Israelis in Iraq
Also tonight a Newsnight exclusive - we have obtained the first pictures of Kurdish soldiers being trained by Israelis in Northern Iraq. The sensitivities for the Kurdish authorities are serious, since their political enemies have long accused them of being in cahoots with Israel. The Kurdish authorities have previously denied allowing any Israelis into northern Iraq.
Since this operation is part of a private contract, it is not at all clear how far the Israeli Government - if at all - is involved in this operation. The Kurds have refused to comment, and Israel proffesses no knowledge, but says that the police is investigating to see if defense know-how / technology export laws were broken. They say an export license would be required for any such operation and that none had been issued.
Here is the report from Reuters:
Former Israel Defense Forces commandos secretly trained Kurdish soldiers in Northern Iraq to protect a new international airport and in counter-terrorism operations, the BBC reported on Tuesday.
The former trainer, whose name was not disclosed, said IDF soldiers trained Kurds to act as a security force for the new airport in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.
They also trained more than 100 Peshmerga or Kurdish fighters for "special assignments" that included how to use rifles and how to shoot militants in a crowd, he said.
The former soldier said he believed Kurdish officials knew the trainers were Israelis although the troops did not.
"My part of the contract was to train the Kurdish security people for a big airport project and for training, as well as the Peshmerga, and the actual soldiers, the army," the former IDF soldier told Newsnight.
"You know, day by day it's a bit tense because you know where you are and you know who you are. And there's always a chance that you'll get revealed," he added.
Iraqi newspapers have reported that Israeli soldiers have trained Kurdish troops but the Kurdish authorities deny allowing any Israelis into Iraq.
The Kurds' political enemies have long accused them of an alliance with Israel while Israel's critics suspect it wants to use the Kurdish region as a strategic base to get closer to its arch-enemy Iran.
Iraqi Kurdistan sits between Iran to the east and Turkey to the north-west. Both countries have significant Kurd minorities and are worried about a Kurdish state emerging in northern Iraq.
Newsnight also reported that an Israeli security firm called Interop and two Swiss-registered subsidiaries, Kudo and Colosium, were among the main contractors at Irbil airport, providing security fencing and communications equipment.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev told Newsnight Israel had not authorized any firms to do defense work in Iraq. Firms would be prosecuted if police found they had broken export laws, he said.
Khaled Salih, a spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government, dismissed the former IDF soldier's claims.
"These are not new allegations for us. Back in the Sixties and Seventies we were called 'the second Israel' in the region and we were supposed to be eliminated by Islamist nationalist and now Islamist groups," he told Newsnight.
The former IDF soldier said he trained Kurds in "anti-terror lessons ... how to shoot first, how to identify a terrorist in a crowd. That's clearly special assignments.