Turkey pointed to Israel late Friday as being behind a “media campaign” against Ankara, following a Washington Post report Thursday that the Turkish government in early 2012 deliberately blew the cover of several Iranian intelligence assets who had secretly been meeting with Mossad handlers in Turkey.
“We see this media campaign as an attack and there might be an Israeli effort behind it,” the Turkish Daily Hurriyet quoted an unnamed Turkish intelligence source as saying. “Especially after the Washington Post story on Oct. 17 and the follow-ups with Jerusalem bylines,” the source added.
According to the Hurriyet article, “sources in Ankara believe that besides trying to defame Turkey in US eyes as a country tolerating terrorists like Iran – and because of its ‘independent tack’ on Syria, amid an effort to try and corner it in a possible move in the US Congress — Israel might have had another motivation. That might be, according to those sources who asked not to be named, an attempt to avoid paying compensation for the nine Turks killed by Israeli commandoes [sic] on May 31, 2010, on board the Mavi Marmara on its way to carry humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.”
Israel and Turkish negotiation teams have been working over the past few months to reach an agreement over compensation to families of those who died in the Gaza flotilla incident. In March, Israel-Turkish relations began to thaw following a President Barack Obama-brokered call by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan to deliver a formal apology for operational errors made in the raid and promising compensation.
The Hurriyet article noted Israeli and US uneasiness with the head of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization, Hakan Fidan, for his “friendly links with Tehran,” as cited in the Washington Post report, and claimed such reports were aimed at “targeting” Fidan.
Hurriyet cited the unnamed Turkish intelligence official as saying “the campaign coincided with approaching Syria talks in Geneva” — which are slated for late November — “and a dramatic change in Iran’s relations with the West under its new president, Hassan Rouhani.”
On Thursday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu dismissed the Washington Post allegations, claiming these were part of an orchestrated campaign to discredit Turkey.
There have been “various campaigns, both on [an] international and national level,” aimed at the policies of senior government officials, including Erdogan and the head of the Turkish intelligence Hakan Fidan, Today’s Zaman reported Davutoglu as saying.
“There has been a campaign… to discredit our 10-year experience,” Davutoglu said, referring to the decade that Erdogan has been in power. “They wanted to see [the] old Turkey returning back.”
An official from Turkey’s ruling AK Party told Reuters, meanwhile, that the accusation that Ankara deliberately exposed Israeli agents was part of a “deliberate attempt” to undermine Turkey’s growing role in the region, especially in light of the June election of Rouhani to the Iranian presidency.
“Turkey is a regional power, and there are power centers which are uncomfortable with this,” the official told the news agency. “It’s clear the aim of some is to spoil the moderate political atmosphere after Rouhani’s election … and to neutralize Turkey, which contributes to solving problems in the region and which has a relationship with Iran.”
According to the Washington Post article, quoting “knowledgeable sources,” the “deliberate compromise” of Israel’s agents by Erdoğan’s government constituted a “significant” loss of intelligence and can be interpreted as “an effort to slap the Israelis,” for the 2010 Mavi Marmara affair, in which clashes between pro-Palestinian activists and IDF troops aboard the Gaza-bound ship resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish citizens, the Post reported.
Ankara disclosed to Tehran’s intelligence organization the identities of “up to 10 Iranians who had been meeting inside Turkey with their Mossad case officers,” the paper’s senior columnist David Ignatius wrote.
Ignatius explained that Ankara knew of the ring of agents in Iran because the Mossad apparently ran “part of its Iranian spy network through Turkey, which has relatively easy movement back and forth across its border with Iran.” Turkish intelligence “conducts aggressive surveillance inside its borders, so it had the resources to monitor Israeli-Iranian covert meetings.”
In Jerusalem Thursday, the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the report. But former Mossad chief Danny Yatom said that, if the report was true, the incident breached “all the rules... concerning cooperation between intelligence organizations that reveal sensitive information to one another and trust one another not to use that information to harm whoever gave it to them.” No Western intelligence agency would be able to cooperate with Turkey from now on, he added.