[This analysis was written for the Israeli newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, by Yossi Melman, co-author of a history of Israeli security and espionage agencies, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.]
Turkey is the victim of a boomerang effect. The most recent terrorist attack – when a gunman opened fire on party-goers, killing 39 including an Israeli woman at an Istanbul night club Sunday morning – is just one more manifestation of the terrorism plaguing the nation.
The attack was most likely carried out by a member of Islamic State, or an avid supporter of the radical terrorist group. The gunman, armed with an automatic weapon, disappeared from the scene after the massacre and is now being hunted by the authorities.
This attack further proves that unfortunately, despite the alerts, warnings, careful surveillance and the extra security measures taken by the Turkish security services and police, it is almost impossible to stop a determined murderer unless there is precise early warning and accurate intelligence about his intentions.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is paying a heavy price for his manipulative and short-sighted policies.
Driven by its hatred of the Syrian regime when the civil war broke out nearly six years ago, it’s becoming evident that Erdogan either secretly collaborated with Islamic State, or at least turned a blind eye to its actions.
Prime Minister Erdogan
For him as well as for his regime, Islamic State was utilized as a tool to defeat Bashar Assad and stir chaos in Syria, which has a strong Kurdish minority sympathizing with Turkish-Kurds.
Erdogan was also motivated in punishing Assad personally, who in the past gave shelter to members of the PKK, the organization – listed as a terrorist group by NATO and the EU – which aims to establish Kurdish independence.
The Turkish government and its security services allowed individuals from across the world to use Turkey as a stopover on their way to crossing the border into Syria, where they later joined Islamic State.
Turkey has supplied weapons to Islamic State and purchased oil from them, thus providing the murderous group with the funds they needed in order to consolidate their horrific “state” in Iraq and Syria.
Some 18 months ago, Erdogan changed his policy. There are several reasons for this: After initially coming under pressure from the US, he then weighed the effect of Russian forces deploying in Syria. Then, the EU handed over billions to his administration under the condition that he stop allowing Syrian war refugees – among them hundreds of would-be terrorists – to enter Europe.
At that point, Islamic State added Turkey to its black list.
Since June 2015, Turkey has been the focus for terrorist attacks from both Sunni extremists and the PKK.
While the Kurdish fighters largely attempt to target the Turkish army, police and security forces, as they did a few weeks ago near Besiktas Stadium in Istanbul after a soccer game, Islamic State works indiscriminately, aiming to maim and murder as many civilians as possible.
In the last year and a half, more than 400 Turks and foreigners have been killed in various terrorist attacks. The biggest single incident took place in October 2015, in the Turkish capital of Ankara, where 100 people were killed by two suicide bombers. In fact, it was the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of Turkey. No group claimed responsibility, however, Turkish authorities suspect it was the work of Islamic State.
The group is also responsible for the terrorist attacks in the southeastern city of Gaziantep, near the border with Syria, where 50 people who attended a wedding ceremony were killed in August 2016.
Istanbul was also the target of a few attacks by Islamic State terrorists, including the attack at Ataturk International Airport in June, which resulted in the death of 44 people, and the March 2016 attack in which terrorists killed three Israeli tourists.
On the eve of the World War I in 1914, the Turkish Ottoman Empire was known as “the Sick Man of Europe.” Nowadays, modern Turkey has become the soft spot for terrorist attacks at the Asian-European crossroads.
January 2, 2017
[This analysis by Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the new history of Israeli intelligence, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, first appeared at MiddleEastEye.net.]
The failed coup in Turkey — exactly one month ago — and subsequent events are having a strong effect on Israeli-Turkish relations. At this point, there is a complete freeze on the reconciliation process between the two countries.
Prime Minister Erdogan
The Turkish government is now focused on tightening its grip on society by persecuting and purging the military, intelligence and practically all other security and civilian structures of the state from its real or imaginary enemies.
Externally, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is preoccupied in stepping up Turkey’s war against the Kurds and mending his relations with Russia’s Putin. His limited span of attention is excluding Israel.
“Nothing is happening on our front, for good and bad,” I was told by a senior source in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“At least we aren’t any longer bashed by Erdogan as he used to do. And unlike the accusation levelled by the Turkish-controlled media against the US and the EU, Israel isn’t accused of any plots and involvement in the revolt.”
