In April 2012, Iran announced that it had uncovered a spy ring of 15 operatives
working at the behest of Israel.
Iranian authorities identified the
operatives as those responsible for the killings of nuclear scientists in recent
years. Tehran had long suspected the Mossad as the mastermind of these
In announcing the arrests, Iran touted the apprehension of
“Zionist spies” and the revelations regarding “Zionist” intelligence activity in
a neighboring country.
The announcement, which didn’t garner much
attention at the time, took on added importance Thursday, when The Washington
Post reported that Turkish intelligence had leaked the identities of 10 Iranian
spies working for Israel, who would meet with their Mossad handlers on Turkish
This information was revealed by the newspaper’s senior foreign
affairs analyst, David Ignatius, a journalist known to maintain extensive
contacts with both the American and the Israeli intelligence
If the report is accurate – and it is difficult to doubt the
credibility of Ignatius’s sources – then we are talking about an egregious, even
unprecedented, act. In fact, this is the basest act of betrayal
For over 50 years, Israel and Turkey were strategic allies.
At the heart of this relationship were the extremely close ties between Israel’s
Mossad and Military Intelligence with Turkey’s MIT and its military intelligence
These ties were established in 1958, and they were an integral
part of the “Trident” partnership that also included Iran’s intelligence
services during the reign of the shah.
Only recently did Israeli
intelligence chiefs permit archived, previously classified material about the
nature of this special relationship to be released for public
This strategic alliance is manifest in the biannual meetings
between the heads of Mossad and MIT and between intelligence analysts and
experts on both sides. The two countries’ relationship is characterized by
frequent exchanges of information about common enemies and adversaries in the
region, including Iraq, Syria and post-Islamic Iran.
Even during the most
tense periods in relations between the two countries, intelligence ties remained
intact, even if they did cool somewhat. While intelligence work is often
interest-driven and unsentimental by its nature, there are still unwritten rules
of conduct that govern relationships.
If it is indeed guilty of blowing
the cover off of the Israeli spy network, then Turkey blatantly violated these
codes. Despite the deteriorating ties triggered by the violent Mavi Marmara
incident in 2010, Israel and Turkey have never been – and are not today –
According to foreign media reports, Turkey has long been a base
of operations for Mossad agents operating against Iran. Nonetheless, it was only
recently reported that an Iranian-Belgian businessman who was arrested in Israel
on charges of being a spy for the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force had created
straw companies in Turkey to serve as a cover.
One may assume that
Turkish intelligence was monitoring both Israeli and Iranian espionage activity
taking place on its soil. Despite the caution and the efforts taken to maintain
total secrecy even from close allies, it is possible that Turkish intelligence
agencies discovered the Mossad apparatus and its ties with the Iranian
It was assumed that despite the bumpy road and tensions in
relations, interests would trump all other considerations, and smooth relations
between the intelligence agencies would continue. Earlier this year, there were
reports that Mossad chief Tamir Pardo met with MIT director Hakan Fidan in
According to Ignatius, Israeli officials wryly view Fidan as
“Iran’s station chief in Ankara.”
Though this statement was made with
tongue firmly planted in cheek, it was meant to convey the sense that Fidan is
perceived as very close to Iran.
If the Israeli spy network was indeed
unveiled, it was done so at the order of Fidan and with the full approval of
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His obsessive animus toward Israel and
anti-Semitic tendencies are known to all.
The writer is author of Spies
Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.