Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A Turkish prosecutor’s dismissal of an investigation into an Iranian-linked terrorist group has prompted allegations from a former US counter-intelligence expert of a growing alliance between Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and Iran.
The Tawhid-Salam group is suspected of conducting illegal surveillance in Turkey.
“The investigation has been going on for several years and was dropped this summer. The secular media [in Turkey] went bonkers,” John R. Schindler, a former counterintelligence officer with the US National Security Agency, told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview.
Schindler first drew attention to the decision on his widely read blog The XX Committee last week.
The decision to pull the plug on the investigation had to have come “from the highest level of government.
It was a last chance to make the case public. There was secular pushback in a limited sense, but they lost the battle,” Schindler said.
The Iranian-linked group, which plotted attacks on Israel’s embassy in Georgia and its consulate in Istanbul, carries great influence within the ruling AK Party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to Schindler.
“Ali Fuat Yılmazer, former head of the Istanbul police’s intelligence unit, conducted an extensive investigation that revealed Tawhid-Salam had penetrated the Turkish government and the AKP at the highest levels, and was a tool of the Pasdaran. For this, he was thrown in jail on trumped-up charges,” he said.
Pasdaran is an informal name for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Schindler continued, “Tawhid-Salam, which also goes by the revealing name ‘Jerusalem Army,’ has long been believed to be a front for Iranian intelligence, particularly its most feared component, the elite Quds [“Jerusalem”] Force of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, which handles covert action abroad.”
The strong relationship between Iran’s regime and Turkey’s intelligence agency MIT triggered a rift in the sharing of intelligence between Israel and Turkey. Last October, The Washington Post’s David Ignatius wrote that Erdogan “disclosed to Iranian intelligence the identities of up to 10 Iranians who had been meeting inside Turkey with their Mossad case officers.”
The betrayal of Iranian dissidents by Erdogan’s office was widely viewed as the end of a long-standing intelligence relationship between Israel and Turkey.
“Tawhid-Salam goes back to the mid-1990s and has been blamed for several terrorist incidents, including the 2011 bombing of the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul, which wounded several people, as well as a thwarted bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia, in early 2012... It also is believed to be behind the murders of several anti-Tehran activists in Turkey in the 1990s,” Schindler said.
The former NSA official laid out detailed “mounting evidence” and reports showing the broad interplay between MIT and Iran’s intelligence apparatus. He cited an NSA stolen document by leaker Edward Snowden, which said “US intelligence reporting in recent years indicates possible Iranian connections with Dr.
Hakan Fidan, the head of the MIT/SIB. The possible impact of these connections to the US SIGINT [signals intelligence] relationship is unknown at this time.”
Schindler wrote, ”Israeli intelligence in particular, which once had a close relationship with MIT, has long regarded Fidan as Tehran’s man, and has curtailed its intelligence cooperation with Turkey commensurately, believing that all information shared with Fidan was going to Iran.”
The influence of Tawhid- Salam in the Turkish regime could have implications for Turkey’s membership in NATO. According to Schindler’s article, “Tawhid- Salam operatives have been observed surveilling an important NATO radar base in Turkey, a sensitive site that monitors possible Iranian missile launches, while other members of the group were witnessed conducting surveillance on the US Consulate in Istanbul, apparently in preparation for a possible terrorist attack. The group’s interest in nuclear research materials, discovered during a raid on a Tawhid-Salam safe house, caused notable alarm in certain circles.”