According to the source, “The relations are on hold and the agreement is not implemented; but on the other hand, we keep getting messages from Ankara that nothing has changed and that they are committed to the agreement.”
The Turkish parliament is set to vote on the deal before it goes into summer recess later this month, the country’s foreign minister said on Thursday – but what happens next is anyone’s best guess.
More than six years after the relations between the two countries deteriorated as a result of the tragic incidents of the Mavi Marmara, representatives of the two governments signed a reconciliation agreement at the end of June 2016 in a Rome hotel.
The Mavi Marmara was a Turkish boat which carried Turkish and international “peace” activists who wanted to break the Israeli siege and reach Gaza. The ship was purchased in 2010 by IHH, a Turkish NGO active as a charity organization in more than 115 countries.
But Israeli intelligence sources claimed that IHH smuggled weapons on behalf of terrorist groups and had links to al-Qaeda. In 2010, the US State Department expressed great concern over the group’s links with senior Hamas officials.
In May 2010, while sailing on international waters enroute to Gaza, the boat was stopped by the Israeli navy.
For Israel, most of the passengers were terrorists or at least agents of provocation who were equipped with clubs, chains, and bats and came to cause trouble, not humanitarians. A clash broke out, resulting in the death of nine Turkish citizens and the humiliation of one of Israel’s top commando units – Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13).
The reconciliation agreement contains diplomatic, economic and security-related topics. The most annoying clause from the Israeli side is the readiness is to pay $20 million to the Turkish families of the victims.
Here is some perspective: Israel reluctantly paid less to the victims’ families of the USS Liberty, a spy ship of the US’s National Security Agency which sailed near the Sinai Peninsula coastline during the 1967 war. The Israeli Air Force mistook the Liberty for an enemy ship, attacked it and killed 34 crewmen. (Relatives of the slain Americans and many Navy and NSA veterans believe that Israel did it intentionally.)
All in all, in 2016, it was Turkey that needed the agreement — much more than did Israel.
Erdogan’s foreign and security policies have failed completely since the bloody civil war in Syria began more than five years ago. He announced that his policy would revolve around “zero” troubles with his neighbors. Exactly the opposite has occurred: Turkey has found itself in disputes with the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and with Russia, Iran, the Islamic State and Kurds at home and in Syria.
What Israel Got
Thus, the new deal contains some positive elements and advantages for Israel.
Turkey bent to Israeli pressure and agreed to shut down an office established by Izz A-Din Qassam, the military wing of Hamas. From this office in Istanbul, as Israeli intelligence officials would later disclose in a briefing, Hamas operatives had issued orders, sent money and ran terror operatives in the occupied West Bank against Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
In 2015, the Israel Security Agency (ISA also known as Shin Bet) foiled a few attempts of these kinds, the largest almost a year ago, when dozens of Hamas members were arrested and caches of weapons found.
The orders were given personally by Salah al-Aruri, the Turkey-based Hamas commander who benefited from the personal protection of Hakan Fidan, the chief of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MIT).
To the agony of Fidan, Erdogan gave orders to expel Aruri already a few months ago. Fidan doesn’t like Israel. Over the past six years, he tried to avoid meeting his Mossad counterparts. He seldom met Tamir Pardo, the former director of Mossad, and his successor, Yossi Cohen, and reduced the links between the two agencies to the minimum.
Mossad suspected that Fidan was pro-Iranian, and American intelligence sources accused him of informing Iran about an Israeli espionage ring operating on Iranian soil. As a result, Iran’s authorities made arrests inside their country.
Another important success for the Israeli government is the fact that the siege of Gaza has not been lifted. Unlike Erdogan’s claims and boasts, Turkish humanitarian aid to Gaza will be sent via the Israeli port of Ashdod.
There it will be inspected, making sure that indeed it is only humanitarian in nature – food, medications, toys – and transported by Israeli trucks like all supplies to Gaza. One such shipment was sent by Turkey after the Rome agreement and days before the military rebellion.
There are also other security benefits for Israel which have been ignored or barely reported. The Turkish parliament, for example, will pass laws that prohibit the suing of Israeli officers and officials involved in the Marmara incident in Turkish courts. In recent years, a few Turkish courts issued warrants against senior Israeli officers.
