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Eliav Reveals Israel Aided Kurds

May 15, 1978
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Part of the story of Israel’s aid to the Kurdish nationalist rebels against Iraq in the late 1960s was revealed over Independence Day by a central figure in the episode: Arye Eliav. Writing in Yediot Achronot, the Sheli Knesseter, then a rising Labor Party Knesseter and Deputy Minister, recounted how he was sent by Premier Levi Eshkol in late 1966 to meet with Kurdish leader Mulla Mustapha Barazani in his mountain hideout and to help set up a field hospital for the “Pesh Merga” Kurdish forces and their families.

Eliav’s account is the first ever public acknowledgement of the many reports that Israel did indeed render assistance to the Kurds. The Kurdish rebellion was effectively snuffed out three years ago when the Shah of Iran, who had been tacitly supporting them, concluded a pact with the Iraqi government, Barazani is now ill and aged, living in exile in the U.S.

Eliav in his article does not state clearly how he and his team reached the inaccessible Kurdish territory, with jeeps, lorries and an entire field hospital. The implication seems to be that he went in through Iran, probably with Teheran’s consent.


Eliav, experienced in rural development schemes both in Israel (the Lachish project) and in Iran (where he had headed an Israeli aid mission to an earthquake area) toured the Kurdish area with Barazani’s oldest son and offered the rebel leader advice on how to set up rudimentary health and welfare services.

The field hospital, which was the only functioning hospital at that time in a territory with over one million population, served the fighters and their families, and Barazani told Eliav and the team of Israeli doctors and medics that his people would never forget their help.

A dentist in Eliav’s party, identified as Dr. Itzkovitch, worked for days on Barazani’s own mouth, relieving him by root canal treatments of the cruel pains he had been suffering for months. A doctor saved the life of one of the Kurdish leader’s daughters-in-law, delivering her of twin boys when the local midwives had given up hope and the 17-year-old girl was nearing death.

As a parting gift, Eliav received from Barazani two swords: one for himself and one for then Knesset Speaker Kadish Luz. Eliav’s article was illustrated by his photos showing himself with Barazani, and one of Itzkovitch poking in the Kurdish leader’s mouth.

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