Did Iraq really start to rebuild the synagogues that were destroyed by ISIS?

In an exclusive interview with JerusalemOnline, Israeli Minister Without Portfolio Ayoob Kara claimed that Israel is now trying to reconstruct Iraq’s synagogues in coordination with the Iraqi government. However, Iraqi, Syrian and Iraqi Jewish sources claim that no synagogue has been reconstructed yet.
Desecrated synagogue in Iraq Photo Credit: Iraqi source

In an exclusive interview with JerusalemOnline, Israeli Minister Without Portfolio Ayoob Kara related that Israel has many connections in the Arab world. He noted that some of them have been revealed and some of them are hidden from public eye. According to him, among the Arab countries that Israel has secret relations with is “the Iraqi government and they are preserving what is left of the small Jewish community in the area.”

“I hope that we continue to help all members of the Jewish minority living in the Arab world,” Kara stated. “It is important to me. We are now trying to reconstruct the synagogues. Now, they (the Iraqis) are trying to reconstruct them (the synagogues) after many years that they destroyed every church and synagogue.” JerusalemOnline asked about the potential for improved Iraqi-Israeli relations given this development. Kara responded that he hopes Iraqi-Israeli relations will improve but he sees a greater potential for improved Saudi-Israeli relations than Iraqi-Israeli relations: “But if there is a move, they are another country against terrorism. Since the government views terrorists to be their enemy, they must cooperate with other parties who are also opposed to terrorism.”

JerusalemOnline contacted an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity regarding alleged Israeli-Iraqi efforts to rebuild the synagogues of Iraq: “Because of the sensitivity of the issue, Israeli government money flows over there through Jewish organizations. There are a couple of organizations that do a lot of stuff there. I can’t confirm nor deny what happens there. Maybe the money goes through back channels. They don’t leave a trail.” However, an Iraqi source and Aryeh Shemesh, a representative for the Babylonian Jewish community in Israel, related that the reconstruction of Iraq’s synagogues has not actually taken place on the ground.  

“It is a rumor,” Shemesh proclaimed. “It isn’t true. That is what the people told me.” The Iraqi source was even more adamant, emphasizing that the present Iraqi government is part of the problem rather than the solution for preserving what is left of Iraq’s Jewish heritage: “The Iraqi government is trying to destroy the synagogues and the Jewish heritage. The Iraqi government is entirely under the control of Iran.” Nevertheless, the Israeli official related that this does not mean that a secret process to preserve what is left of Iraq’s Jewish heritage that Israel perhaps coordinated with the Iraqi government has not started: “Maybe physically things have not been rebuilt yet. However, stuff could have happened behind the scenes and plans could have been submitted.”

According to a source in the Syrian Opposition, US President Donald Trump demanded that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi stay away from Iran and reduce the influence of the Iranian-backed Hashd Popular Mobilization Force. Former Israel Consul General Dr. Yitzchak Ben Gad emphasized that both Trump and the State of Israel seek to weaken Iranian influence in the Middle East: “Iran considers America the big Satan and Israel the little Satan. They want to wipe Israel off the map. By calling to destroy Israel, they are acting against the UN Charter.”

Since Israel considers Iran to be an enemy state, Ben Gad related that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pressured Russian President Vladimir Putin in their recent meeting to not let Iran be part of the solution for the Syrian crisis because Israel doesn’t want Iran in the Golan Heights: “From Iran through Iraq to Syria and Yemen, Iran wants this area under their influence. This affects us all.” According to Ben Gad, if Iran is part of the solution for Syria, Iran will also get to control the Golan Heights and they will use that area as a base to open up a new front against Israel.

Ben Gad related that Iranian activity in Syria also has implications for the greater Middle East region including for Iraq.  Just as Israel placed pressure on Russia regarding Iranian aggression in Syria, he noted that Trump has been increasing US pressure upon the Iraqi government for them to change their orientation due to similar fears regarding the widespread Iranian aggression in the Middle East region: “The Trump administration does not want Iraq to go with Iran for the US considers them to be an enemy.”  

“With increased Saudi and American influence in Iraq, there is a greater chance to remove Iranian influence from the country,” Ben Gad noted, emphasizing that the Trump administration has created new opportunities for Israel. “When the US influence will be stronger, Israeli-Iraqi relations will be better and they can not only rebuild the synagogues but do much more than that. Abadi wants to destroy ISIS and kick them out of Mosul. Maybe this is a chance to move Abadi out of the Iranian orbit but it will only happen under heavy Saudi and American pressure. It should be noted that the Americans are much richer than the Iranians and they are the only superpower. They can help the Iraqis much more than the Iranians can.”

However, the Syrian source stressed that it would be very difficult for Abadi to distance himself from Iran and to do what Trump is asking him to do: “Abadi is not a strong man who can establish relations with Israel and stay away from Iran. I don’t think that Abadi can do anything unless he gets an order from Iran. Nevertheless, it is not a problem for the Iraqi government to rebuild synagogues and churches that were destroyed by ISIS.” He claims that perhaps a discussion on rebuilding the synagogues could have taken place between Abadi and Trump in the framework of the Iraqis giving a good will gesture to the Americans but he believes the Iraqi source when he says no synagogue has actually been rebuilt yet.

Syrian Kurdish dissident Sherkoh Abbas emphasized that the Iraqi Army doesn’t really exist and is merely an extension of Iranian power. He believes that the present Iraqi government is part of the problem rather than the solution and this won’t change in the near future: “They give the Iraqis weapons, training and time and yet Iran outsmarts them. I call them ISIS on demand. They were created by Iran and Assad’s regime.  The Syrian Army and militias belonging to Iran change clothes and dress as ISIS. That is how you get them on your side and control them. That is how Iran has been operating. If you look at the majority of ISIS, they were started by Iran in order to say Assad is the only one who can keep Syria whole and to tell the minorities in both Iraq and Syria as well as the international community that they are the better alternative to ISIS. The US asked Iran to intervene in both Iraq and Syria. This is how the West was outsmarted.”

The Iraqi source concurred with Abbas and believes that Trump’s efforts are delusional: “Iraq has hundreds of kilometers that border Iran. This means that Iraq cannot get away from Iran. The Iraqi leadership all have Iranian passports. All of the ruling leaders have a home in Iran and a house in Iraq. Iran controls the Iraqi government, who is also dominated by Shias. All this means that the Iraqi government cannot move away from Iran. But, Iran is trying to deceive the international community in order to extend Iranian interference in Middle Eastern affairs.” The Iraqi source even proclaimed that the Iraqi Jewish community won’t accept support from the Iraqi government to rebuild the synagogues until they mend their ways: “The Iraqi government does not support the Jewish people. They must apologize for the Farhud massacre and compensate the victims. They must return the confiscated Jewish property to the Iraqi Jews. They must make their decisions in Baghdad, not in Tehran. Only then will Iraqi Jews accept the support of the Iraqi government to rebuild the synagogues and churches.”

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