Turkey has also promised not to oppose the inclusion of Israel in NATO events and in other international forums.
The History of the Covert Connections
The special security and intelligence ties between the two countries began in the second half of the 1950s. Encouraged by the US and the UK, the intelligence communities of Israel (Mossad), Iran (Savak) and Turkey (MIT) established a tripartite consultative body known as the Trident alliance.
The intelligence chiefs of the three services met annually and exchanged information on common enemies – Egypt, Syria and Iraq. The relations reached their peak in the 1950s, with Iran’s involvement ending after the country’s 1979 revolution. Israeli-Turkish intelligence sharing continued through the first decade of the 21st century, peaking around 2005 and ending when Erdogan walked away.
Turkey became an important market worth several billion dollars for Israeli military and security goods. Israeli security corporations sold drones, intelligence equipment and upgraded fighter planes and tanks for the Turkish army.
Turkey also fed Israel with information which it had obtained about Syria, Iraq and, to a degree, Iran from its spies and listening posts built by the US. In return, Turkey asked for and got information obtained by Israeli intelligence on Kurdish organisations — especially the PKK.
Mossad officials met regularly with their MIT colleagues either in Ankara or Istanbul or in Tel Aviv. During some of these sessions, senior MIT officials in charge of monitoring the PKK even felt at ease and close enough to ask their Israeli counterparts if they would be willing to help them to assassinate Kurdish terrorists. The Israelis listened politely, usually didn’t comment and ignored the requests.
It all ended when then Turkish prime minister, now president, Erdogan changed the course of Turkish foreign policy and orientation.
It is clear to Israeli security officials that when the new agreement is implemented, the golden era of close, even intimate military and intelligence cooperation between Israel and Turkey, will not return.
August 15, 2016
[This analysis by Yossi Melman is based on an article he wrote for The Jerusalem Post on July 16, 2016, after it became clear that the attempted coup by elements of Turkey’s army failed — and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who recently restored normal relations with Israel after several frosty years, has survived. Melman is co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and of the current history of Israeli intelligence and security, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.]
The great irony in the coup attempt that failed in Turkey was obvious. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tried for years to stifle the operating freedom of social networks and has accused them of being dark forces attempting to undermine his rule. It was these same social media networks which helped him to put down the coup.
Erdogan broadcast from his smartphone — using Apple’s FaceTime — a statement to the people. He tweeted to his supporters and relied on the media, even those whom he deathly hates, to spread his message in the critical first hours of the coup attempt when uncertainty gripped the country.
In this respect, the attempt was reminiscent of the failed coup by the national guard and the Greek military junta in 1974 against the rule of Cyprus President Archbishop Makarios III. Makarios succeeded in sending out a weak radio signal saying that he was alive. Voice of Israel radio monitor Miki Gordus received the signal and broadcast the message to the whole world. As a result of that failed coup, the Turkish army invaded and partitioned Cyprus into two parts.
In the case of Turkey, it seems that those involved – apparently relatively low-ranked officers – would not have succeeded in their operation even if Erdogan would not have been able to deliver his broadcast.
The rebellion initially appeared to be going by the book. The rebels gained control of the bridges over the Bosphorous Strait in Istanbul, which connect Europe and Asia, as well as major junctions. Pilots involved in the plot bombed the parliament building in Ankara, the MIT intelligence agency’s headquarters and some military strongpoints, including tanks near the presidential palace.
They even took control of the state-run TV station, TRT, and forced a remarkably poised female newscaster to read their statement that they had taken over the government to preserve democracy, to remove Erdogan, to suppress terrorism, and to change the Constitution.
However, it appears that the number of soldiers in their command – apparently a few thousand – was insufficient to complete the job.
How Pres. Erdogan Called on People to Defy the Coup
In Turkey’s previous four military coups since 1960, tens of thousands of soldiers took part, if not the entire army. This time, the rebels kidnapped the chief of staff and a number of other senior commanders, who have since been freed, but most importantly they failed to capture Erdogan, who was vacationing at a Marble Lake resort. Capturing the Turkish leader was probably the first thing they should have done.
Erdogan succeeded in broadcasting his remarks to the people, calling on his supporters to take to the streets, and they answered his call. They blocked the rebel soldiers’ path and together with the police, which remained loyal to Erdogan, fought them and took many of them prisoner.
