Early last year, the Erdogan government blew the cover of up to 10 Israel agents in Iran who had been meeting inside Turkey with their Mossad case officers. This story was published in The Washington Post, by David Ignatius, who has excellent connections in the US capital, Thursday, Oct. 17 – the day after a two-day conference in Geneva between six world powers with Iran on its nuclear program. A chorus of Western powers led by the US hailed the event as “substantive” and “forward-looking.”
But on the quiet, the WP story was directed against Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as a caution to him to drop his “lone voice” posture against trusting Iran to abandon its nuclear weapon aspirations. Instead, he must look forward and start getting used to the “new Middle East" and role Barack Obama has assigned for Iran. If he persists in his defiant attitude, Israeli intelligence may face more debacles like the Turkish betrayal.
The WP story reveals from “knowledgeable sources” that 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 MIT had the resources to monitor those meetings, but after 50 years of cooperation with Turkey, Israel never imagined the Turks would “shop” Israeli agents to a hostile power.
Ignatius reports: “US officials assessed the incident as a problem of misplaced trust, rather than bad tradecraft.”
Still, the article presents Israel’s Mossad in an unflattering light, claiming that Israeli intelligence officers in 2010 complained to the CIA that Hakan Fidan Turkish intelligence chief was in fact “the MOIS station chief in Ankara.” MOIS is Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
He describes “Israeli anger at the deliberate compromise of its agents,” which he said may help explain why Netanyahu “became entrenched in his refusal to apologize to Erdogan about the May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident" in which nine Turks were killed. He did apologize later but the “severe strain with Erdogan continues.”
debkafile’s intelligence sources underline five lessons from the WP article and its timing:
1. The US never protested to Ankara about over its deliberate compromise of the Israeli network because President Barack Obama was intent on cultivating Prime Minister Erdogan as a key Muslim ally.
2. Washington wasn’t sure of Turkey’s motives. According to one theory, Erdogan was settling a score with Israel for its commando raid on the Turkish Mavis Marmama which was leading the flotilla to Gaza with pro-Palestinian activists.
3. Netanyahu’s apology, forced on him by Obama, did not ease strained relations with Ankara.
4. Although US officials treated the exposure of the Israeli network as an unfortunate intelligence loss, they continue to work with Hakan Fidan on sensitive issues despite his suspected collaboration with Tehran.
“This practice of separating intelligence issues from broader policymaking is said to be a long-standing US approach,” the writer reported.
5. “Kaleidoscopic changes” lie ahead of the Middle East, says Ignatius, and countries like Israel, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are searching – openly as well as covertly – for alliances in the constantly changing Middle East.
The sixth lesson appears between the lines of the article. It is that if Netanyahu wants to escape more punishment over his bad relations with Erdogan and attitude on Iran, he must change his approach and acclimatize to the new Middle East, however cruel and cold, in which the US and Iran are beginning to cooperate.
The same message applies equally to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, both of which actively challenge Barack Obama’s approach to the region.
As usual in the covert world of intelligence and espionage, the WP story has another dimension. It is also the answer to a Wall Street Journal piece of Oct. 10 entitled “Turkey’s Spymaster Plots Own Course on Syria,” which quotes former US Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey as saying, “Hakan Fidan is the face of the new Middle East.”
He accused Fidan of working against US policy by helping to supply arms and ammunition to the al-Qaeda-linked jihadis fighting with Syrian rebels. Jeffrey describes Fidan as one of three spy chiefs acting to shape the “new Middle East.” The other two are Prince Bandar bin Sultan, director of Saudi General Intelligence, and Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of the notorious Iranian Al Qods Brigades intelligence and terror network.
Mossad chief Tomer Pardo did not make the list.