IT’S A routine procedure. Whenever intelligence operatives travel on a secret mission from their home country to a target country, they use a third country as a transit station to create a buffer and lower the risk of being shadowed and detected.For some 20 years, Turkey served as a useful and welcoming conduit for Mossad’s case officers and its special operation combatants on regional missions – whether in Iran, Syria, Iraq or the Gulf states. Special covert agreements and understandings were signed and reached in the early 1990s between the Mossad and its Turkish counterpart, Milli İstihbarat Teşkilat (MIT)¸ Turkish for National Intelligence Organization. MIT combines under one roof both the country’s domestic security service, similar to the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and its foreign espionage agency.These agreements enabled Mossad officials to enter and leave Turkey without going through border procedures.
They avoided normal passport checks, immigration regulations and customs inspectors. The Mossad men and women could slip invisibly in and out of Turkish territory with their spy equipment, such as bugging equipment, communication gear or even lethal gadgets. The agreements between the Mossad and MIT were struck in the 1990s, before Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current Turkish Prime Minister, was elected.Yani Safak, a Turkish newspaper close to the Islamist Party led by Erdogan, ran an intriguing report in October about the increasingly bitter relationship between the Mossad and Turkey’s powerful chief of MIT, Hakan Fidan. According to the newspaper, Fidan took steps to cancel the special arrangements between the two organizations.The report appeared just days after The Washington Post’s senior commentator, David Ignatius, threw another Israeli-Turkish bombshell. According to The Washington Post, Turkish intelligence leaked last year to Iran the identities of 10 Iranian spies working for Israel who would meet with their Mossad handlers on Turkish soil. If the Ignatius story is accurate – Israel did not comment and Turkey officially denied it – then we are talking about an egregious, even unprecedented, act. In fact, this is the basest act of betrayal imaginable.Danny Yatom, a former head of Mossad tells The Jerusalem Report that “knowing the Turks and knowing Ignatius, I tend to believe him and not any Turkish denials.”Yatom adds, “It was a despicable act by the Turks – something unheard of. I don’t remember, during the many, many years I served in the IDF and in the intelligence establishment and as a close advisor to three prime ministers… I don’t recall an instance when information was used in this way by so-called friendly intelligence services.”What makes Tureky's treachery even more horrifying is the fact that according to Yatom, “the Turks probably had this information [the name of the Iranian agents] from the Mossad itself. Because the usual modus operandi – when there are meetings between handlers and their agents, for example Israel operating on Turkish soil – then the Turkish MIT would be informed in order to avoid any misunderstandings. This would be to avoid any Turkish claim that Israel was breaching the laws of Turkey.“If this is true, then the fact that those 10 spies were burned deliberately by informing the Iranians is not only a despicable act – this is an act that brings the Turkish intelligence organization to a position where I assume no one will trust it. Not only did they get the information from Israel… they breached all the rules of cooperation between intelligence organizations.”For nearly 55 years, Israel and Turkey were strategic allies. At the heart of this relationship were the extremely close ties between Israel’s intelligence agencies – the Mossad, Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet – and their Turkish counterparts. These secret ties were established in a meeting in September 1958, and they were an integral part of Trident, the tripartite partnership that also included Iran’s intelligence services (Savak) during the reign of the Shah.Only recently have the Israeli intelligence authorities permitted the release of classified material about the nature of this special relationship.In that first meeting, the three delegations mapped the threats directed against their respective countries and decided to jointly combat the spread of Soviet communism and Egyptian president Abdul Nasser’s Pan Arabism. They decided also to enhance economic and psychological (propaganda) warfare against the common enemies and divided the work among themselves.THE TURKISH intelligence service was allocated Libya, Tunisia, Syria and Lebanon. Israeli intelligence was tasked (together with Ethiopian intelligence) to deal with Sudan, other African nations and Yemen, while Iranian intelligence was designated to monitor the Gulf States. All three parties were jointly responsible for Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.All intelligence gathered from individual and joint operations was shared by the three partners and the three shared information and technological innovations. Thus, Mossad case