The masses taking to the streets was reminiscent of the attempted coup by a group of Soviet officials in August 1991 against President Michael Gorbachev — in the hopes of preventing the fall of Communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. That rebellion was put down because of the leadership of Boris Yeltsin, who was then the head of the Russian Federation of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was dismantled in the wake of the coup attempt.
Turkey has previously experienced four military coups. According to the Constitution, since the establishment of the Turkish Republic out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, the army is the defender of democracy.
Anytime that the military commanders believed that the civilian leadership was straying from the constitution, they did not hesitate to carry out a coup, take rule into their own hands and eventually put a democratic government back in place.
For years now, there has been disillusionment within the army and the secular public with Erdogan, the leader of the Islamist AKP party. As prime minister and elected president he instituted a dictatorship in the hopes of establishing himself as a 21st century sultan, while increasing the influence of religion in the public sphere. This is also the reason that Erdogan purified institutions in the state and instituted changes within them to strengthen his hold on power.
He put his loyalists in key positions in Turkey’s intelligence agency, police, justice system, education system and the army. He harassed the media, trying to take it over and marginalized business leaders who he saw as hostile to the throne.
It can be assumed that now, with the defeat of the coup attempt, he will immediately increase his efforts to strengthen his hold on power and oppress his opponents. His supporters are already accusing his arch rival Fethullah Gulen, a powerful cleric who lives in exile in the U.S., of organizing the rebellion. Gulen has denied involvement, but that will not stop Erdogan from persecuting Gulen’s supporters.
In Turkey, conspiracy theories that Erdogan himself planned the coup in order to make himself stronger are even being voiced.
Despite the fact that the U.S. and most members of NATO, to which Turkey belongs, condemned the coup and voiced support for Erdogan and the elected government, there is no doubt that there is increasing concern among them about instability in the country.
For months, Turkey has been subject to an onslaught of terror from Turkish Kurds and ISIS (the so-called Islamic State in neighboring Syria feeling that he betrayed them after secretly aiding them for years).
The war on terror hurts tourism and the economy, and now the coup attempt is liable to throw one of the most important countries in the Middle East into a period of uncertainty and disquiet.
As for Israel, which just recently signed a reconciliation deal with Turkey, the failure of the coup will not affect relations between the countries and the status quo will continue.
However, it can be assumed that the Israeli government, the defense establishment and the intelligence community would not have shed a tear if the coup had succeeded, Erdogan had been ousted and the army had taken power.
July 16, 2016
[Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller on Israeli espionage and security, Every Spy a Prince, and the current book Spies Against Armageddon, wrote this for The Jerusalem Post in early March. Today (June 27), Israel and Turkey are announcing the restoration of diplomatic relations after long, difficult negotiations. What’s likely to happen now?]
Even if Israel and Turkey soon announce an end to their diplomatic crisis, which began almost six years ago as a result of the Mavi Marmara flotilla ship incident, relations between the two countries will not go back to how they once were.
The golden era of cooperation in the security and intelligence fields between the two countries up until a decade ago will certainly not come back.
Turkey was a large and important market for Israel’s security industries, which provided drones, intelligence systems, tank and planes upgrades, and more. For years, there was close cooperation between the Mossad and Turkey’s intelligence agency, the MIT, which included meetings, an exchange of each countries’ situational assessments and more.
This cooperation began in 1958 with the initiation of an intelligence pact between Iran’s SAVAK, under the Shah, the Mossad and Turkish intelligence. The codename in Israel for this pact was “Clil” (Complete).
Prime Minister Erdogan
These intimate relations were ended by Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he rose to power in 2002, first as prime minister, and currently as president. It was a gradual process that deteriorated after the Marmara incident. However, the 2010 flotilla was merely a symptom of a deeper issue. Yet, despite the security and intelligence disconnect and the diplomatic crisis, both commercial and tourism ties did grow under Erdogan.
The initiative for a turnaround in relations has come from Ankara … Erdogan’s foreign and defense policies have failed miserably. He saw himself as the renewer of the days of the Ottoman Empire and as a modern-day, 21st century Sultan. He aimed to turn Turkey into a regional power, and perhaps into the strongest force in the Middle East, but this did not happen.
