Being a minority in the Middle East, the Kurds are often hesitant to express open support for the State of Israel, but deep under the radar they seem to be taking "baby steps" in bilateral relations, believes an Iraqi expert.

Surrounded by often hostile neighbours, some of whom don't recognise Israel as an independent state, Tel Aviv has always looked for partnerships in a region known for its instability.

Kurds, an ethnic group of up to estimated 35-40 million people dispersed between Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran have always been known for their warm attitude towards the Jewish state, despite them being Muslims residing in countries that have no diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv.

Ako Shwani, a professor of history at Sulaymaniyah University in northern Iraq, believes Kurdish support is understandable, given what he described as similarities between the two ethnic groups.

"Both -- Jews and the Kurds -- have faced the danger of obliteration and both had a dream of an independent state", Shwani opines.

And while Israel managed to turn that dream into reality in 1948, the Kurds never did.

In spite of being the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East, they have never had a state, whereas their strive for autonomy within Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey that has often led to clashes with various government forces.

Yet, according to the expert, "the common danger of obliteration" was far from being the only factor that united Israel and the Kurds. Other aspects included a series of "mutual rivals".

Since US President Donald Trump's decision last year to pull out of northern Syria, home to more than one and a half million Kurds, Kurdish tensions with Turkey have escalated. Ankara, which views Kurdish militias in Syria as terrorists with links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), banned by Turkey, launched an offensive on Kurdish forces positioned in the area, saying it was determined to curb the spread of terror emanating from their territories.

However, some experts speculated that the reason behind the operation was to make sure the Kurds didn't establish a territorial sequence on Turkish territories, thus paving a way for the establishment of an independent state.

Israel to the Rescue?

Israel, whose own relations with Ankara have long been bumpy, was watching these developments with great concern. 

Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not offer the Kurds any military assistance against Ankara, he did say Tel Aviv was ready to extend humanitarian assistance to the "gallant Kurds".

Shortly after the PM made his remarks, the then deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely confirmed Israel was assisting the Kurds of Syria "through a range of channels".

"The possible collapse of the Kurdish hold in northern Syria is a negative and dangerous scenario as far as Israel is concerned. It is absolutely clear that such an event would bring about a bolstering of negative elements in the area, headed by Iran", Hotovely said in a statement. 

Allegedly, Israel did not supply the Kurds with any military assistance but history shows that such deals, if they do take place, are mostly carried out well below the radar.

Such was the case in the 1960s when Israel started to channel large scale military aid to the Kurds via Iran, which was still controlled by the pro-Western Shah, to contain the threat posed by the then head of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. 

In 1965, Israel even established several training camps in the Kurdish mountains with the idea to train local soldiers, and in 1967 the leader of Iraqi Kurds Mulla Mustafa visited the Jewish state sealing an agreement with Tel Aviv who vowed to supply his military with $50,000 worth of military assitance annually.

That, however, was still not enough for the Kurds to openly express their support for the Jewish state and Shwani puts this down to the fear of the Kurds being portrayed as "traitors" who chose Israel over their Arab neighbours, the expert thinks.

"[The Kurdish elite] have always been trying to establish a friendly relationship with the Jewish state, especially given the fact that it was Israel that supported them in their fight against Daesh* as well as other terror groups of the region; and I am certain that there will be an array of opportunities to bolster these relations in the near future", he summed up.