Analysis: Turkey's unprecedented act of betrayal against Israel

If Turkey did blow cover of Israeli spy ring, it would violate unwritten code of conduct between allied intelligence agencies.

Erdogan and Netanyahu split screen 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Erdogan and Netanyahu split screen 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 operations.
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 soil.
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 communities.
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 imaginable.
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 apparatus.
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 consumption.
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 – enemies.
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 network.
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 Ankara.
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.