Israeli military officials admitted that a failure in military intelligence was at the root of the contretemps Israeli commandos experienced aboard the Mavi Marmara Wednesday, June 2, to the accompaniment of a worldwide chorus of condemnation for the nine activists who were killed and 45 wounded.
Protests were widespread and extreme, verging in some places on denials of Israel's very right to exist.
Ignorant of what type of passenger had been taken aboard the Turkish vessel, the relevant Israeli intelligence agencies omitted to forewarn the troops of what to expect when they landed on deck, or make sure their numbers were up to the task of quietly steering the boat away from Gaza and over to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
The troops were under-armed and mentally unprepared for the violent reception awaiting them.
Israeli military officials talking to DEBKA-Net-Weekly admitted that it was only thanks to their resourcefulness, courage and self-sacrifice that those commandos, badly let down by their intelligence support service, were able to take charge of the ship and bring it to port.
The episode was a disaster in terms of political fallout and the damage to Israel's good name.
Our analysts stress that the intelligence failure went beyond the mere lack of information; like other Israel's security setbacks, – such as the 1973 Yom Kippur War – it was the outcome of fatally erroneous preconceptions.
Up until the critical date of May 31, Israeli decision-makers still regarded Turkey as a military and intelligence ally and gave it its due as a member of NATO. Their officers were in daily contact, their undercover agencies swapped intelligence, the Turkish army was awarded Israel-made weapons systems with secret sophisticated components and the county was never targeted by Israeli espionage.
Erdogan schemed to trap Israel for four years
Israel and its secret services clung to this conception right up to this week, although it had been obvious for three years that Turkish intelligence had changed its spots and was not above conning Israel by planting false information.
Refusing to heed the new winds blowing in Ankara, Israeli policy-makers misread Turkish prime minister Recep Erdogan's real intentions, certain that Turkish-Israeli friendship and their military alliance were as sound as ever.
In fact, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources disclose, Erdogan began setting the trap into which Israel fell this week four years ago.
He started by planting aspersions – which caught Turkish press headlines in March 2007 – of a vast conspiracy hatched by prominent secular activists to murder and terrorize civilians. The left-of-center political weekly Nokta ran alleged entries from the diary of Admiral (ret.) Ozden Omek, which referred to a 2004 plot to inflame street violence as the precursor to a military coup against the pro-Islam government.
Omek's denials of the authenticity of these excerpts notwithstanding, their publication fueled old suspicions of a shadowy network of generals, intelligence officials and organized crime bosses, who were said to be quietly plotting a campaign of violence targeting the Turkish government – and especially against Prime Minister Erdogan.
Blackening the Mossad was the next stage
The next stage unfolded in July 2008, when the Turkish prosecution published a 2,455-page indictment accusing a far-right militant network called Ergenekon of plotting to overthrow Prime Minister Erdogan. It was described as an elaborate secret society of retired military officers, journalists, academics, businessmen, and other secular opponents of the pro-Islam prime minister. But the punch-line was the source of its intelligence, weapons, explosives and funds, named as… the Mossad, Israel's external espionage service.
Although the Mossad was mentioned on every page of the indictment, not a word of protest ever came from Jerusalem, either from the Ehud Olmert government or its successor under Binyamin Netanyahu.
They kept quiet – not because there was any truth in the allegations, but because Jerusalem saw them as arising from Turkish political feuding, which Israel was best advised to stay clear of.
This was also the view of Israeli secret agents' US colleagues, based on the impression they received from their Turkish counterparts – who themselves maintained ties with those Israeli clandestine officers until recently – that the indictment was widely seen as a fabrication to provide Erdogan with a large whip for keeping the Turkish Army and secret services in line.
So Jerusalem buried its head in the sand, convincing itself that the libelous fiction did not and would never impinge on the solid strategic bonds Turkey's armed forces and undercover agencies had forged since 1996 with Israel's Defense Forces, Mossad, military intelligence and the Shin Bet – particularly when the partnership yielded so much valuable help for Ankara's fight against terrorists.
Old Turkish friends said there would be no trouble on the flotilla
Moreover, in 2007, the year the indictment was drummed up, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to Erdogan acting as senior mediator in peace talks with Syria, which gave the Turkish leader a tremendous boost in his regional ambitions.
By this step, Olmert contributed willy-nilly to the eventual establishment of a new radical Middle East bloc bringing together Turkey, Iran, Syria, Hizballah and Hamas. This grouping, known now as the Northern Front, is quickly growing into the most powerful and proactive Islamic military-political alliance in the region – and no friend of Israel.
The scale of Israel's misjudgment was plain to see when the clash aboard the Marmara sent masses of demonstrators from every walk of life out on Turkish city streets shouting "Death to Israel! and "Send the Turkish Army to free the Palestinian homeland!"
The deep hatred for Israel generated by the current Turkish regime burst into the open when the treacherous Ergenekon underground was dragged up as the prototype of Israel's underhand operation against the Turkish-flagged vessel.
But that was after the event.
Before it all went wrong and Israeli military intelligence officers still trusted their Turkish friends, Erdogan took advantage of that trust and used his growing control of the Turkish army, with the help of its Chief of Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug , to gull its erstwhile Israeli colleagues.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources reveal here that when Israeli military intelligence officers asked their Turkish colleagues to profile the people aboard the Gaza-bound flotilla, they were told blandly that they were ordinary nonviolent civilian protesters who would give them no trouble when the ships were commandeered.
This was accurate with regard to the five smaller boats, but the Israelis were deliberately misled with regard to the bigger Marmara. They were not informed that the ship was in the hands of a hundred or so hard-core Islamists trained in face-to-face combat, or about the weapons they kept aboard for beating back the Israeli commando force. Six Israeli soldiers were seriously hurt before the violence was put down.
And so, by this well-laid scheme, Erdogan contrived to pull the wool over Israel's eyes while also torpedoing the two countries' military ties and the close cooperation and trust which had long bound their intelligence agencies.
He then continued to drive the knife in by accusing Israel Thursday, June 3, of "a historical mistake."
This mistake is not only against Turkey, it is against civilians from 32 different countries," he said.