אפרים סנה
Efraim Sneh
Photo: Reuven Kapochinski
Participants of the Erbil conference who called to normalize ties with Israel

Iraqi academics' call to normalize ties with Israel is purely patriotic

Opinion: Those who called on Iraq's leaders to join the Abraham Accords during the conference in Erbil risked their lives, not for the Jewish state, but for their own country, which is in danger of losing sovereignty and becoming enslaved by Iran

Ephraim Sneh |
Published: 10.05.21, 14:02
On September 24, some 312 Iraqis - among them tribal leaders and academics - convened in the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region of Erbil, calling their country to join the "Abraham Accords" and normalize ties with Israel. These people are very brave because they know that Iran's terror proxies in Iraq will make them a target.
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  • One of those who called for the normalization of relations with the Jewish state is a member of Iraq's parliament, Mithal Al Aloussi, who has lost two of his sons. They were assassinated as "punishment" for his visits to Israel.
    2 צפייה בגלריה
    כינוס מנהיגים סונים ושיעים בעיראק הקוראים לנורמליזציה עם ישראל
    כינוס מנהיגים סונים ושיעים בעיראק הקוראים לנורמליזציה עם ישראל
    Participants of the Erbil conference who called to normalize ties with Israel
    What invigorates their courage is that their position is purely patriotic. Joining the Arab countries that signed normalization agreements with Israel substantially empowers the Iraqi state. A strategic alliance with Israel, Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Bahrain, can decisively counterbalance Iran's efforts to take over Iraq, neutralize its sovereignty, and turn it to another state overrun by proxy militias like Yemen or Lebanon. But beyond the strategic advantage of being a member of new regional alliance, Iraq would have enormous economic gains from developing a good relationship with Israel.
    Iraq's only outlet to the sea is Umm-Qasr port on the northern shore of the Arab Gulf. The seaports of Haifa could serve as Iraq's outlet to the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. This was the vision which motivated me as former transportation minister to rebuild the Ottoman-era "Valley Railway" from Beit She'an to Haifa. If this railway were to be connected to Irbid and Mafrq in northern Jordan, it would become a transportation link that could facilitate Iraq's trade with the global economy.
    This idea has been studied by professional experts, they found it operationally feasible. In the meantime, dozens of heavy trucks drive everyday down the road from Haifa to Jordan. It is only a political decision, as demanded by the participants of Erbil conference, that can open this route from Jordan to Iraq. Refurbishment of the old oil pipeline from Iraq to Haifa via Jordan can also be examined.
    2 צפייה בגלריה
    כינוס מנהיגים סונים ושיעים בעיראק הקוראים לנורמליזציה עם ישראל
    כינוס מנהיגים סונים ושיעים בעיראק הקוראים לנורמליזציה עם ישראל
    Participants of the Erbil conference who called to normalize ties with Israel
    But it is not the transportation solutions alone that can help Iraq if it normalized its relations with Israel. Iraq struggles with shortage of drinking water and irrigation sources. Israeli innovative technologies of water treatment and agriculture can provide Iraq practical solutions that will mitigate its acute hardships in the sphere of water and food.
    In talks with Iraqi businessmen, you can tell they are interested in these opportunities. Erbil conference reflects their interest.
    Water and transportation are only two of the issues where Iraq can benefit from if it follows the path of other Arab countries. It is a safe way to restore full sovereignty.
    Israel can't physically defend the participants of Erbil conference. They are exposed already to threats, punishment and violence. But Israel can say loud and clear that its hand is stretched to peace and cooperation with Iraq and its people.
    It is probably not by chance the conference took place in Erbil. In the 1960-70s, the Israeli military helped the Kurdish freedom fighters. In this part of Iraq, we the Israelis, are remembered with love.
    Israel needs the audacity to reach out to Iraq for the sake of the old times.

    Efraim Sneh is an Israeli politician, physician, and a retired brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces. He served in several ministerial posts between 1992 and 2008
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