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.
“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.