Instead, Turkey finds itself in a conflict with Russia and Iran over Syria, where Erdogan hoped to see President Bashar Assad ousted. Erdogan supported the Muslim Brothers in Egypt and now he finds himself at odds with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. Because of Turkey’s uncompromising fight against its Kurdish population, as well as in Syria and Iraq, Ankara is also losing its influence with NATO and with the U.S.
Turkey is now more isolated than ever and is therefore interested in renewing ties with Israel, in the hope that the Jewish state can help Ankara improve its standing in Washington. Turkey also needs natural gas from Israel in order to diversify its sources of energy and to reduce its dependency on Russian gas.
Most of the disagreements between Israel and Turkey stemming from the Marmara incident have already been rectified. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the incident in which nine Turkish citizens were killed. Israel has already made clear that it is prepared to pay some $25 million in compensation to the families of the victims. Turkey has deported senior Hamas military wing official Salah Aruri from the country and has tightened its supervision of the organization’s members at Israel’s request. Ankara has also agreed to institute special legislation that will prevent IDF commanders from standing trial for the Marmara incident.
However, the bigger problem to be solved is connected to Hamas in Gaza. Turkey is looking for a foothold in the Strip. [The Israeli government view is that] Erdogan broke the rules, and therefore he bears the responsibility for rectifying the situation. Egypt’s Sisi as well is not prepared to easily forgive and grant Erdogan a prize for his behavior, as if nothing happened.
If the golden formula is found, and the crisis is indeed solved, it will be part of a three-way deal: Israel-Egypt-Turkey, in which the strategic alliance with Egypt is much more important to Israel than rehabilitating ties with Turkey.
June 27, 2016
This is part of an article that Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, is writing for The Jerusalem Report magazine — on efforts by the governments of Turkey and Israel to repair diplomatic (and other more covert) relations:
Israeli Navy Photo of Turkish Activists Attacking Israelis Who Assaulted Mavi Marmara
A deal is no certainty. It all depends on President Tayyip Erdoğan, and he is unpredictable and unreliable. Israel has no intention to make any compromises with Hamas as, beyond its own domestic political considerations, such steps would anger another important Israel ally – Egypt, as well as the Palestinian Authority.
Still, Israel is ready to make some small gestures in Gaza on the humanitarian front to satisfy Erdoğan and help him to portray himself as Hamas’s savior. The big question is will those gestures be enough to save face for the Turkish president?
Even if relations are normalized, they will never return to the levels of the ’80s and ’90s when the two countries were allies and cooperated in the fields of intelligence and security against common rivals and enemies, such as Syria and Iran.
Those glorious days were over even before the bloody clash on the Mavi Marmara “Break the Gaza Blockade!” ship in May 2010, when Israeli troops who boarded the vessel killed 9 activists who fought them.
December 23, 2015
By all accounts, Turkey and Israel have come very close to restoring diplomatic relations — as well as business ties, strategic discussions, and perhaps even joint projects of the kind that were potent but never publicized — but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t feel like doing it. Not yet.
Erdogan is now quoted as saying that relations cannot be normalized until Israel swears, in writing, that it is lifting “the siege” around the Gaza Strip.
Prime Minister Erdogan
Israeli officials this week had thought it would be sufficient for them to permit the food and other supplies — originally on the Mavi Marmara — to be delivered by truck to Gaza.
That was the Turkish ship — part of a protest flotilla — stopped by Israeli commandos in May of 2010: a botched raid that resulted in the deaths of 9 of the protesters (eight Turkish men and one U.S. citizen).
JTA (the former Jewish Telegraphic Agency) had reported on Monday: “Turkey and Israel are close to normalizing bilateral relations for the first time since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, Turkey’s foreign minister said.”‘ In the view of Turkish officials, Israel had apologized for the raid on the ship and was offering to pay millions of dollars to the familiesof the dead men.
But what really matters is what Erdogan feels like doing. He is still exploring all ways of being a hero in the Muslim world. His efforts in Egypt were rebuffed last year, when his supposed friend President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by the Egyptian military. Erdogan is still a fairly regular visitor, and an apparently friendly one, to Iran.
In Syria — sandwiched between Turkey and Israel — chaos and bloodshed continue. Israel is far from clear as to the outcome it prefers in Syria, and it seems that Erdogan has not firmly chosen sides either. He has the extra problem of Syrian refugees who are crowding camps on the Turkish side of the border.
