A Washington Post report published on Thursday saying Turkey blew the cover of
an Israeli-run spy ring in Iran threatens to destroy the veneer of reestablished
ties between Ankara and Jerusalem.
It also brings into question any
possible military alliance between the two countries against Syria or
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters that the
story, written by columnist David Ignatius, was “groundless and a very bad
example of black propaganda,” according to Turkish website Today’s
In Jerusalem, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Defense Ministry
refused to issue any public statements on the matter.
Minister Ze’ev Elkin declined to comment on the Washington Post report, but said
relations with Ankara were “very complex.”
“The Turks made a strategic
decision... to seek the leadership of our region, in the Middle East, and they
chose the convenient anti-Israeli card in order to build up leadership,” Elkin
told Israel Radio.
Former Mossad chief Danny Yatom said the intelligence
leak was harmful to both Israel and the United States and placed Turkey’s role
as a reliable ally for military matters in question.
“Who is going to
trust or cooperate with them?” Yatom asked. “This is something that is unheard
Turkey “breached all the rules of cooperation between intelligence
organizations today. Due to the nature of global terror, the cooperation between
friendly intelligence apparatuses is rising and sharing intelligence information
is not any longer something unusual,” Yatom said.
intelligence information with the Americans and the British and, until recently,
with the Turks, he said.
A senior official from Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party said such accusations were part of a deliberate
attempt to discredit Turkey and undermine its role in the region following the
election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
“Turkey is a regional power
and there are power centers which are uncomfortable with this... Stories like
these are part of a campaign,” the official said, asking not to be identified
because of the sensitivity of the subject.
“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,” the official
According to Ignatius, the intelligence alliance between
Israel and Turkey dates back to 1958, in which among other things the Mossad
provided training to the Turks.
The Mossad had run a spy network in Iran
through Turkey with the help of the Turkish intelligence service Milli
Istihbarat, he wrote.
Ignatius blamed Turkish intelligence chief Hakan
Fidan for the leak. His article came after an October 10 Wall Street Journal
report that also accused Fidan of passing sensitive information to
According to the Washington Post report, Erdogan’s government,
with the help of Fidan, gave Iranian intelligence the identities of up to 10
Iranians who had met inside Turkey with their Mossad case
Ankara’s decision to expose the alleged Mossad informants came
early last year as Turkish-Israeli relations continued to deteriorate following
the 2010 Mavi Marmara raid, Ignatius wrote.
He cited sources as saying
the Turkish action represented a “significant” intelligence loss for Jerusalem
and “an effort to slap the Israelis.”
Ignatius’s article, which brings
into question the actions of a Muslim country often seen as an ally to the West,
comes just after a meeting between world powers and Iran to explore a diplomatic
solution to Tehran’s nuclear program.
At one time Turkey was seen as a
strong ally of Israel. Security and business ties between the two countries were
close. Turkey acted as a mediator between Israel and Arab countries. But ties
soured after Israel’s offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in December 2008
and January 2009. Turkey severed diplomatic ties in May 2010, when Israel Navy
commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara protest ship headed for the Gaza Strip, were
attacked, and killed nine Turkish activists in the subsequent
Turkey demanded that Israel apologize and pay
Israel refused to do so, and Ignatius said that Turkey’s
disclosure of the spy ring hardened Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s resolve
on this matter.
But last March, during a visit by US President Barack
Obama to Israel, Netanyahu called Turkey and apologized. Israeli and Turkish
diplomatic teams met a number of times in an effort to resolve outstanding
issues but never came to a final resolution.
Still, the public pledges by
both governments provided a veneer of restored normality, with an understanding
that they might need to work together on issues and threats related to the civil
war in Syria.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington on Thursday she hoped Israel and Turkey would "continue to move towards normalizing relations. We continue to work with both sides, continue to press them to take steps"
She said that the US considers Turkey to be a close ally. "We work with them on a range of issues, including counterterrorism. We’re in close contact with a range of officials at all levels, including the Turkish intelligence chief."
Reuters contributed to this report.