By now, the story of the disappearance of Russian-Israeli researcher Elizabeth Tsurkov in Iraq is internationally known. It has been thought that the most likely suspect behind the disappearance is an armed faction linked to Iran. For a while, discussions of her fate were speculative, but it is now clear that she is alive in exclusive 'confessions' in a clip broadcast by al-Rabi'a TV, which is run by the Iraqi journalist Ghazwan Jasim.
In general, Jasim has good relations with the Iraqi Shi'a factions that are closer to Iran, though he is not an obvious frontman for a single group (in contrast to how, for instance, al-Ahed TV belongs to Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, or al-Etejah TV belongs to Kata'ib Hezbollah). Jasim has faced harassment from Sadrists for being a supposed trumpet for the Sadrists' Shi'a rivals. When he and his channel were subject to harassment, Kata'ib Hezbollah endorsed his channel as a supposed example of free and professional press. Before setting up al-Rab'ia TV, Jasim once secured an exclusive interview with Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis (the deputy head of Iraq's 'Popular Mobilization Forces' who was close to Iran and killed in the American assassination of Qasim Soleimani in 2020).
Thus, with the exclusive given to al-Rabi'a TV, it becomes more difficult to say which precise group is holding Tsurkov. While accusations have been made that Kata'ib Hezbollah abducted her, giving the exclusive to al-Etejah TV would have made the group's responsibility obvious. All that can be said is that the matter is clearly out of the hands of the Iraqi government (which would certainly have broadcast a confession on state TV if its regular security apparatuses had arrested her), and that some group with links to Iran is probably holding her. I also do not buy the idea, touted by some observers, that Tsurkov has been taken to Iran.
In the clip of her 'confessions,' Tsurkov makes reference to the ongoing Israel-Gaza War. Clearly then, whoever is holding her has decided that now is the time to make clear that she is alive in the hope of using her captivity as a leverage tool against Israel. Significantly, the 'confessions' are done with Tsurkov speaking in Hebrew. I translate her 'confessions'. The translation is of the Arabic subtitles and not the original Hebrew, though it seems the Arabic subtitles do not always reflect fully and accurately what Tsurkov is saying (by which I mean there are a couple of instances of omission and condensation in the Arabic translation, and some minor mistakes):
My name is Elizabeth Tsurkov. I am an Israeli citizen. I am 37 years old. I left Israel and went to the U.S. I worked for the interest of the Mossad and the CIA. I worked in Syria in order to establish relations between Israel and the Syrian Democratic Forces in the northeast of the country, which I visited in 2022, in my capacity as an agent of the Mossad and the CIA. I worked in Iraq on the issue of the disagreements, strengthening the disagreements, through coordinating demonstrations in Iraq, that is the Tishrin demonstrations.* We worked on strengthening the disagreements so that a Shi'i- Shi'i battle would take place inside Iraq.
I am closely following the events in Gaza. I follow the events in Gaza daily, with the killing of children, women and men, and the bombing of the hospitals. This policy is leading to hatred between us and the Palestinian people in Gaza, and is not leading to peace with Gaza. This is a stupid policy on the part of the Netanyahu government, which will lead to a catastrophe and continuation of the war. I ask the families of the hostages present in Gaza to constantly make efforts to stop the war on Gaza, for the sake of your sons and daughters. This war that is being stupidly run by Netanyahu via his wife Sara and his son Yair will lead to the killing of them. If you want your sons and daughters to return alive, the war must stop.
I arrived in Iraq to serve the Mossad and the CIA. Currently I have been imprisoned for around 7 months. I served the state of Israel. I do not believe that anything has happened, there is no effort to secure my release. It is important for the Israeli people to know that it is the Israeli government [that is responsible]. I am in a difficult spot.
To my family, to my mother and father, Rina, Arkady, Emma, Avital, David, my friends, I call on them to work to secure my release as soon as possible so I can return to them.
*NB: Tishrin demonstrations: referring to the protest movement that first arose in Iraq in October 2019.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is an Arabic translator and editor at Castlereagh Associates, a Middle East-focused consultancy, and a Ginsburg/Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum. He runs an independent newsletter at aymennaltamimi.substack.com.