But if Erdogan wants to be a populist hero, which side should he take? Which Syrian factions might he back? For now, it seems, he does not see any value in reconciling with Israel — at least not publicly.
February 11, 2014
A Turkish newspaper, Yeni Safak, has an intriguing report about the increasingly bitter relationship between Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, and Turkey’s powerful chief of espionage and security, Hakan Fidan.
The newspaper says Fidan took steps to cancel the special arrangement which enabled Mossad case officers — Israelis who frequently visited Turkey — to avoid normal passport checks, immigration procedures, and Customs inspectors. The Mossad men and women could slip invisibly in and out of Turkish territory.
The agreement between the Mossad, and Turkey’s MIT agency was made in the 1990s, before Fidan’s powerful patron, Recep Erdogan, was elected the country’s leader. It even permitted Mossad personnel to cross the border without showing a passport.
Fidan’s decision to scrub the special agreement — of great value for Israeli spies and their shadowy travels in the Middle East — could help explain why the director of the Mossad, Tamir Pardo, recently visited Fidan in the capital, Ankara.
It could also — as mentioned by the Yeni Safak article — explain why an article that painted Fidan as a coldhearted violator of intelligence etiquette appeared in the The Washington Post. Penned by columnist David Ignatius, who has cultivated sources in the world of espionage, the article said Turkish intelligence had provided Iran with a list of Iranians who had met in Turkey with Israeli spyhandlers.
Fidan, known to be very close to Prime Minister Tayep Erdogan, apparently was moving to fortify Turkey’s adamantly individualistic, stubbornly sovereign, and maddeningly mercurial shift away from predictably pro-American and pro-Israel lines.
The Wall Street Journal, for example, had this headline on Oct. 10:
Turkey’s Spymaster Plots Own Course on Syria
October 24, 2013
Heard on the radio (and podcasts) worldwide, the BBC’s “Newshour” considered the veracity — and the impact — of the revelation (by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius) that Turkey furnished Iran with the names of Iranians who were working for the Mossad.
“Newshour” interviewed Dan Raviv, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars — and of the previous best seller, Every Spy a Prince: The Complete History of Israel’s Intelligence Community.
Click here to hear the 4-minute interview: Dan Raviv on BBC NewsHour on Mossad Turkey 18oct13
October 19, 2013
Yossi Melman, co-author of “Spies Against Armageddon” (and the earlier best-seller “Every Spy a Prince”) analyzes the report that Turkey’s intelligence agency gave Iran a list of names of Iranians who spied on behalf of Israel’s Mossad. This was first published in English by the Jerusalem Post.
If Turkey did blow cover of Israeli spy ring, it would violate an unwritten code of conduct between allied intelligence agencies.
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 co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.]
October 17, 2013
A former director of the Mossad, retired General Danny Yatom, reacts to David Ignatius’s column in The Washington Post (reporting that Turkey gave Iran the names of 10 Mossad-run Iranian spies) by saying the Turks committed a “despicable” and unprecedented violation of international intelligence etiquette — and that will leave Turkish intelligence with no friends at all.
Danny Yatom — speaking from Israel, in a telephone conference call arranged by The Israel Project — said: “Assuming what’s in the Ignatius column is accurate, then this was a despicable act by the Turks — by the head of the MIT, the intelligence organization which is equivalent to the CIA plus the FBI. The guy who heads MIT, Hakan Fidan, has very strong power in Turkey.
Former Mossad chief, Danny Yatom
“Assuming the column is true, this is something unheard of. I don’t remember, during the many, many years I served in the Israeli intelligence apparatuses and as a close advisor to three prime ministers and in the Israel Defense Forces… I don’t recall this phenomenon when information was used by so-called friendly intelligence services [in this way].
“The Turks probably had this information [the name of Iranian contacts] from the Mossad. Because the modus operandi is — usually in such cases — when there are meetings between handlers and their agents — let’s say Israel doing it on Turkish soil — then usually the Israelis inform the Turkish MIT in order to avoid any misunderstandings. This is to avoid any Turkish claim that Israel is breaching the laws of Turkey.
“If this is true, then the fact that those 10 spies were burned by purposely 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.
