Undercover Israel-Turkey Contacts Surrounding the Gaza Ceasefire: Pointing the Way to Covert Cooperation? (Iran Nuclear Issue Not Forgotten)

There were a lot of moving parts, behind the scenes, when a ceasefire was hammered out between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist faction, Hamas.  As is standard with covert, or “alternative,” diplomacy, the Israelis handled it through their foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad.

Tamir Pardo

The director of the Mossad, Tamir Pardo, was in Cairo to be part of the negotiations.  We have learned that he had meetings with the chief of Turkey’s national intelligence organization (known as MIT), Hakan Fidan.

Fidan has been a close confidant of Prime Minister Recip Erdogan for many years and took over as MIT director two years ago.  Fidan seems to be intimately linked with a Turkish decision to cool — and even irritate — relations with Israel, while emphasizing Turkey’s Muslim identity in order to gain more prestige in the Middle East.

Still, many Israeli officials — and Western officials who hope this is not merely wishful thinking — see possibilities for restoring cooperative relations with Turkey.  There used to be joint military exercises and frequent exchanges of security-related intelligence.  The first steps toward cooperation could be covert, rather than open, but still that would be seen as very useful to Israel.

Israel and Turkey both are concerned about what may happen next in Syria, which is literally sandwiched between them.  Neither the Israelis nor the Turks want Islamic radicals to be in charge of Syria, nor do they want chaotic civil war to continue forever.

They also could find common cause against Iran, which is trying to establish hegemony over the Middle East — while Jerusalem and Ankara could seen as rival power centers.

This past week in Cairo provided another example of how intelligence agencies can maintain productive relationships — even when diplomatic relations are severely frayed or even non-existent. 

The entire effort, under the inexperienced Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, was coordinated by Egypt’s generally secretive intelligence agency.  It had a lot of contact and joint projects with Israel’s Mossad during Hosni Mubarak’s decades in the presidency.  The connection was not severed.

As our book reports in detail, the Mossad department known as Tevel (“Universe”) often acts as an alternative foreign ministry.  It has had contacts, since the birth of the State of Israel 64 years ago, with Arab and Muslim leaders who would never admit having anything to do with the Jewish state.  Tevel diplomacy in Morocco laid the groundwork for the historic trip to Jerusalem by Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat in 1977, and the Mossad has an unacknowledged presence in some of the Arabian Gulf nations.

Wikileaks revealed a diplomatic cable that included the ruler of Bahrain confiding to U.S. officials that the Mossad has a station in his country.  We can also report with confidence that Meir Dagan, director of the Mossad from 2002 to 2010, met with officials of Saudi Arabia.  It is noteworthy that the head of Saudi intelligence is Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the former ambassador to Washington who made a point of being in cordial contact with American Jewish leaders.    In Jordan in 2008, Prince Bandar met with Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and discussed Iran and the chances for peace with the Palestinians.

The Mossad’s general take on clandestine contacts can be summed up with the phrase, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

November 24, 2012

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