In the 1960s, Israel supplied weapons and instructors to the Kurds of northern Iraq. In 1970 – 1, the Kurds assisted Israel in smuggling 1,300 Jews out of Iraq and over the border into Iran. Eliyahu Tsafrir, himself of Kurdish background, was the Mossad’s man in Kurdistan. Jonathan Spyer interviewed him for the Jerusalem Post:
As Tsafrir recalls it, “The Mossad delegation was in Kurdistan for 10 years. The delegation included military advisers and instructors. We supplied [the Iraqi Kurds] with weapons, including artillery, and we conducted courses there – from the section commanders’ course and all the way to the course for battalion commanders.”
The Mossad presence in Kurdish northern Iraq was logistically dependent on Israel’s then-excellent relations with Iran.
“People would fly to Tehran, and then with the help of the Savak [the pre-revolutionary Iranian intelligence service], they would enter the Kurdish territory.”
The Israeli presence was the result of the close relations forged with Mulla Mustafa Barzani, grandfather of current Iraqi Kurdish President Nechirvan Barzani. Tsafrir arrived to command the mission in 1974. But from headquarters, he had already witnessed the benefits this connection had brought to Israel.
“In 1970-1971, we had used the assistance of the Kurds to get 1,300 Jews out of Baghdad. From there to the Kurdish area, and then to Iran, where the Jewish Agency was waiting to bring them to Israel. I was head of the department at HQ dealing with this.”
In 1974, then-Mossad head Zvi Zamir proposed to Tsafrir that he take up the leadership of the delegation in northern Iraq. His appointment was meant to last two years.
The benefits accruing to Israel from this mission were not solely in the field of Jewish immigration to Israel. Rather, the main purpose in return for the assistance given to Kurdish fighters was to gather intelligence, particularly on the Iraqi army.
“Iraq sent to every war against us a division, sometimes two divisions,” says Tsafrir. “Our interest was in an intelligence window, also by way of Kurdish officers who were officers in the Iraqi army. We activated them, also in the area of recruitment of agents, in order to achieve ‘coverage’ of the Iraqi Army.”
This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.
Point of No Return
Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries
One-stop blog on the Middle East's forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.