Israel-Turkey ties strained by reports of spy exposure
JERUSALEM — Persistently strained relations between Israel and Turkey have not been helped by a report that, last year, Turkey revealed to Iran the identities of up to 10 Iranians who had spied for Israel.
The Israeli government would not comment Thursday on the report, but Danny Yatom, a former chief of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, told Israel Radio, “Assuming that this is true, this was an extraordinarily malicious thing to do.”
A column published Wednesday on The Washington Post’s website reported that, in early 2012, the Turkish government made the disclosures about Iranians who had been meeting Israeli intelligence officers on Turkish soil. The column, by David Ignatius, said that “knowledgeable sources” called the episode a “significant” loss of intelligence and “an effort to slap at the Israelis,” and that the betrayal had marred a 50-year intelligence alliance between Turkey and Israel.
The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said, in televised remarks Thursday, that the allegations in the column were “without any foundation.”
Turkey, which shares borders with Iran, Iraq, and Syria, among other countries, once served as “a convenient place for Israel to work to reach people from hostile countries,” Yatom said. But while there had been “outstanding” cooperation in earlier years between Israel and Turkey, Israel now is “not open with the Turks, as we were in the past,” Yatom said.
He added, “We are suspicious of the Turks, that they relay information to Iran that could endanger us.”
Turkey once ranked as Israel’s closest ally in the Muslim world; it took part in joint exercises in the Mediterranean with the Israeli and U.S. navies, and allowed Israeli jet pilots to train in Turkey’s relatively vast airspace.
But relations began to sour over Israel’s deadly three-week offensive against the Hamas militant group controlling Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009. The strategic partnership weakened further in May 2010, when Israeli commandos met resistance when boarding ships seeking to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza, and eight Turks and an American of Turkish descent were killed. Turkey sharply downgraded its diplomatic and military ties with Israel in September 2011, expelling the Israeli ambassador after Israel refused to apologize for the deaths.
In December 2011, Israel canceled a $141 million contract to supply Turkey with an advanced aerial intelligence system. An Israeli official said, at the time, that the reason was Turkey’s shifting allegiances in a turbulent region, which led Israel to fear that the delicate technology could end up in the hands of hostile governments, like that of Iran.
With Syria’s descent into a civil war underlining the enduring interests shared by Israel and Turkey, the United States urged these two important U.S. allies to restore cooperation. When President Barack Obama visited Israel in March, he brokered a reconciliation agreement.