By ISABEL KERSHNERJUNE
Historically, Israel has maintained a quiet alliance with the Kurds of Iraq. Mr. Netanyahu described them as a “fighting people” who have proved their political moderation and who deserve independence.
He was less complimentary about the Palestinians, who aspire to an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza with a capital in East Jerusalem, lands conquered by Israel in the 1967 war.
In the past Mr. Netanyahu has spoken of the need for a long-term Israeli military presence along the Jordan River, which forms the border between the West Bank and the Kingdom of Jordan, to prevent infiltrations and weapons smuggling from the east that could threaten Israel.
The Palestinians have said they are ready for a phased Israeli withdrawal over five years, ending the occupation, and for a third-party NATO force or American troops to help secure the territories Israel evacuated.
Mr. Netanyahu now appears to be suggesting that Israel would insist on maintaining freedom of action in all of the West Bank, even after the formation of a Palestinian state, severely limiting Palestinian sovereignty. He said that it had been proved time and again that after the departure of Western forces, local troops trained by the West could not be relied on. He cited Gaza, where the Islamic militant group Hamas routed Western-backed Palestinian Authority forces after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in 2005, and Iraq after the exit of American forces.
The departure of Israeli forces from the West Bank, Mr. Netanyahu added, would “probably lead to collapse of the Palestinian Authority there and the takeover of radical Islamic forces, like in Gaza.”
Some Israeli analysts viewed Mr. Netanyahu’s remarks as a continuation of his customary hard line, but an Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the speech, said that the recent events in Iraq had also influenced the prime minister.
In his address, at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, Mr. Netanyahu stated that the turmoil in the Middle East also offered an opportunity for enhanced regional cooperation among moderate forces with shared interests. Israel, he said, would support international efforts to shore up Jordan, though he called it a stable country with a strong army that is able to defend itself. And for the first time he openly endorsed Kurdish aspirations for independence.
One Israeli security expert said that Mr. Netanyahu’s endorsement of Kurdish aspirations for independence might also have been meant to underscore what Israel sees as an international double standard when it comes to the strong world support for Palestinian statehood.
Underlining the growing volatility in the region, tit-for-tat attacks continued over the weekend across Israel’s border with Gaza. On Saturday night a rocket fired from Gaza struck a paint factory, setting it ablaze, in the Israeli border town of Sderot. Israel carried out a dozen retaliatory airstrikes against four “terror activity sites,” six concealed rocket launchers and two weapons manufacturing sites in Gaza, according to the Israeli military.
Two more rockets were fired into southern Israel on Sunday and were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. At the same time, according to the military, Palestinian gunmen in Gaza fired at Israeli forces near the border fence, causing no injuries. Soon after, the Israeli Air Force fired at what the military said was a squad preparing to launch more rockets. Palestinian health officials said a Palestinian man was killed.
Tensions along the Israel-Gaza border have risen sharply since three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in the West Bank more than two weeks ago. Israel has blamed Hamas for the abductions.