officers and operatives benefited from Turkish or Iranian documentation in their incursions into Arab countries.In February 1979, after the Shah of Iran was toppled by the Islamic Revolution, the Iranian intelligence service abandoned Trident. But the Turkish-Israeli strategic alliance continued. It manifested itself in various ways, including biannual meetings between the heads of Mossad and MIT, and between intelligence analysts and experts on both sides. The two countries’ relationship was characterized by frequent exchanges of information about common enemies and adversaries in the region, including Iraq, Syria and post-Islamic Iran.According to foreign media reports, Turkey has long been a base for Mossad agents operating against Iran. In September, the Israeli security service exposed an Iranian-Belgian businessman who had been arrested in Israel on charges of being a spy for the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force.It turned out that he had created straw companies in Turkey to serve as a cover.While intelligence work is often interest driven and unsentimental by its nature, there are still unwritten rules of conduct that govern relationships. If MIT is guilty of blowing the cover of the Israeli spy network, then Turkey blatantly violated these codes.Despite the deteriorating ties triggered by the violent Mavi Marmara episode in 2010, Israel and Turkey have never been – and are not today – enemies.Since the Mavi Marmara incident in which nine Turkish nationals were killed in a raid by Israeli naval commandos, it was assumed that despite the bumpy relationship, common interest should have trumped all other considerations, and smooth relations between the intelligence agencies should have continued. For example, Israel and Turkey should have been bound by their common interest to topple Basher Assad’s regime in Syria.In March, US President Barack Obama visited Israel. He urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pick up the phone and call Erdogan. Netanyahu reluctantly agreed. In the presence of Obama, Netanyahu offered Israel’s apology for the Marmara incident and compensation for the victims’ families. The Israeli gesture did not change Erdogan’s mind – and left Netanyahu angry.Yet in what seemed as a last-ditch effort, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo rushed in June to Ankara and met with Fidan. He tried to reverse Fidan’s decision to scrub the special agreements with Israel, but his efforts were in vain.Yatom and other intelligence experts have no doubt that two people are behind the decision to betray the Israeli agents and halt cooperation with the Mossad – Fidan and his boss, the prime minister.Hakan Fidan, 45, studied at the University of Maryland and completed his doctorate in Ankara. His dissertation was a comparative analysis of the structure of US, British and Turkish intelligence organizations. After his military service, as a non-commissioned officer, Fidan served in the Turkish Embassy in Australia, and later moved to the Prime Minister’s Office, which sent him in 2009 to represent Ankara at the International Atomic Energy Agency, where he defended Iran’s right to carry on with its nuclear program for “peaceful purposes.”While serving in the Prime Minister’s Office, he caught the attention of Erdogan, and soon the two were inseparable. “Erdogan depends on Fidan’s shrewd judgment and treats him almost as his lost son,” a senior Israeli intelligence official, who has followed the events in Turkey, relates to The Report.In 2010, Erdogan appointed Fidan as head of MIT, as part of his campaign to “purify” the country’s institutions from the influence of the military and to install his own loyalists so as to enhance his grip on power.When Fidan took over MIT, Israeli officials immediately expressed their concern. The most outspoken was thendefense minister Ehud Barak, who in a private conversation that was leaked to the press described Fidan as “very close to the Iranians” and expressed his suspicion that Fidan “had transferred sensitive information to Iran.” According to Ignatius, Israeli officials wryly view Fidan as “Iran’s station chief in Ankara.”Some Israeli commentators argue that Erdogan’s obsessive animosity toward Israel and his anti-Semitic tendencies, which have occasionally surfaced, are the reasons for the dismantlement of the strategic alliance between the countries’ intelligence services. But that is a toosimplistic explanation. Relations with Israel are being abandoned and sacrificed on a deeper and wider altar.As the Wall Street Journal put it in a recent article, Fidan “has emerged as a key architect of a Turkish regional-security strategy” that is distancing itself from Israel and American interests. Fidan and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (also a close ally of Erdogan) have been paving and navigating the road for Erdogan’s dream of metamorphosing into a modern-day Ottoman sultan and champion of the Sunnis in the Middle East.Israel does not figure in Erdogan’s imperial designs. As far as the Turkish leader is concerned, Israel has turned from an asset into a liability.