The Turkish Betrayal: Global Implications

Why was the information leaked now?

Mark Silverberg

OpEds Mark Silverberg
Mark Silverberg

On October 17th, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported that in 2012, Turkey, a NATO member, directly gave Iranian intelligence the identities of 10 Iranians who had been meeting in Turkey with their Israeli Mossad handlers.

Subsequent reports suggest that they may have already been executed by the Iranians. But, as Boaz Bismuth writes in Israel Hayom: “There is more than one riddle here. The first is, of course, what the exact details of the story are and how great the damage is. Another riddle, no less intriguing, is who benefited from exposing the story at this time and why?”

Clearly, this Turkish betrayal represents a significant loss of intelligence to the Israelis. According to Ignatius, the Turkish intelligence chief (Hakan Fidan) is suspect in Israel because of what are seen as his close ties to Tehran. Several years ago, Israeli intelligence officers described him to CIA officials as “the MOIS station chief in Ankara,” a reference to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, but this has not affected the continuing contacts between the U.S. and Turkish intelligence communities.

As Caroline Glick pointed out recently: “Rather than taking action against Turkey, or simply acknowledging that the actions of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan represented a fundamental shift in Turkey’s strategic outlook, President Obama shrugged off Turkey’s betrayal without even a protest over Turkey’s despicable deed.”

The lack of  official U.S. reaction to the exposure of Israeli intelligence assets in Iran by Turkey may be because President Obama remains intent on cultivating Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan as a “model partner” and key Muslim ally at virtually any cost. As Ignatius noted, it has been U.S. practice to wall off intelligence issues from broader U.S. foreign policy objectives in the region and, if so, then Turkey’s outing of Israeli intelligence assets falls within that foreign policy paradigm.

What is puzzling is how the U.S.-Turkish intelligence relationship can continue when Turkey’s actions have not only undermined the interests of a major strategic ally (Israel), but facilitated a major intelligence setback for Western efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

Steven Cook and Michael Koplow wrote recently for the Council on Foreign Relations: “That Erdogan and/or his intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, were willing to undermine a broad Western effort to stop Iran’s nuclear development for no other reason than to stick it to Israel should be a wake-up call as to whether the current Turkish government can be trusted as a partner on anything.”

Nevertheless, Turkish-American relations have continued to warm to the point that Erdogan remains among Obama’s key confidants. This was reflected when the administration made Turkey co-chair of its signature Global Counterterrorism Forum in June 2012 – a Forum which controversially excluded Israel.

According to Debkafile, Israeli intelligence believes that Ignatius may have been provided with this information at this particular moment not so much to disclose an Israeli intelligence betrayal by Turkey, but as a warning from the Obama administration to Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to drop his objections to certain U.S. concessions that Obama hopes will coax Iran into abandoning its nuclear weapons aspirations.

There may be some merit in that assertion.  After all, why leak the story now? Consider that Ignatius’s article was published Thursday, Oct. 17th, the day after a two-day conference in Geneva between six world powers and Iran concerning the latter’s expanding nuclear enrichment program. A chorus of Western powers led by the U.S. hailed the event as “substantive” and “forward-looking” despite widespread skepticism within the U.S. Congress, the Senate, and a wide range of global nuclear experts familiar with the Iranian nuclear program and Iran’s history of deception relating to it.

If Ignatius does have a close relationship with the upper echelons of the Obama administration as some have argued, and if this disclosure was provided by the Obama administration (whose history of “leaks” is disturbing if not outright dangerous to U.S. interests), then Netanyahu can expect to be pressured to accept President Obama’s “new Middle East vision" and the role he has assigned to Iran in that vision in the months to come.

If Netanyahu persists in his defiant attitude against Iran’s nuclear enrichment program (and he is not alone in his concerns), Israeli intelligence may well face more disasters like the Turkish betrayal.

Although U.S. officials treated the exposure of the Israeli network in Turkey as an “unfortunate intelligence loss”, they continue to work with Hakan Fidan on sensitive issues despite his suspected collaboration with Tehran. That being the case, Ignatius may be correct in predicting that “kaleidoscopic changes” lie ahead for the Middle East, and countries like Israel, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt will no doubt begin searching for new alliances in the constantly shifting sands of the Middle East.

If Netanyahu wishes to avoid further intelligence betrayals of Israeli espionage assets, he may be forced to change his approach and accept the “new realities” in the Middle East that appear to be taking shape based upon a pending U.S.-Iranian rapproachment that will (despite administration assertions to the contrary) culminate in a nuclear Iran.

The same message applies to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, both of whom oppose Obama’s policy approach to the region in general, and Iran in particular – most notably his insistence that deposed President Mohammed Morsi be returned to office (which would further destabilize Egyptian politics), and his pending concessions to Iran which are said to include releasing $50B in frozen Iranian assets in the U.S. and Europe – an action, that would enable Iran to bypass the global oil and gas sanctions against it and develop nuclear weapons and a nuclear shield under which they will export their global Islamic revolution with impunity.