In a move apparently intended to harm Israel, the Turkish government in early 2012 blew the cover of several Iranian intelligence assets who had secretly been meeting with Mossad handlers in Turkey, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
According to “knowledgeable sources,” the “deliberate compromise” of Israel’s agents by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government constituted a “significant” loss of intelligence and can be interpreted as “an effort to slap the Israelis,” 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.
In Jerusalem Thursday, the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the report.
Ankara’s action might have been a factor in Israel’s staunch refusal, until March, to apologize to Turkey over the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident, in which clashes between pro-Palestinian activists and IDF troops aboard the Mavi Marmara ship resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish citizens. Only on March 22 this year, at the personal behest of US President Barack Obama, who was ending a visit to Israel, did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak by phone with Erdogan to apologize for “operational mistakes” and pledge to compensate the families of those killed. In turn, Erdoğan agreed to restore warm diplomatic ties with Israel.
But since then, Ankara has dragged its feet and not taken the hoped-for steps to normalize relations, leading former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, among others, to call Netanyahu’s move a grave error.
US officials are not certain whether Ankara’s deliberating compromising of Israel’s agents was an act of direct retaliation for the Mavi Marmara affair or part of the broader deterioration of ties, Ignatius wrote. He added that American intelligence officers assess the failure as a consequence of “misplaced trust” on the part of the Israelis. US officials “reasoned that the Mossad, after more than 50 years of cooperation with Turkey, never imagined the Turks would ‘shop’ Israeli agents to a hostile power, in the words of one source.”
The head of Turkey’s governmental intelligence agency, Hakan Fidan — a key Erdoğan confidant — is “suspect in Israel because of what are seen as friendly links with Tehran,” according to Ignatius. “Israeli intelligence officers are said to have described him facetiously to CIA officials as ‘the MOIS station chief in Ankara,’ a reference to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The United States continued to deal with Fidan on sensitive matters, however.”
Israeli and Turkish intelligence agencies had generally enjoyed close cooperation since the late 1950s.
Ignatius wrote that US officials did not protest to Turkey over the betrayal. “Instead, Turkish-American relations continued warming last year to the point that Erdogan was among Obama’s key confidants.”
He 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.”