indigenous population is split between Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran — as a buffer against shared Arab adversaries.
On Tuesday, Iraq’s Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said he would press ahead with the Sept. 25 referendum despite a vote by Iraq’s parliament rejecting it.
“(Israel) supports the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve their own state,” Netanyahu said, in remarks sent to foreign correspondents by his office.
Western powers are concerned a plebiscite in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region – including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk – could divert attention from the war against Islamic State militants.