“If this is true, what was done by the head of the Turkish intelligence organization — no doubt with the knowledge of his prime minister [Recep] Erdogan — is something that I don’t recall from the many years of my experience.
“This is highly disturbing. We also receive information from friendly intelligence organizations. And no one here or in the U.S. or elsewhere would dare to use this information — received from, let’s say Israel — in order to harm Israel.
“Only one — the head of Turkey’s intelligence and the prime minister of Turkey. … Knowing the Turks and knowing the reporter, David Ignatius, I tend to believe him [and not any Turkish denials].
“About two years ago, it was published — when Hakan Fidan was nominated to head the MIT — that Ehud Barak’s view was that Fidan was very close to the Iranians and had transferred sensitive information to Iran.
“We never ever thought he would do something unprecedented by exposing Israeli agents to the Iranians — probably knowing them [the names] because he got the information from Israel.
“The relations between the two intelligence organizations [the Mossad and Turkey’s MIT], during my time as director of the Mossad [in 1996 to 1998] were excellent — and were excellent before and after that. But what happened caused us to distrust the Turks, and this is the main reason why the relations are losing their intimacy and are deteriorating.”
Yatom said the Turks were, in a way, shooting themselves in the foot. “They badly need cooperation with friendly intelligence apparatuses. The Turks are highly worried about what’s going on in Syria. They are against the Iranian military nuclear program. Of course they need to cooperate with friendly [services] to fight terror in their own country — Turkey.
“Who now will trust them and cooperate with them? Who now will share sensitive information with them?
“We will see a deterioration in intelligence relations between Turkey’s MIT and all the parallel organizations in friendly countries to Turkey. We will find the Turkish intelligence isolated from receiving any sensitive information, probably for the foreseeable future.”
Yatom also said: “We share a lot of information with the CIA, [Britain’s] MI6, [the German} BND and other friendly intelligence apparatuses — and we used to do it, until recently, with the Turks. Our nations shared the same goals and aims: to fight terror, and to prevent Iran from becoming a military nuclear state.
“If this is true, then what the intelligence apparatus of Turkey did was … to threaten the lives of those Iranians. And I don’t what is their fate. Maybe they were executed or will be executed.
“This is not only transferring the names to a democratic regime, but it is transferering the names to a regime with no mercy. No doubt in my mind. If this is true, they either have been executed or they will be executed.”
When asked whether the Syrian civil war has brought Turkey and Israel closer together — out of shared worries and interests, considering that Syria is sandwiched between them — Yatom said: “Unfortunately it has not happened.”
Yatom added, “Erdogan is even annoying the United States by purchasing ground-to-air missiles from a company in China which is blamed [by the U.S.] for breaking an embargo by assisting Iran with its missile and nuclear projects. I don’t think this is the first time Erdogan makes the Americans crazy… And the same with us, so what can we do?”
For mutual benefits, Yatom suggested, efforts to get past the Israeli-Turkish problems are worth pursuing.
October 17, 2013
The Washington Post columnist and accomplished spy novelist David Ignatius breaks some news about what intelligence officials would call “a mean double-cross” by Turkish intelligence against the Mossad.
He writes that the Turkish government furnished Iran with the identities of Iranian citizens who had meetings in Turkey with case officers (spy handlers) from the Mossad.
Ignatius’s latest column mentions the possibility that Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s motive was the breakdown of relations — when Israeli naval commandoes carried out a sloppy raid on a Turkish protest ship headed for Gaza in 2010 — and the Israelis killed 9 Turkish civilians.
Ignatius also mentions our book, to give his readers some background to the clandestine relationship that for decades was positive and mutually fruitful:
The Israeli-Turkish intelligence alliance was launched in a secret meeting in August 1958 in Ankara between David Ben-Gurion, then Israel’s prime minister, and Adnan Menderes, then Turkey’s prime minister. “The concrete result was a formal but top-secret agreement for comprehensive cooperation” between the Mossad and Turkish intelligence, wrote Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman in their 2012 book, “Spies Against Armageddon.”
The groundwork had been laid secretly by Reuven Shiloah, the founding director of the Mossad, as part of what he called a “peripheral alliance strategy.” Through that partnership, Israelis provided training in espionage to the Turks and, ironically, also to Iranians under the shah’s government, which was toppled in 1979.
For the rest of Ignatius’s column: click here.
October 16, 2013