David Ignatius at The Washington Post has reported on shocking news about a massive Israeli intelligence failure, courtesy of our “friends” the Turks. It appears that last year, Turkey, under PM Erdogan’s leadership, blew the cover of an Israeli spy ring to the Iranians:
The Turkish-Israeli relationship became so poisonous early last year that the Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is said to have disclosed to Iranian intelligence the identities of up to 10 Iranians who had been meeting inside Turkey with their Mossad case officers.
Knowledgeable sources describe the Turkish action as a “significant” loss of intelligence and “an effort to slap the Israelis.” The incident, disclosed here for the first time, illustrates the bitter, multi-dimensional spy wars that lie behind the current negotiations between Iran and Western nations over a deal to limit the Iranian nuclear program. A Turkish Embassy spokesman had no comment.
Israeli anger at the deliberate compromise of its agents may help explain why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became so entrenched in his refusal to apologize to Erdogan about the May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident.
Netanyahu finally apologized to Erdogan by phone in March after President Obama negotiated a compromise formula. But for more than a year before that, the Israeli leader had resisted entreaties from Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to heal the feud.
Top Israeli officials believe that, despite the apology, the severe strain with Erdogan continues. The Turkish intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, is also suspect in Israel because of what are seen as friendly links with Tehran; several years ago, Israeli intelligence officers are said to have described him facetiously to CIA officials as “the MOIS station chief in Ankara,” a reference to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The United States continued to deal with Fidan on sensitive matters, however.
Unbelievably, or rather, quite believably under the mis-administration of Obama, the US continued warming its relations with the perfidious Turks:
Though U.S. officials regarded exposure of the Israeli network as an unfortunate intelligence loss, they didn’t protest directly to Turkish officials. Instead, Turkish-American relations continued warming last year to the point that Erdogan was among Obama’s key confidants. This practice of separating intelligence issues from broader policymaking is said to be a long-standing U.S. approach.
U.S. officials were never sure whether the Turkish disclosure was done in retaliation for the flotilla incident or was part of a broader deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations.
But the Israel intelligence services deserve much of the blame too in underestimating the Turkish hatred of Israel and its malicious intent, especially after the Mavi Marmara incident, notwithstanding America’s more benign assessment:
Israeli intelligence had apparently run part of its Iranian spy network through Turkey, which has relatively easy movement back and forth across its border with Iran. The Turkish intelligence service, known as the Milli Istihbarat Teskilati, or MIT, conducts aggressive surveillance inside its borders, so it had the resources to monitor Israeli-Iranian covert meetings.
U.S. officials assessed the incident as a problem of misplaced trust, rather than bad tradecraft. They reasoned that the Mossad, after more than 50 years of cooperation with Turkey, never imagined the Turks would “shop” Israeli agents to a hostile power, in the words of one source. But Erdogan presented a unique challenge, as he moved in 2009 to champion the Palestinian cause and, in various ways, steered Ankara away from what had been, in effect, a secret partnership with Jerusalem.
With Fidan’s background, both America and Israel should have been more alert:
Fidan, the Turkish spy chief, is a key Erdogan adviser. He became head of the MIT in 2010 after serving as a noncommissioned officer in the Turkish army and gaining a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a doctorate in Ankara. After Fidan took over the Turkish service, “he rattled Turkey’s allies by allegedly passing to Iran sensitive intelligence collected by the U.S. and Israel,” according to a recent profile in the Wall Street Journal. The Journal also noted U.S. fears that Fidan was arming jihadist rebels in Syria.
As we well know, this is not the first time that Turkey has tried to undermine Israel internationally. This was simply the most successful and most dangerous. Earlier this year we learned that not only did that famously reluctant apology from Netanyahu not have the desired affect, and the families of the Mavi Marmara victims were going to continue with their lawsuit, but even now Turkey is still blocking Israel-NATO cooperation:
Nearly six months after Israel’s apology to Turkey for the Mavi Marmara incident, Ankara continues to completely block any NATO cooperation with Israel, Greece’s Ambassador Spiros Lampridis told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Following the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, NATO member Turkey adamantly opposed Israeli involvement – “even the most innocent” – in any NATO programs, he said. These programs included joint exercises, intelligence exchanges, and research and technological development programs.
“We were hoping that after the arrangement between [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu and [Prime Minister Tayyip Recep] Erdogan in the spring, Turkey would pull back a little and allow some of the programs,” he said. “But there is nothing.”
By not allowing Israel’s participation in NATO programs, he added, Turkey was blocking participation with other Mediterranean countries, because Israel and other nations in the region – Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria – took part in NATO projects as a bloc.
“We can’t cooperate with any of them, because the programs are all blocked, nothing can go through,” he said.
Lampridis said he was surprised by the continued Turkish opposition, especially since practical cooperation between Turkey and Israel was taking place on a daily basis, “like where Turkey has an advantage, of course, and Israel is demonstrating goodwill.”
For example, since Turkish goods can no longer be transported overland through Syria to the Persian Gulf, every week hundreds of Turkish trucks arrive via ferry to the Haifa Port where they then proceed across the country to the Jordan border crossings, carrying millions of dollars worth of goods to Jordan and onward to the Gulf.
“If Israel behaved in the same negative way that Turkey was behaving, it could have said ‘no’ to Turkey, told them, ‘This is your problem. I don’t need these trucks blocking my highways.’ But Israel is cooperating, and Turkey is deriving great benefit from this.”
One Foreign Ministry source confirmed this arrangement, stressing that it came at the initiative of the private business sector in Turkey, which is very keen on maintaining close ties with Israel. Erdogan’s government was not involved in setting up the program. The Greek ambassador also took Erdogan to task for blaming Jews and Israel for the unrest over the summer in Turkey and for the overthrow of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.
“You just don’t say such things,” he said.
Asked if he thought Erdogan was an anti-Semite, he replied, “Even if he is, is it the position a prime minister takes? He can do it privately if he wants. You don’t do it openly and expose a whole country – a country that has never been anti-Semitic in the past, to tell the truth, especially under the Ottoman Empire, when it was a haven for Jews. Other countries were not, Turkey was. What’s wrong with the guy? It really beats me.”
He also said that he believed Erdogan’s policies and comments on Israel were directed toward the Muslim world, believing they would make him a leader there. But, he said, a series of missteps in the Arab world, first and foremost with Egypt, had weakened Turkey’s position there as well.
Lamprides is very likely correct about Erdogan’s motivations being more about his standing in the Muslim world than hatred towards Israel. On the other hand it’s very obvious that his anti-Israel animus is very real, and not just a pretence for the “Muslim street”.
It’s about time we stopped all these demonstrations of goodwill and grovelling before our enemies. Turkey has decided it is an enemy of Israel. Let us treat it like one.
Meanwhile there is not a word about the fate of the exposed Israeli spies. Were they brought to safety? What about their families? Erdogan should be held to account for the safety of these people.