Ex-spy boss rails against Turkey’s reported betrayal of Mossad spy ring in Iran

Danny Yatom, former Mossad head, intimates Tehran may have executed Iranian assets whose cover was blown by Ankara

Ex-Mossad chief Danny Yatom (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi /Flash90)
Ex-Mossad chief Danny Yatom (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi /Flash90)

While Israel issued no official response to a Washington Post report Thursday that claimed Turkey had deliberately exposed a network of up to 10 Iranians working for the Mossad, a former Israeli spy chief fumed that, if accurate, the incident constituted a grave betrayal by Turkey of years of unwritten understandings between the two intelligence communities.

Such a betrayal by the Turkish intelligence community would be “something that’s absolutely not done,” Danny Yatom told Israel Radio. “It’s against all the rules which have existed for many years, the unwritten 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.”

According to “knowledgeable sources” cited by the Washington Post Thursday, the “deliberate compromise” of Israel’s agents by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government in early 2012 constituted a “significant” loss of intelligence and can be interpreted as “an effort to slap the Israelis.”

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.

Yatom, who headed the Mossad from 1999 to 2001, told The Times of Israel over the phone that if indeed the report was true, Iran may have executed the agents for their collaboration with Israel.

The former Israeli spy chief’s assertion could not be independently confirmed, but Iranian state media in April 2012 reported the arrest of 15 Israeli agents in Iran and the discovery of an Israeli spy based in an unnamed neighboring country. Yatom said he had no knowledge of the report in question.

Yatom said later Thursday that if the report of the incident was accurate, it required urgent consultations between Israel and the US. Among other factors to clarify, Yatom said, was the fact that “there could henceforth be no further cooperation by any Western intelligence agency” with Turkey, “for fear that [Turkey] could pull the same dirty trick again.”

A few months after the May 2010 Mavi Marmara incident that sparked the deterioration of Israel-Turkey ties, then-defense minister Ehud Barak expressed concern that Ankara might divulge Israeli intelligence secrets to Tehran.

“There are quite a few secrets of ours [entrusted to Turkey] and the thought that they could become open to the Iranians over the next several months… is quite disturbing,” Army Radio quoted Barak saying in August 2010.

Erdogan’s adviser, Mustafa Varank, reacted to the report Thursday via Twitter by calling the Washington Post column “psychological warfare,” Turkish Hurriyet Daily News reported. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office refused to comment on Ignatius’s report.

Yatom also told Israel Radio that if the report was accurate Turkey “may well have endangered [Israeli] Mossad personnel as well.”

Yatom named the head of Turkey’s Milli Istihbarat Teskilati (MIT) intelligence service, Hakan Fidan, as central to what he called the ongoing deterioration of close ties between Israeli and Turkish intelligence. He said that Hakan Fidan was “very pro-Iranian,” and that he would not imagine relations between Israeli and Turkish intelligence improving so long as Hakan Fidan remained in his position.

According to the Washington Post report, Israeli officials suspected Fidan due to his friendly ties with Iran. The paper noted that the MIT’s “aggressive surveillance inside its borders” would have enabled it to gather information on Israel’s dealings with Iranian assets in Turkey.

Yatom said the Mossad would now presumably be trying to evaluate and understand the damage done and to prevent further damage — this, he stressed, assuming that the report was true.

Israeli officials by and large declined commenting on the report of Iranian assets blown by Turkey. Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin told Israel Radio that relations with Turkey were “very complex” and that Ankara chose “to seek the leadership of our region, the Middle East, and they chose the convenient anti-Israeli card in order to build up leadership.”

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