Ankara: Reports of betrayal of Israeli spy ring to Iran meant to discredit Turkey

Turkish officials say Washington Post report is an attempt to "spoil the moderate political atmosphere after Rouhani's election."

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
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 Iran.
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 Zaman.
In Jerusalem, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Defense Ministry refused to issue any public statements on the matter.
Deputy Foreign 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 of.”
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.
Israel shares 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 continued.
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 Tehran.
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 officers.
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 fight.
Turkey demanded that Israel apologize and pay reparations.
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.